The Engine Oil Dipstick is Hard to Read (Solved)

Some people find it hard to read the dipstick and they will sometimes add less or more oil than they need. Here is how to read a dipstick so you add the right amount of motor oil without going over or under.

Is your engine dipstick hard to read?

Most people don’t know how to provide their vehicle with even the most basic maintenance and care. They will usually wait until the check engine light starts flashing on their dashboard to take their vehicle to a mechanic.

Most new and intermediate drivers feel intimidated when they pop open their vehicle’s hood and take a look at the engine. If they do need something done, they will just take it to a mechanic. 

But there is one thing that most people know how to do and that is reading the oil level on the dipstick. Then they will add more oil when the pan needs it. But for new drivers and those who can’t see well, reading the dipstick can be difficult. 

So, we decided to create an easy-to-follow guide on how to read a dipstick. 

How to locate and read an engine oil dipstick

First, grab a paper towel or two from your kitchen. You will want a thick paper product, something thicker than a tissue. 

Second, open the hood of your vehicle and use the hood lift support to keep the hood from falling on your head. Some vehicles do not have lift support and you will need to find a second person to hold the hood up for you.

Now it is time to find and read the dipstick. The dipstick is located near the engine and will have a yellow or black handle. Place the paper towel or napkin down on the rim of the vehicle. The area above the license plate should be flat enough. 

Pull out the dipstick and place it flat on the napkin. Do not wipe it yet. Gently glide the stick down to reveal the oil below it that has soaked into the napkin. 

Most people find that it is difficult to see the oil level directly on the silver dipstick. Oil may have a yellow tinge, but it is not dark and therefore hard to see.

By using this method, you can see the oil level on the napkin. Now all you have to do is check the oil level and see if it is at capacity or full, below the full level, or at the low level.

If the oil level is at or below the “add or low” line, then you need to add more oil to your engine. Be careful not to add too much, because that can be bad for your car. 

How to add oil to the oil pan

If the oil level on the dipstick is low, then you must add more oil to the oil pan. 

First, you will need to purchase the right motor oil for your particular vehicle. You cannot choose any oil and you definitely can’t borrow your neighbor’s boil. Every car comes with a specific type of oil that they have to use on their vehicle. 

If you use a different oil, the oil could be too sick or too thin and it will not help the engine run smoothly. While you are at the automotive store, you will also need to buy a funnel.

Once you have the right oil for your vehicle, open the hood again, place the support lifts down and find the cap that covers the opening to the oil pan. Place the funnel into the opening and slowly pour motor oil into the funnel. 

You should never add the entire container of the motor oil unless you have absolutely no oil left. If you have enough oil in the oil tank to hit the halfway mark, then you should add about a third of the oil from the oil retainer.

Note: another name for a vehicle’s oil pan is called a sump. 

What if the oil in the oil pan is too low?

If there is not enough oil in the sump for a long time, then your car will exhibit several signs that it is time to add oil to the engine.

If you see any of these symptoms, that means that there is something seriously wrong with your vehicle.

Oil is extremely important to the functioning of a car. It does not have enough oil, then many of the moving parts of the engine will not have lubrication and they will scratch and scrape against each other.

Signs that the oil is too low

● Loud clunking sounds – many parts of the engine require lubrication in order to move smoothly without scraping other pieces inside the engine. If you hear loud clunking sounds, then some of the biggest parts of the engine are not lubricated

● Your engine overheats out of nowhere – when your engine goes without the proper amount of oil for a long time, the engine can start overheating. It may even overheat while you are at a stoplight or when you first turn on your engine.

● There is a thick burning smell coming from your engine – This particular sign usually means that there is a leak somewhere inside the engine. Oil is escaping from the oil pan and is dripping on the scalding parts of the engine. The oil then evaporates, causing a thick oil smell to float into the cabin of the vehicle.

● A warning light goes off and on – Most cars have some kind of warning light that will indicate if there is not enough oil in the sump. This warning light is usually called an oil pressure warning light.

If you have experienced any of these signs and you can’t remember the last time you put motor oil in your vehicle, add motor oil to your vehicle as soon as possible.


Reading an engine oil dipstick can be difficult as the oil is usually a light color. Replacing the oil dipstick on a napkin and gently sliding it, you’ll be able to see the oil level on the napkin. Then you can just match the marker to the oil level on the napkin and see if you need to add more.

  • Eric Williams

    I'm the founder of Daily Car Tips. I wrote articles in the automotive industry for more than 10 years, published in USA and Europe. I love sharing my knowledge and insights with fellow enthusiasts. Join me on this journey as we explore the exciting world of cars together!

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