Car Ownership 101 – Are You Doing These Three Things When You Get Your Oil Changed?

Posted by

If you drive off with the trust that your shop correctly performed your oil change, then read on to learn how to prevent an unfortunate situation.

This car ownership story was inspired by a post at, and it was written by a car owner who found herself driving a car with no oil shortly after she left a dealership’s express lube.

Trouble with oil changes is a popular topic on forums, and we would like to offer some real-world advice on how you should participate in an oil change – even when you pay a shop or dealer to do it for you.


Before You Go

As a vehicle owner, you should know how to check your own oil. Some cars, some modern BMWs for example, don’t have dipsticks anymore, but almost all mainstream vehicles still do.

So, read your manual, and then check the oil. Look at what level the car has when it has been off for a while (so that the oil can settle and give you an accurate reading). You need to know what the car looks like when the oil is “full” so you will know if there is trouble.


Step One – Check the Oil At The Service Center

Regardless of where you get your oil changed, when the shop turns the car back over to you, turn the car off and pop the hood and check the dipstick has some clear oil on it. When oil is freshly changed, it is nearly invisible, so you may have to look closely. A paper towel often helps by showing the oil in contrast when one lays the stick against the background.

Now, you are not going to get an accurate reading here since the car was just started and moved from the bay, but you want to see something is in the car. If you don’t see any oil, don’t start the car! If you see brown dark-colored oil, don’t start the car. If the oil is way up the dipstick past the full line, don’t start the car.

In fact, if anything at all is not right, head back in to ask the service advisor for help. It’s not time to blow a fuse yet, just be polite and say, “There is something I don’t understand…”


Step 2 – Check the Oil When You Get Home

After you are home and the oil has had a half-hour to settle, check the oil. The truth is that 99.99% of the time, it will be fine. You will see it is properly filled and feel good knowing it was done right. If the level is way below the fill line, you may have a problem. Call the dealership or shop and ask what they want you to do.

If the oil is very low, or if it is not on the stick you should look under the car and see if it is pooled up under the engine. Don’t freak out if you see some liquid under the car; it could be your car’s air conditioner that’s dripping and making puddles.

But if you see fresh oil on the ground (touch and smell it), call the shop. You probably don’t want to drive the car if there is low oil. Low oil could mean that the plug or the filter are not seated right and the oil leaked out.

Step 3 – Check the Oil One More Time After a Few Days

If you check the oil after a couple of good drives and it is up to the full line you are all set. Check it periodically just to be safe, but the oil change went well.

My Car Smells Like Burnt Oil, What now?

Sadly, very few automakers put the oil filter in a place where it makes sense. Many are above hot parts of the car and when the mechanic takes that filter off, some oil may drip down into a spot where it will then burn off. Usually, this is not a big deal.

If the smell is strong or gets worse, or you also see drips under the car you didn’t see before, call the shop and ask them to take a look and see if the plug and filter were seated properly.


Keep ’em Honest

Many dealerships and shops will give you a check-list of all the things they did for you as part of the oil change. One of the common ones is “Filled Washer Fluid.” While you are checking your oil, see if the blue washer fluid reservoir has been topped off. If it has not, and that box is checked, ask the service advisor why.

After all, if that wasn’t done, but it was checked off, how do you know all the important stuff was done?


Keep Your Receipt

Every car owner should have a file where they keep all the service receipts. Start one if you don’t have one. You may need them someday to settle a warranty dispute, or a future buyer may want to look them over to see that you did all the right service steps.

Looking for a new or used car?  Why not start your search here at

John Goreham

John Goreham