How much oil does my car need? How do I check and top up my engine oil?

image showing someone filling a car engine with oil

The easiest way to find out how much oil a car needs for an oil change is to look in the user manual. Most regular family cars in the UK will need around 5 litres of oil when their oil is changed.

How much oil does my car take?

That depends on how big the engine is. The bigger the engine, the more oil it will need.

The size of the engine is measured in CC (cubic capacity), or the greater denomination which is litres. So a 1,000cc engine is 1.0-litre and so on. A 2.0-litre engine will need more oil than a 1.0-litre.

How many litres of oil does my car need?

Most cars have four-cylinder engines that are somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000cc (1.0 and 2.0-litres). These will need between 3.5 and 5 litres of engine oil.

If you want a rough guide to how much oil your car will take, this website has a handy tool. But this is if you’re emptying your car’s oil. What about if you just need to top up your car’s oil?

image of woman checking a dipstick under a car's open bonnet

How do I top up my car engine oil level?

First, ensure the engine is off, cold and the car is parked on a level surface. You’ll need a cloth, preferably a clean one, about the size of a tissue to wipe the dipstick. Kitchen roll will do the trick but an old piece of clothing, towel or bedding will work just as well.

Dipsticks are orange or yellow and normally have a ring to enable you to get your finger in to pull them out. When you do this, you’ll notice there are two markers. Ideally the oil level should sit between these. These markers are designed to signify a litre of oil.

So if your oil level is at the bottom (minimum level) of the marker, you’ll need about a litre of oil to get the oil level to the top (maximum). Fill the engine up with between 50 and 100ml at a time. Stop to check the dipstick as you go. And remember: it takes a few seconds for the oil you’ve poured in to run down into the sump where the dipstick can measure it.

When the oil shows between the minimum and maximum markers, your work is done.

image showing jenson button plus a girl technician and a mclaren demonstrating a bottle of engine oil
The bigger the engine, the more oil it’ll probably need

What oil does my car need?

When your car has its oil changed, it’s important to get the right oil for your model. We explain here why different cars need different types of oil. But you can find out which oil your car needs by again, looking in the user manual.

Is it worth buying cheap oil?

That’s an entirely different question. Oil is a vital component when it comes to performance and reliability. You want a quality product that you know is going to last for its lifetime in the engine. Buy a poor-quality oil and your engine could suffer internal damage.

That said, if you don’t care about the quality of your oil you can save a sensible amount by supplying your own.

We found five litres of 5w30 from a brand we’d never heard of being sold on eBay for £20. Less than half the price of a well-known brand. But there’s no guarantee that it’ll be any good…

Will supplying your own oil save you money?

Go and buy the right engine oil from a motor retailer or online and it will doubtless save you some money. How much is debatable.

We looked at oil for a Mazda MX-5 series 3. Our garage charges £46.25 for five litres of the recommended 5w30 oil. We then went online to and it would charge us £47.95. At Eurocarparts, you can get the same oil for £41.99 so it’s definitely worth shopping around.

Even so, there’s very little difference between these and what the garage charges. The Mazda engine is derived from a Ford. As it’s probably a popular oil, the garage likely buys its oil in bulk at trader’s discount. When its margin is added on, it brings it up to retail price. In addition, the oil we were buying was, in both the above examples, a quality Mobil product.

How often should you check your oil?

Checking the oil is something you should do on a regular basis, ideally at least once a month.

An engine relies on its oil to stop its metal parts rubbing together. If there’s not enough oil, parts will wear prematurely and you risk the engine literally grinding to a halt.

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