How dark should you make your car's oil? (Dipstick Engine Oil Color Chart)

You must replace the engine oil regularly as part of your car's regular maintenance. It is important to know the correct color of engine oil in order to keep it in good condition.

We explain what each color means and how to choose the right motor oil. So you don't forget about engine maintenance, we also explain how to inspect the oil condition. If you’ve ever wondered how often the oil should be changed, we have some guidelines about that as well. 

Índice de Contenido
  1. How much oil should I use on my dipstick?
  2. Dipstick Oil Color Chart
    1. 1. Amber
    2. 2. Dark Brown/Black
    3. 3. Cream/Milky
    4. 4. Rust
  3. How to read oil dipstick
    1. 1. Park Car
    2. 2. Dipsticks: Pull out
    3. 3. Wipe Dipstick
    4. 4. Dipstick All Over Again
    5. 5. Read Condition & Level
  4. What is the frequency of oil change?

How much oil should I use on my dipstick?

Based on which type of oil you use and the age of your vehicle, engine oil may appear in a variety amber shades. The oil may appear darker or darken faster depending on the additives used. However, the oil should not change immediately after an oil change. It should stay amber for some time.

Motor oil becomes more contaminated as it absorbs the by-products of combustion. You can see the difference in the oil's color if you don't change your oil often enough. The fact that it becomes darker shows that it’s doing exactly what it’s supposed to. 

However, if you have a diesel engine, the engine oil can become black quite fast after an oil change, so with diesel engines, it’s better to follow the maintenance schedule. This maintenance guide works better for gas engines.

RELATED: Transmission Fluid Color Chart (5 Different Colors)

Dipstick Oil Color Chart

1. Amber

As we’ve discussed, amber-colored motor oil is perfectly normal. This is actually the oil you wish it to have. It is best to have the oil look the same as it did when you first put it into the engine. The more it matches this color, the better.

You can drive for the rest of the time if you notice amber oil on your dipstick. To make sure nothing changes, however, it is worth checking the dipstick regularly. 

2. Dark Brown/Black

It could either be normal, or it may be a sign of something more serious. Most likely, it’s time to change the oil. The oil gets thicker and darker as the dirt accumulates. 

If the oil seems thicker than normal, however, this could still be normal. It could appear slightly darker, depending on which additives are used. If the oil isn’t clinging to the dipstick, chances are everything is fine and you can continue driving.

READ MORE: 5 Easy Steps to Change Your Car's Oil.

3. Cream/Milky

You need to address any oil that appears milky or frothy immediately. Most cases indicate that coolant has leaked into the oil through a blown head gasket. You will need to repair it.

The oil filler cap may develop a creamy buildup. It can also cause the engine to overheat and emit white smoke. Don’t prolong getting the problem repaired or you could end up with even larger repair bills.

There’s a slim chance that the creamy oil isn’t a head gasket failure. It is possible to change the oil, if the oil had been accidentally contaminated with water. 

RELATED: What does milky oil on the dipstick mean?

4. Rust

Engine oil may turn a rusty color if your vehicle is older or you live in humid conditions. Condensation can buildup due to humidity. This can cause surface rust, which makes the oil appear rusty. 

There’s also the chance that some automatic transmission fluid could be leaking into the engine because of defects. The mixture may appear to be rusty when this occurs. This should indicate that the vehicle needs to be taken to the mechanic. 

How to read oil dipstick

1. Park Car

You must first park the car and make sure it is secured before you do any work with it. Place the vehicle on level ground, and then turn off the engine.

Let the engine cool for about a minute before you turn it off. After the engine has cooled, it is ready for you to start. The engine can be checked for oil quality while it is still warm. However, you should be cautious about where your fingers touch the parts as they could be very hot. 

RELATED: Do I check my oil when the engine is hot or cold?

2. Dipsticks: Pull out

Open the hood to find the dipstick for engine oil. It may have a yellow handle on it or will be labeled “Engine Oil.” If you can’t find it, look in the owner’s manual for an engine compartment map that shows you where everything is located.

Take out the dipstick. The dipstick should be removed. Keep the oil from running if you have a paper towel or rag that is not lint free.

3. Wipe Dipstick

Use a paper towel to wipe off the dipstick. You aren’t looking to read the levels right now, you simply want to clean the dipstick off.

You can now put the stick back into the tube after it has been washed. Push it in until it can’t go any further.

4. Dipstick All Over Again

The dipstick will be pulled back, this time you'll need to check the level. You can hold the rag at the bottom to keep the oil from dripping, but don’t wipe off the stick.

You should also take note of how much oil you have before you replace the dipstick. It’s also important to look at the color of the motor oil.

5. Read Condition & Level

The dipstick will have two marks. You will see the bottom line, which indicates low oil levels. The other line signifies full. The oil level should fall somewhere between the two lines. If it’s too low, you need to add some oil. You should remove any oil if it goes above the line.

It’s also time to evaluate the oil color. To indicate the condition of your oil, you can refer to the chart. If it’s dirty, you need to change it, even if the oil level is good. It doesn’t do any good to run a whole bunch of dirty oil through the engine. 

What is the frequency of oil change?

It was once that oil could only be changed at 3,000 miles. Modern technology has allowed for longer oil life. Some oils and cars can last 10,000 miles without the need for an oil change. 

To determine how long your car can go, you want to start by reading the owner’s manual. If your vehicle is still under warranty, the manufacturer will have recommendations you need to follow. Additionally, the owner’s manual will tell you what type of oil to use. 

Besides this, it is necessary to replace conventional oil frequently. Although synthetic oils and blend oils are more expensive, their oil can last much longer without needing to be changed. 

Your driving conditions are also important. You may have to change your oil less frequently if you drive in extreme heat, on rough roads, or tow a lot. These frequencies are closer because of the extra work that’s occurring with the engine. 

RELATED: Do I Have To Use the Manufacturer’s Oil? (Why you should)

Last, consider the engine type and vehicle you are driving. A diesel engine might require more oil changes than a gas-powered one. Turbo engines may require additional oil changes from time to time.

You can check your oil condition using the color chart. These colors indicate when oil must be changed. If it is still amber, there’s no reason to change it.

RELATED: How much does an oil change cost?

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