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Engine Oil

Friend’s 2000 Camry LE-4 has no oil leaks nor loose compression but dispstick doesn’t show oil level. Thinking there’s not enough oil, he put 2 quarts oil, but then dispstick showed over the max level. He had to drain the oil & start all over again. What could had happened? Thanks for your inputs/.

He should have added the oil one quart at a time…And he should check it more often…

Compression does not have anything to do with oil burning. A bad oil ring or more likely a bad valve seal will cause oil burning. Check the PCV valve also. That can cause oil burning as well. Who filled the oil on the last oil change? That sometimes has a lot to do with oil levels. Oil should be checked with the engine cold like first thing in the morning. Checking a hot engine is not accurate at all.

Oil should be checked with the engine cold like first thing in the morning. Checking a hot engine is not accurate at all.

This isn’t true for every car. Some owner’s manuals say the opposite.

Caddyman is right. The OP’s friend should have checked the dip stick after adding the first quart. Adding two quarts in a row is a bonehead move unless you are changing the oil and you know EXACTLY how much oil to add.

Most dip sticks are designed so you should add one quart of oil if it is below the low mark. In fact, dip sticks in older cars had this printed right on the dip stick.

I will pass this on to him. Thanks. He had oil change weeks before-yes, one of those quick lube places. I had already informed him not to go to those places. By the way, he has over 101,000 miles on it. Could a 10-year old car burns oil already? Why isn’t there any oil registered on the disptick? Even with below/low oil level, shouldn"t the dipstick should had still shown the oil level?

Because the dipstick was not showing any oil at any level, he thought there was no oil. After putting two quarts in, the oil level came up to over the MAX line. He wants to know & I also want to know (might experience something like this in the future) why the dipstick preliminarily didn’t show any oil at any level. If there’s no oil in the engine, surely two quarts of oil won’t be enough to psuh the oil level passed the MAX point, right?

Not necessarily because dip sticks don’t go down to the very bottom of the engine oil pan. They only go as far as necessary into the crankcase to indicate where full is and where add a quart will still show up on the dip stick.

The answer to your question is that the engine still had oil, just not enough to register on the dip stick. Dip sticks don’t go all the way to the bottom of the oil pan. They just go down to the point where they can measure the normal range.

The assumption that there was no oil, just because there wasn’t enough to register on the dip stick, was a faulty assumption.

My car holds 3.8 quarts of oil. However, it doesn’t register on the dip stick after I add the first two quarts. My dip stick will show no oil, even when it is more than half full.

Hi Whitey & bennyandthejets…
Yes, there still is oil in the engine, on the oil pan. But the dipstick is not showing any. It should show some at the MIN level or even below. Because it was not, he pour 2 qts but then the level went up over the MAX level. How is that possible? Camry uses about 4 qts. Just two qts won’t necessarily pushed the level that far up because there was no oil showing in the first place. But it went up after only 2 qts. The question is how much oil was in the engine when he checked? Why was the dipstick not showing any at all. Thanks guys.

The “add” line is a quart below the “full” line, and the tip of the stick is just beyond the “add” line. There were probably 2-3/4 quarts in it when he checked it. That would leave the top of the oil pool just below the tip of the fully inserted dipstick. When he added the two quarts, he brought the total to 4-3/4 quarts. Since the “full” line is at 4 quarts, he was then 3/4 of a quart above the “full” line.


According to my friend, the dipstick DIDN’T show any oil at all at any level. Hence, he put 2 qts in at the time just so there will be some oil in the engine. We are not mechanics but we pretty much know how to check the oil. Maybe you are right, maybe not. But we would like to know why the dipstick didn’t register any oil at all that necessitated my friend adding 2 qts although there actually was oil in the engine. Was this a sign of some engine problem? oil problem? etc…??? Thanks.

The above are right, if you are more than a quart and a half low, it will not register on the dipstick. Adding two quarts should make you no more than a half quart over, which should not cause any damage with normal driving.

The conditions under which you check the oil can affect its level on the dipstick. The worse condition would be to start the engine and then shut it down a few seconds later. The oil would have contracted because its colt, then got pumped up into the upper parts of the engine, but being cold, it would take its time draining back. If you checked the oil immediately after the cold shut down, it would show a lower level than it should.

The correct way is to check the oil when the engine is warm and has been shut down for at least 30 seconds. The oil will have expanded and the 30 seconds will be plenty of time for it to drain back to the pan.

The quick lube place may not have put enough oil in when they changed the oil. Did your friend check the oil before leaving the place? I rarely use those places, but if I’m stuck out on a road trip and the oil needs to be changed, the first thing I do is make it clear to them that they are not to touch anything else. I won’t even let them check the air in the tires. That gives them the message that I can take care of my car myself and I won’t be fooled by any B$ services they want to sell.

I also agree with Caddyman and I was writing at the same time as he was. I do however disagree with the contention that engine oil should be checked in a hot engine. It does not make sense at all. I would like to hear the engineering judgement behind the owners manuals that state the opposite of most other owners manuals. There is only one way to get an accurate oil check and that is with a cold engine on a level surface. I won’t suspend my belief system for a couple of owners manuals that state a somewhat ridiculous claim.

Thanks for your explanation. I already told my friend not to use these quick-lube places. He also told me he checked the oil both while cold & warm & on flat surface, scenarios similar to what you mentioned. As I mentioned in one of these postings, we are not mechanics but we know how to check the oil. So it comes down to why the dipstick didn’t show any oil at all although we now know there were oil in the engine because the 2 qts pushed the oil level over the MAX line. Has anyone had this problem before? Thanks.

missileman, I believe the answer has to do with margin of error. Most normal cars have a decent margin of error, so the oil can be overfilled a little without it coming into contact with the crank shaft.

When oil gets hot, it expands. With high performance machines, they make more of an effort to maximize oil capacity, and the margin of error is smaller. This is why some vehicles recommend checking the oil while the engine is warm. If it is hot while you check it, you are less likely to overfill it.

Many owner’s manuals recommend checking the oil each time you stop for fuel. If you are stopping for fuel, your engine has already been running, and is probably at operating temperature.

I see this issue being similar to checking the air in the tires. If you have a choice, it is better to do before the car is driven. However, if you forget to do it before you drive, you are better off checking it warm than not checking it at all.

I…disagree with the contention that engine oil should be checked in a hot engine.

Really? You would never check your oil if your engine is hot? Not under any circumstances? What do you do if you are on the road and you suspect a problem? Are you going to sit there for hours in summer heat until your car cools down before you check the oil?

The owner’s manuals of both of my motorcycles recommend warming up the engine before I check the oil. The owner’s manual of my Honda Civic recommends checking the oil at each fuel stop. Wouldn’t the engine be hot at most of my fuel stops?

I think you are nit picking. Nobody should ever NOT check the oil just because the engine is hot, and the reading you get from 99% of the cars out there will be accurate enough with a hot engine.

So it comes down to why the dipstick didn’t show any oil at all although we now know there were oil in the engine…

I believe this question has already been answered. Your dip stick is only designed to measure the range between “full” and “add a quart.” It is not designed to measure the full range of oil capacity.

Does your friend have the owner’s manual for his Camry? What does it say about using the markings on the dip stick?

Somehow somewhere along the many postings, the translation got lost.
There were oil in the engine, this we know. The dipstick didn’t register any AT ALL, this we know. Thinking there’s no oil, my friend put 2 qts just so he won’t have engine breakdown costing thousands of dollars, this we know because the 2 qts pushed the level way over the MAX mark after… The dipstick should had register some even if low oil like even at minimum. The dipstick is design to show the range (level) of oil in the engine between Low & High (Min & Max), not just “Full & add a quart.” So what & why didn’t any oil showed? This is what we want to know from you guys with lots of experiences with car repairs & maintenance. My point is that the dipstick didn’t show any oil at any level at all. Maybe I will just think of it as a freak of nature, if I am allowed even to say that. Thank you.


The loss in translation is happening ONLY at your end.
Please read again from the very beggining the answers to your original post. It has been explained to you, quite clearly and thoroughly, several times over, why you did not see any oil on the dipstick.

Look at the drawing in the link below, then read again the answers to your original question. Hopefully this will aid in your understanding of them.


This is not nit picking in any sense of the word. I maintain that the most accurate check of ANY engine oil is when it’s cold. I do check engine oil when it’s hot if need be but I know that the reading I get is a best guess scenario at best. Some engines drain back the oil more slowly than others which will affect the accuracy. This is not rocket science.

You have quite an educational presentation there, but I don’t see the connection between the oil & dipstick. Whether straight (flat), V’s or rotary engine, it’s still the dipstick showing how much oil between L & H (Min & Max) which my friend’s car didn’t show at the time. If low, it’s still showing, If full, it’s also showing. In-between, it’s also showing. Anyway, I want to thank all of you for helping in one way or another. This is one unresolved topic my friend has to accept & hopefully won’t happen again. Thank you.