Fluctuating oil level

I’ve been checking my oil every morning for a few weeks now because of a worry about it burning off. I check it at the same time each morning, in pretty much the same parking spot, before driving it. Every time I take out the dipstick, wipe it off and put it back in to check. What’s weird is that the level seems to fluctuate. Some days it’s up over the higher dot. Some days it’s down closer to the lower one (though it hasn’t been under). Most days it’s somewhere closer to the middle between the two. Is it common for it to fluctuate that much on a day to day basis? Is it something I should be worrying about? Thanks for the help.

In case it matters, it’s a 1998 Honda Civic LX.

There may be some fluctuation with level but maybe not as much as you describe. On our Integra (=civic), it tends to be at pretty much the same level all the time. I don’t remember it ever fluctuating much at all. It is gravity drained so naturally it wants to all come back to the bottom of the pan. If it doesn’t, it could be an indication that something is clogged. Has that engine been properly maintained? It is parked level, I take it? What weight oil are you using?

You will get a different reading when you check the oil first thing in the morning, when all oil has drained into the crankcase, than when you start it up and run it one minute, then shut it off. There will be almost a quart of oil hung up in the engine which has not drained down yet.

I check my oil in the morning before starting the engine. That way I get a true and consistent reading.

He said that he checks it ‘before driving’ it. I’m assuming that means ‘before starting’ so you may have a good point, Doc.

Don’t check the oil every morning, it will make you crazy (crazier). Santa only checks his list twice and you know how important that one is. Check it once a week maximum and if it seems to be at its lowest, then recheck it in two days or later the same day if you want. You know its habits so things shouldn’t be in much doubt.

Thanks for the help so far. I’m checking it every morning right now because I recently found smoke coming from the engine and found the oil to be very low soon after an oil change. The thinking from my mechanic was that it was possible oil was getting into the engine and burning off. That is the only reason I’ve been checking so frequently.

Every time I check it’s in the morning, about the same time, on level ground, before turning the engine on. Not sure about the weight of the oil. I also don’t do much to keep the engine maintained other than regular oil changes, so I don’t have a great answer for that.

How many quarts low is “very low”?

You might remove the valve cover, and see if there’s any sludge on top of the head or in the oil drain-back holes that’s preventing all the oil from draining back into the oil pan.


Was the oil filter installed correctly? A lose oil filter will leak oil after an oil chnage, as will one where an old gasket was left in place.

Make sure the dipstick is fully seated in the tube each time.

You have a reason to check the oil. Not crazy. There is more to this story. The question I have are: Did the smoking stop? Was it coming from the exhaust pipe or from under the hood like oil was spilled on the engine? Is the oil filter tight enough and was it double gasketed? What is the make and model of the vehicle? There’s always so much more to a story.

Checking The Oil In A Cold Engine (Car On Level Ground) Every Morning Is Good, But Why Remove And Wipe The Dipstick ?
I Believe That’s What Is Giving You Various Readings.

On a warmed-up engine it is necessary to remove and wipe (and also wave about to cool - warm oil clings better to a cold stick) the dipstick, but on a cold engine, no. You’ll drag thick oil up the tube and screw up the readings.

I get solidly consistent readings in the morning on cold engines by simply lifting the dipstick enough to see the oil level and markings, without even removing the stick completely (the tip remains in the tube) ! Just push it back in after you’ve read it.

I’ve done this with our family fleet for many, many years. The beauty of this procedure is that it is accurate and neat and clean. I don’t even need a rag or paper towel.

Easy, does it. Don’t pull the stick completely out of the tube. Try this and see if your readings don’t improve and become simpler.