Oil reads empty and full

I check my oil it reads full I wipe the stick check again and nothing is on the stick it keeps doing this ?? Then after I start it and check it reads full again I don’t know what’s going on

Some vehicles are just like that.

Try letting the car sit and cool off, like overnight. Then in the morning just lift the dipstick straight up and out. Check the reading.

I’ve checked my oil (and I have 6 cars) this way for decades.

I don’t even need paper towel or a rag. I don’t even wipe the stick off. I don’t even remove the stick from its tube.

I just slowly lift the stick until I can see the oil level on it (keeping the tip in the tube) and the push it back down.

Simple, neat, clean, quick, accurate.

Oh, and while you’re checking, I hope you’re doing a visual inspection of coolant and brake fluid in their see-through reservoirs. It literally takes seconds.



Park the car on a level surface. Turn the car off. Let the oil drain back into the oil pan - 3 minutes should be enough when hot, 15 minutes when cold. Pull the dipstick out, wipe the oil off. Put the dipstick back in all the a\way. Pull it back out, look at the oil level on the end of the dipstick. It should be between the 2 marks. If not, add 1/2 quart, let it drain down a few minutes, wipe the dipstick and re-insert it. Take it out and read the level.

Most cars on the road are read that way. Porsche 911’s and some special Corvettes are not.

Alicia_Jake, for the discussion, what is the Make, Model, and Model-Year of your vehicle?

Yes that’s exactly what I’m doing the first pull of the stick before I wipe it reads full but the second dip it reads empty?

It’s a Chevy equinox 2013

Alicia , is this a vehicle you just acquired or is this a problem you have been having for sometime ? Not really important but what is this vehicle ? And yes the level is best checked in the morning before starting the vehicle. Just for grins you might have someone else check the level and see if they have the same problem .

Yes I’ve tried that and I did the guy at auto zone was stumped as well

And I just got the truck 2013 Chevy equinox

Oil on the dipstick when the engine is cold may be oil that was splashed up there while the engine last ran. It may stick to the dipstick. Wipe it off then reinsert all the way. Pull it out and see the actual level of oil. Adjust as needed. Sounds to me like it’s low.

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Your first reading is not accurate. That is oil on the stick due to sloshing while running. You always have to clean the stick first before taking a reading. The bad news is it’s dry on second reading which means it’s at least a quart low. The good news is the first reading has oil on the stick so at least it’s not empty…

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Sometin’ ain’t right.


Yes I think so too if I even just a qt I don’t think it should read empty no matter what

I let my 2013 Equinox (purchased new November 2012) sit overnight before I check the oil. The last 1/2 quart of seems to take forever to drain to the oil pan. I pull the dipstick out, wipe it, and reinsert it to check the oil level. At least give it an hour or two to sit before checking the oil.

I would check my oil immediately after changing it and it would be low on the dipstick. After some time the oil level would be normal. I’ve only experienced this with my Equinox. Since this year Equinox with the 2.4 4 cyl has oil consumption issues you need to check the oil on a regular basis under the same conditions (i.e. after sitting overnight). My Equinox’s oil consumption was 1 qt/1500 miles at 42k miles prior to being repaired under warranty.

Ed B.

I have never seen a vehicle where it takes an extended period of time before the oil level can be checked.

The quick lube places must be pulling their hair out!


When the engine is running a lot of the oil in the system is inside the engine, not in the oil pan where the dipstick goes. So you have to wait a little while for the oil to drain from the engine into the oil pan after turning off the engine, before checking the dipstick. I’ve never had to wait more than a few minutes, but I’ve only had to check the oil on maybe 6 different cars. So there may be ones that take longer to drain into the oil pan. In any event the dipstick reading isn’t accurate if checked immediately after the engine has been running. The inaccuracy is that it usually shows there is more oil than there actually is. Due to oil splashing onto the dipstick as the engine runs.

It’s also possible the oil drain paths from the top of the engine to the bottom part are partially blocked with sludge. Knock on wood that’s not the problem.


I was pulling my hair out (with little to spare) trying to get a consistent reading on the dipstick before I figured out what was going on.

Ed B.

I had never seen an engine in a car take a long time to drain either, until I got my 2012 Camry. The owner’s manual says it takes 4.7 quarts. When I put in 4.7, my dipstick read 1/2 qt low. I put in the rest of the 5th qt. and it still read a little low. I emailed Toyota USA and they told me, check it tomorrow morning and it will be full. They were right. It makes me wonder how small the drain holes are? It does take the full 5 qts though.

My wife has the same problem because some of these dipsticks are hard to read, especially when the oil is clean.

Let the oil completely drain down overnight, before starting it gently remove the dip stick, dry it completely, gently restick it and then support the “wet” end from underneath with a clean white dinner napkin.

The yellowish oil shows up much better on the white napkin than on the steel or reddish brown dipsticks.

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As stated, I’ve owned and still own vehicles that must be checked cold to get an accurate reading. I know an accurate reading when I see one because I always maintain the oil to the full mark. And I change oil myself and put the drain oil back into 5 quart oil bottles to be recycled.

On extended trips I check coolant level and oil with the engine warm at gas fill-ups, knowing the oil reading won’t be accurate, but rather to verify I still have it and I’m not leaving a trail of vital fluids down I-75 for some reason, ha, ha, (peace of mind reflex).

I’ve never been convinced that the difference in level between cold (over-night) and warm (operating temperature) readings are caused by oil that’s reluctant to drain back to the pan, but rather a function of dipstick/dipstick tube design. The inaccurate readings do not leave a distinct perpendicular line of oil, but rather a parallel trail of oil.

I’ve had vehicles where readings were similar, checked warm or cold, but many had fairly straight dipstick/dipstick tube designs and a fairly large diameter tube.

Some of my vehicles have tubes that make a couple curves in a couple different directions to get to the pan. They have dipsticks that are twisted into a spiral in order that they can curve in two directions at once. They practically have to be screwed in to make the bends, but can often be pulled almost straight out. And if that’s not enough, they have small caliber tube bores without much clearance between stick and tube.

So, I’ve come to think the problem is oil not draining out of the tube very well and not so much an engine drain-back problem. When those sticks are spiraled, don’t go straight down, make convoluted turns, and don’t have much clearance (none in places) in the tube, then I can see there’d be a problem until given a long time to drain.

I watched this problem evolve as cars went from simple straight sticks, to new-fangled designs. But, I solved it by checking oil cold.

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