Why car owners don't inspect the oil dipstick?

There’s been a few posts of late here about the owner being surprised that the engine is low on oil, 3500 miles after the last oil change. The experts here of course reply, saying that’s normal oil usage, especially in newer cars where the manufacturers are doing all they can to improve mpg. I’ve been pondering this question a bit, why car owners seem reluctant to occasionally inspect the oil dipstick? It can’t be the time it takes to do the job can it? How long does it take to look at the oil dipstick, pop the hood, pull the dipstick? 2 minutes max?

After giving this puzzler some thought, my theory is that the owner doesn’t want to look under the hood, not b/c they don’t want to look at the oil dipstick, but for fear something else will discovered that needs to be addressed. In these modern times our schedule seems to be always fully booked and we just don’t any extra time to fit in a visit to the mechanic. So if we just don’t look at the oil dipstick, don’t ever pop the hood, then out of sight, out of mind is the solution.

What do you think?

I don’t think it goes that deep. More like poor oversight, inattention, whatever you want to call it. I don’t think a regular owner would recognize something wrong, anyway.

I think the problem is quite simple . . .

People have bought into the “notion” that modern cars are maintenance-free

You can blame 100K spark plugs, lifetime atf, extended oil change intervals, etc.

It’s natural to think that some people who are not car-savvy understand it to mean that modern cars don’t need any kind of maintenance whatsoever between scheduled services

We already know that people don’t check their tire pressures. It’s not surprising that those same people also don’t pop the hood, probably never will, and probably have no idea what their engine actually looks like


Many of today’s drivers don’t know what a dipstick is or where it is or how to read it…Even worse, they don’t care…

I find a surprising number of people who truly think that the OIL light means that the oil level is low, not that the oil PRESSURE is low. Granted there are some cars that have an idiot light for low level, but certainly not all have that light. I’ll also grant the IF the level is low, the oil pressure will be low, maybe quite soon Those people the ones that won’t ever be bothered with popping the hood until it’s too late. .

I had a guy ask me how to open his hood the other day. Obviously he had not opened it since purchasing his '05 LeSabre about two years ago. He said he’d been taking it to Iffy lube on a regular basis, but I suspect the low oil PRESSURE light had come on which caused him to explore a means of checking the oil. Tweedle Dumb is a PhD…

“Open a hood? Why would someone want to do that?” he said, with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek.

hmmm … interesting idea there @“MG McAnick” . The owner feels that checking anything under the hood is somebody else’s job, not his. Could be you are onto something.

That method would have worked well in the 1960’s where the gas stations would check your oil for you. The gas station my family went to – a national chain but I forget which one – promised to check the oil and tire pressure with every fill-up. They didn’t even ask if you wanted it done, they just did it as a matter of course.

Some people just don’t want to do it. My female neighbor and I were talking about oil changes and filters in her Pilot. I said that it is easy to change the cabin air filter and offered to show her how. She declined and said she would pay someone to do it. I offered to show her teen son, and she still declined. She laughed that time. I don’t think she opens the hood ever.

I tend to agree with db4690. People have been conditioned to the idea that turn the key and go is all that is necessary.

Many of the same people who won’t spend a couple of minutes checking vitals on their cars will spend countless hours on reality (?) TV or posting one inane comment after another on Facebook or Twitter.

I believe that people simply think that as long as they bring the car in when the maintenance schedule recommends it’ll run forever. I think it’s a total lack of knowledge with no desire to learn.

But I’ll go a step farther. I’ve stated before my belief that our primary and secondary schools are derelict in their responsibilities to graduate students with basic knowledge of science, basic physics, and critical thinking. If the primary and secondary schools were teaching the kids these things, I think the overwhelming majority of these posts would never get posted. People would realize the importance of reading the manual and doing the basics.

Along the lines of what db4690 noted, cars are being viewed more and more as appliances.

Much of this is due to the longer intervals between recommended servicing. Then as more and more do just fine on those longer intervals, the cycle feeds on itself.

I suspect that a lot of people with newer models rely on their car’s oil maintenance idiot light to tell them when the oil should be changed.

I wouldn’t trust a machine to tell me when or what to do but a lot of people nowadays put a lot of trust in machines (computers).

Even though my family didn’t live on a farm, we lived in the country and I attended a country school through 8th grade. The farm kids understood engines and maintenanc and I picked up a lot from them. As a junior high student, I had to take agriculture and I remember a chapter on equipment maintenance. I was transferred to a city school in an affluent district for high school. Many of these wealthy city kids had no understanding of how an engine worked and knew little more than how to start the engine put the car in motion. This back in the mid to late 1950s.
When I started my teaching career back in 1965, I had colleagues about my age who did their own auto maintenance and could talk intelligently about automotive issues. When I retired in 2011, only my geezer colleagues had understanding of how an automobile works and how it should be maintained. I think understanding automobile maintenance is both a socioeconomic and generational issue.

. My son is in his early 40s and isn"t very knowledgeable about automobiles. When he has a problem, I often get a telephone call. I have talked him through replacing the battery, changing a brake light switch and what type shop to seek for various problems. He has great people skills, but really doesn’t care much about mechanical things. By necessity, he has learned how to do minor household repairs, but it isn, his interest.

George, I think that you are greatly underestimating the number of people for whom the car is just another appliance of daily life, much like the toilet or microwave. If it does what it’s supposed to do, it gets no attention or thought. Then when it quits working as expected, it’s a big hassle and costs too much to repair. It’s as simple as that. Come to think of it, I’ve just described myself. No one seems to know what I do until I stop doing it.

Cars today are much cheaper and simpler to maintain than ever before, and yet some people will still neglect them. You can sit in the driver’s seat and have the car tell you if a tire is low, if the oil is low and by how much, when the cabin filter needs to be replaced, and much more. And some people still can’t be bothered to push a button to do all that.

I only had 2 cars since 1968 that ate oil. I knew to watch the oil level on those. The rest regular oil changes, checked once in a while and never needed oil. Depending on the idiot light I suppose, but 1 do not check oil on a regular basis I could go out today do a check and guarantee oil level is fine. Beer for the horses if you inspire me enough to go look, and I need oil. Only 170k miles.

I can tell you one thing. The freak’n hood on some cars are so heavy, smaller people including most ladies just wouldn’t be bothered.

I agree with the assessments but I wonder too if it is not partly because most high schools don’t have “Shop Classes” anymore.

In our high school in 1969 through 1973 we had woodworking classes, a motors class, welding class, metal shop, building construction, and a Electrical class.
Even our drivers ed instructor taught you how to check the oil and change a tire.

I think I took every one of those classes through the years I was there.
The motors class we, rebuilt a Chevy 350 V8 and got to tour the machine shop where the engine would be boiled, line bored, cylinders bored out, heads reworked and machined, valves ground etc., etc… Assembly was handled by every student pitching in in some way.

The electrical class an assignment was to build and electric motor from scratch and mine was the one that took less current to start on it’s own. The teacher asked to keep it for future classes and had I known that those classes would be canceled in the future, I would have asked for it back.

Now days if you don’t have a family member to help guide you…you never get introduced to motors.


Back in the 70s when full service gas stations started fading away and self-serve convenience stores took over I felt even then that was going to lead to problems in the future with neglected cars.

Back in high school in the late 60s/early 70s I worked ina gas station and the standard procedure for every car that entered the lot was to check everything; no matter if someone bought one gallon of gas or filled it up.
All fluids were checked along with tire pressures and any obvious fluid leaks, bad tires, or frayed belts were pointed out.

At least the gas station jockeys back then headed a lot of major problems off for those car owners who never raised the hood.

Over One-Hundred-Plus Years, Cars And People Have Evolved, But Not Dipsticks (the ones in engines I mean).

A hundred years ago, early motorists had to know how to wrestle spare tires onto wheel rims. Cars had dipsticks. Then spare wheel rims with tires installed were invented. Cars still had dipsticks.

A hundred years ago, drivers had to get out and hand crank cars to start them. Cars had dipsticks. Now, you can start your car from your living room or while your jet is landing at the airport. Cars still have dipsticks.

Long ago, folks would put blankets on their laps to stay warm until car heaters were invented. Cars still had dipsticks.

Now, cars have butt heaters and steering wheel heaters. Cars still have dipsticks.

All gas stations had maps for drivers. Cars had dipsticks. Now cars can tell you how many miles to Aunt Maud’s, the best route, any detours, your mpg’s, and fuel remaining. They even tell people when it’s time for maintenance. Now, cars still have dipsticks.

Oil has been given detergents, multi-viscosities, synthetic properties, and all dipsticks got is colorful plastic handles.

People don’t expect to carry crank handles, tire irons, blankets, maps, etcetera. They don’t expect to pay tens of thousands of dollars for a vehicle and then get dirty screwing around with a dipstick.

I’m not defending people running out of oil, but in the engine oil dipstick department, car evolution is in the stone age. Is that it?Is that the best car designers/engineers have for critical oil volume monitoring… A dipstick?

Car companies have to take some responsibility for dumbing everybody down and then using dumb dipsticks. Dipsticks should be a back-up system or used only when servicing the engine.

It’s time for a better, more modern, oil level monitoring system and even possibly a reserve oil reservoir to help maintain adequate volume. Even cooling systems have reservoirs to maintain volume.


Dipsticks should be a back-up system or used only when servicing the engine.

That day is already here. BMW and MB owners have the simplest system for checking oil there is. Get in the car, push a button, and the dash display tells you if the oil is full or if and how much it’s low.

My Lincoln has a Message Center that provides info on just about everything at the push of a button and to me it’s an invaluable asset. It’s difficult to think of doing without that feature.
However, I also raise the hood regularly and make certain all fluids are where they should be. I choose not to ever place myself in a situation where the MC is beeping and flashing a message telling me the oil or coolant is low.

The only one that catches me now and then is the windshield washer fluid and that’s due to the washer bottle being buried out of sight with no way of visually telling how much washer fluid is in it.