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Car dashboard engine oil warning
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Chloe Martell

March 13, 2019

Owning a car Young driver stories 5 min read

Whilst part of me likes to say that I know a lot about cars, engines, maintenance and all the other aspects of driving – I don’t. I try to learn as much as I can but as a fairly new driver, this is all still new to me. My most recent blunder involved the lead up to getting my car serviced. I hope anyone that reads this takes at least one thing away – and doesn’t do what I did!

Get the first service booked

My car is an 18 plate, so it hasn’t had a service yet. It’s coming up to a year that I’ve owned my little Vauxhall Adam and I knew a service was looming. I’d done research on what is included in a service but I had little clue on how or when to book it – nor what was really needed. My car is under warranty so I knew I had to go to a garage that would use Vauxhall parts to make sure my warranty wasn’t compromised. I didn’t know what was what really, so it was just a question I was going to ask the garage options when I called.

After speaking to friends (those who have more life experience than me), I called a local garage and asked if they serviced Vauxhalls. They did, and quoted me £150 which I didn’t think was too bad. Soon after, however, and and after speaking with a few friends I realised that this isn’t a flat rate and different garages would charge different prices. I decided to get my research head on and phoned a few more garages near me that would offer a service – eventually finding one that quoted me almost half the original price. I’d also heard great things about this garage, so booked it in for the earliest slot which was around a week after.

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Oil is low – quick!

Now I know I should check things like oil in my car, but often, it slips my mind. I’m busy, ok?! The only thing that ever really gets topped up is my screen wash, and I realise that is low when… well, when it’s completely empty and I’m frantically trying to get bird poo off my window as I’m driving. In regards to engine oil, coolant and all the other stuff, I rely on my car telling me there is an issue, something which I have learned not to take at face value.

Hopping in my car the day after booking my service, I had a warning on my dashboard that there was an oil life of 4% left. ENTER PANIC STATIONS. What if my car breaks down when I’m driving it? What if my engine explodes? What if my car is completely ruined?

I told everyone when I got to work that I had 4% oil left, and they advised me to rush out and get some oil to top it up, so I did (well, I got a lift… I was not risking driving my oil-less danger trap). Getting back, and I realised that I had not checked the dipstick and trusted only the warning my car gave me. After checking it (well, asking my work friend to check it because I didn’t have a clue what I was looking at), there seemed to be enough oil in my car – at least to last me until my service! I was confused, and didn’t want to fill up more oil unnecessarily. I put the oil to one side and made an all-important phone call… Dad!

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Oil level or oil life?

I called my Dad and explained my situation, to which he laughed… quite a lot, actually. It turns out that the warning in my car wasn’t so much a ‘go and get oil right now or your car will burst into flames’ kind of warning but an ‘it’s time for a service soon, Chloe’ kind of warning. How was I to know? (Well, I could’ve read the manual couldn’t I?) The 4% was the oil life, not level, meaning I actually had plenty of oil left – at least until my service a few days later. This is probably the biggest learning curve actually – if I had read the service manual and log book etc that came with my car – I would’ve realised what the warning sign actually meant. Instead, I panic purchased oil and only after realised everything was actually fine, just something to keep an eye on.

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You live and learn

I left my car as it was (with more than enough oil in) and waited for my service but kept a close eye on the oil life. It dropped down to 3% over the weekend before I took it to the garage for my service, however I made sure that I kept checking the dipstick to see if there was oil in there, and there was.

My service went absolutely fine, and I drove away with 100% oil life – and a bottle of oil which I can keep for actual emergencies.

I think the biggest thing I learned was not to always assume I think the warnings signs my car shows mean. Of course, all cars are designed to help drivers, but I think when it comes to things like this, checking it yourself is the best way to go!

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Chloe Martell profile

By Chloe Martell

'As a new driver, I'm so eager to share my driving journey with you all - from when I was a learner, going through my test and all the aspects of my driving life now, including my love of cars!'  See more posts by Chloe

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