Checking the oil level in any modern BMW is both easier and more difficult than it would seem. I say this because if you do nothing, your BMW will tell you if your oil level gets low. In fact, your BMW will even tell you when you need to change your oil based on how you drive it. Multiple short drives in stop and go travel will mean a more frequent oil change. But what do you do if you have a mix of short and long steady drives? Thankfully, your BMW will still keep track of it and let you know when you must change the oil.
Is your BMW 20 years or older?
In order to check your oil, it really depends on the age of your BMW. If your model is over 20 years old – from the ’90s and early 2000s – consider yourself lucky. Just pop the hood of the engine bay, grab a clean cloth or paper towel and pull out the oil dipstick with the engine off. Wipe the dipstick off, replace and then remove it again. Why pull, wipe, dip and recheck? Simply to ensure that that after stopping the engine, the levels are not higher than what they really are. Note the dipstick will have two horizontal notches near the end, so your oil level should be between those. Also protip – use a fresh clean cloth or paper towel, as you dont want any odd contaminants introduced into your oil from the dipstick.
Starting with the 2005 model year, all BMWs have an electronic dipstick. The “newest” BMW I can think of with a dipstick was the 2006 E46 M3. In my E92M3, the physical dipstick is gone. This means that even after you change your own oil, you want to check the right levels. Therefore, you have to start the motor and let the engine reach operating temperature. Furthermore, you need to be in Park or Neutral and on a level surface. Then, through the iDrive system you can check the oil level.
Check Oil Levels in BMW Plug-in Hybrids
But what if you drive a BMW plug-in hybrid? How do you check the oil levels? Welcome to a modern-day conundrum. The petrol engine needs to be at operating temperature in order to check the oil. As per the instructions on the iDrive screen, you have to be in Park or Neutral.
Do you know what the engine does when you put a BMW plug-in does in Park or Neutral? It shuts off. Fortunately, BMW performs a special check engine oil level run cycle when you select that option in the iDrive menu. This is the case in my 2021 BMW X3 xDrive30e. The engine starts while you are in Park, though the RPM gauge does not show the motor is running. Once the oil level is checked, the result is displayed on the iDrive screen.
Always Pay Attention To Warning Messages
Again, BMW will still make it easy for you by displaying a warning message when the oil levels are too low. In the older BMW models, you would get a “yellow Aladdin’s lamp”, the equivalent of a level low warning. It turns red when your BMW’s engine oil is extremely low. Think yellow, I need to add oil when I stop at my next destination. If you see a red oil level sign, you need to stop your BMW as soon as it is safe to do so before you damage it.
But as always, pay attention to your BMW’s service interval and any messages it displays in iDrive. If you are inquisitive about the level, or you plan to do any performance driving on say an autocross or a race track driving event, then you definitely need to check the level.
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