Dear Car Talk:
My 2019 Alfa, with a 2-liter engine, doesn’t have a dipstick to check the oil level. Can I trust the oil level light on the dash? Thank you. — Luke
You don’t have much choice, Luke. Unless you have a gastroenterologist in the family who doesn’t mind getting his colonoscope oily. I’m a bit old-fashioned, and I like having a dipstick, too. But it’s going the way of the roll-down window.
Most people are only too happy to never have to open the hood of their car, so carmakers are responding accordingly. In fact, if you do open the hood now just to look at your engine, you can’t even see it anymore. It’s covered by a big piece of plastic called the “engine cover.” They might as well emboss it with “Nothing to see here, folks!”
The oil level on your car, Luke, and on most new cars these days, is measured electronically, with a sensor inside the crank case. And it is reliable. Put it this way: If you ran out of oil in the next few years and didn’t know it, Alfa would owe you a very expensive engine. So THEY trust the sensor enough to protect their financial interests.
If the level gets too low, the sensor triggers an “oil level” light on your dashboard and tells you to add a quart. They usually build in sufficient leeway so that when the light comes on, it’s not a dire emergency.
Unless it’s pouring out the bottom of the engine (in which case other warning lights will soon join that oil level light), you have time to mosey to a gas station or a Walmart and buy a quart of oil. And on some cars, including your Alfa, Luke, you can even perform an oil level test on your touch screen. And you don’t even have to be able to read Italian.
If you burrow into your screen menus, you’ll find one that says “Car Status.” In there, you’ll see an option for “Oil Level.” Park the car on a level surface, follow the prompts, wait a couple of minutes while the sensor reads your oil level, and — Che Bellezza! — you’ll see a graphic representation of your dipstick on the screen. And if you miss the part of the experience where you burn the tips of your fingers touching the hot dipstick, you can always touch the car’s cigarette lighter.
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