What Is a Top-Off Oil Change? (All You Need To Know)

What is a top off oil change

Do you know what is a top off oil change? Well, you are at the perfect place to find the answer to such a question.

If you own a car, then you will know just how important it is to have your oil changed regularly. When looking for more information about oil changes, you may have come across the term ‘top-off oil change’.

So, what does this mean? Is it better than a normal oil change? Should you avoid it? Let’s take a look!

What Is a Top-Off Oil Change?

A top-off oil change does exactly what it says on the tin. You are topping the oil in your vehicle off. You aren’t replacing the whole lot.

Obviously, when you use your vehicle, the oil levels will slowly start to dwindle. A top-off oil change will bring those levels back up to the required amount.

Although, to be honest, you should probably be avoiding a top-off oil change in most cases. It isn’t a bad thing to do.

However, if you are going to top off the oil, then you may as well change the whole lot.

Read also >> Is Replacing Engine Oil The Same As An Oil Change?

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How Is a Top-Off Oil Change Different From a Normal Oil Change?

As we said, a top-off oil change doesn’t remove any of the old oil. All of the oil currently in your vehicle remains there. You are really just replacing the oil that has slowly dwindled away as you have driven your vehicle.

Since you are not replacing the oil in your vehicle, any dirty oil is going to remain. This means that when you pour in the fresh oil, it is going to get pretty filthy. This is why it is recommended that you don’t just go for top-off oil changes.

Remember, the whole reason why you are supposed to change your oil is to ensure that you do not have oil contaminants destroying your engine.

A top-off oil change every so often is fine, but eventually, you are going to want to completely change that oil out.

When Do You Need a Top-Off Oil Change?

If your oil levels dip below the minimum mark in your vehicle’s oil tank, then you are probably going to want to make a top-off oil change. Your vehicle’s manual will tell you how to check the oil levels in your vehicle.

That being said, a top-off oil change is more of a stop-gap measure. As we said before, you can’t be constantly topping up the oil levels in your vehicle.

At some point, all of that old oil is going to need to be drained away. If you don’t, then there will be all sorts of contaminants floating around in the oil that could potentially damage your engine.

In our opinion, a top-off oil change is going to be fantastic for getting you by until you can fully replace the oil on your vehicle.

Remember, the oil in your vehicle should be completely changed once a year, or every 3,000-4,000 miles (whichever occurs more frequently). This is not a top-off oil change, but a complete oil change. 

If you have carried out a top-off oil change, then we recommend that you get yourself to a garage within the next couple of weeks.

You may also want to keep an eye on your oil levels, just in case, there is a leak somewhere.

You should carry out a complete oil change immediately if one of the following is true:

  • The oil smells sweet.
  • The oil smells like gasoline
  • The oil is pink
  • The oil is green
  • The oil is red

In fact, if the oil is any other color than amber, then you will need to carry out an oil change rather than an oil top-off.

How To Make a Top-Off Oil Change

You will need your vehicle’s manual here. The manual will tell you how to check your oil levels, as well as the location of the oil tank in your vehicle.

You will also need to know the type of oil that you need to be using in your vehicle. It is important that you use the correct oil, otherwise, you run the risk of causing damage to your engine. 

Once you have selected your oil, locate the oil tank under the hood. There will normally be a cap with a picture of an oil can on it. If you can’t find it, then read your vehicle’s manual.

Unscrew the oil cap. Using a funnel, gently pour the new oil into the oil tank. Make sure that you do this slowly. Keep pouring until you have reached the maximum oil level for the vehicle. It is important that you do not go above the quoted maximum.

It will have absolutely no benefit, and there is a risk that too much oil could damage your vehicle.

Once the oil has been topped up, tighten the oil cap securely. You can now drive your vehicle.

If you have noticed that huge amounts of oil are missing, then we suggest that you schedule a trip to the garage as soon as possible. There is a good chance that you have an oil leak in your vehicle.

Remember, carrying out a top-off oil change is not going to replace the need to change your vehicle’s oil.

As we said, no matter how often you have topped up the oil levels in your vehicle, you will still need to change that oil every 12 months (or every 4,000-5,000 miles).

If you find yourself having to top up frequently, then you need to head to a garage.

Final Thoughts

A top-off oil change doesn’t actually change the oil in your vehicle. Instead, you are going to be topping up the oil levels. It doesn’t replace any old oil in your vehicle.

While a top-off oil change will be fine as a stop-gap measure, it is important that you head to a garage as soon as possible for a complete oil change.

If you only ever carry out top-off oil changes, then there is a strong chance that you will end up damaging the engine. 



Steve P.

Steve is an automotive technician, technical writer, and Managing Editor. He has held a lifelong passion for cars, with a particular interest in cars like the Buick Riviera. Steve is based in Boise, Idaho.

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