What Color Should the Oil Be on a Dipstick?

As a car owner and driver, there are many moving parts that you are responsible for. It can be challenging to stay on top of everything and know what repairs must happen at what time. Changing the oil must occur after a certain amount of time and mileage, but did you know that the color of your engine oil can shift?

The oil on a dipstick should be light amber. The color of your engine oil is an essential indicator of the condition your car is in and how much mileage the oil in your engine has left. Generally, fresh oil is light amber and with use, it darkens until it becomes black.

The following article will outline and explain in depth the various shades of color your oil may present itself and what each of them means. Factors that affect the color, how to tell when something in your engine is broken, and general facts about oil color, engines, and dipsticks will also be discussed. For more information on what color the oil on a dipstick should be, continue reading below.

Factors That Affect the Color of Engine Oil on a Dipstick

Aside from signaling a potential problem, many other factors can affect the color of your car’s oil. Before we jump into understanding what each color means, it’s crucial to comprehend the variables that might cause the oil to shift its hue.

Time Spent in a Working Engine

The most common reason for changing the color of engine oil is time. As oil ages, it usually darkens from its fresh, yellow, or amber color. As your vehicle runs, heat is applied to the engine, which darkens the oil’s color. Eventually, the oil will eventually turn a dark black color.

Engine Oil Additives

Another thing that can impact the color is the type of oil and what additives it contains. Usually, a darker oil color signals it is time to be changed, but this might not always be the case if your car’s oil contains extra ingredients. Some of these additional substances might be rust and corrosion inhibitors, anti-wear, or viscosity modifiers.

Dirt and Other Particulate Matter

As you drive your car, the engine is exposed and vulnerable to dirt, dust, mud, and other particles in the air and on the road. When these elements make their way into the engine and its oil, they can create what’s referred to as “dirty oil.” This will also cause the color to darken and usually signals it needs to be changed.

Engine Oil Colors and Their Meanings

Now that we’ve analyzed the different things that can change an engine oil’s color let’s look at what each color can mean. We’ll also outline what colors signal that something is wrong with your vehicle.

Keep in mind that these are general statements. If you have specific questions or concerns about your car or its oil, it is always best to consult with a professional. 

Light Yellow or Amber

This color of oil generally signals that oil is new and clean. If you observe this color on your dipstick, you should not be concerned as light amber is usually the color most fresh engine oil is.

It is important to note that depending on the type and ingredients, your oil’s “new” color might be slightly darker or lighter. For example, a completely new engine might leave you with light yellow or golden oil. However, this usually changes once the engine is in use.

Dark Brown

If you notice your oil is dark brown and it has been a while since your last oil change, it’s probably time to change the oil in your engine. Remember, as time goes on and the oil gets heated, it darkens. A dark brown color signals enough time has passed that you should probably replace it


While black oil might just mean that the oil is extremely old and needs a change very soon, it can also be an indicator that something is not working correctly. If you notice the consistency to be thicker and sludge-like, this can mean that the oil is contaminated with high levels of dirt.

Another issue that black oil could signal is that there is a clog in the fuel return line, which can lead to severe problems like engine failure.

Milky or Creamy

Another oil color that can suggest there is an issue with your engine is if you notice the oil color on your dipstick is white, creamy, or milky. This can mean that there is a leak in the head gasket, which should be tended to immediately.


Finally, if you notice there is a grayish or whitish tint to your oil color, this might indicate that there is water or coolant contamination in your oil. If this happens, you should contact a professional as soon as possible.

How to Check Your Car’s Oil Color

Many people say the sound of your vehicle and engine are helpful ways to gauge how well your car is running. But the color of your engine oil is another valuable tool to understand the state your vehicle is in.

When checking out your engine’s oil, there are three main things to observe:

  • The oil level. When pushed into the correct tube, how much does the oil cover the dipstick?
  • Consistency of the oil. How thin or thick do you observe the oil to be?
  • The oil’s color. What color does the oil appear to be?

On average, you should check your car’s oil about once a month. If you drive an older car, you might need to check more frequently. Once your vehicle has driven for over 100,000 miles, the engine can begin to burn small amounts of oil off when you drive it. This will cause the oil levels to deplete at a much faster rate, which means the oil will have to be checked and changed more often.

Here’s how to check your car’s oil color:

  1. Set up your car to check the oil: When checking your car’s oil, it should be kept in park on a level surface with the engine turned off. For extra safety measures, you should also engage the parking brake. Lift the hood of the car. If you aren’t sure how to do this, check your owner’s manual or search the internet for instructions pertaining to your car’s make and model.
  2. Find the dipstick: The dipstick should be reasonably easy to spot after you open your car’s hood. Look for a small handle that is usually bright orange or yellow color with oil can symbol on it.
  3. Remove the dipstick from its housing: Pull the dipstick out from the tube where it is contained. Wipe the end with a paper towel or rag to catch any dripping oil. There should be two indicator lines; the lower second line means the oil is low, and it is time to be replaced and changed.
  4. Note the oil level, consistency, and color: Place the dipstick back inside its tube and pull it out. If you notice a low oil level change the oil. For any alarming colors or textures, be sure to schedule an appointment for maintenance.

Final Thoughts

Generally, the oil on your dipstick should be a yellow or amber color. This means that the oil is new and does not need to be changed if you notice the level to be low or any colors that signal a potential problem, change the oil or book a mechanic appointment as needed.

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