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Thread: Checking engine oil level

  1. #1
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    Checking engine oil level

    Oil consumption in the S62 engine used in our Z8s is quite variable. Some owners can go thousands of miles with little to no discernible oil loss while others need to add oil after every spirited drive. These differences are related to engine build date (with earlier motors more prone to burning oil), engine break-in procedure followed when car was new, how hard the engine is run, tolerance differences from one engine to another, mileage on the engine, and type of oil used (no matter what it says in the engine compartment, you should only use Castrol Formula RS 10W-60 synthetic oil). Frequent checking is recommended.

    It is important to remember, however, that an accurate reading of oil level in the S62 motor can only be achieved when the engine is at operating temperature (indicator needle on temp gauge vertical). Measurements taken when the engine is cold will show a deceptively low level of oil (app. 1 quart) which is incorrect. If this reading is used to bring the oil level up to max on the dip stick, the engine's sump will be overfilled and the excess oil can end up in the engine's intake system causing significant smoke from the exhaust and potential damage to the air flow sensors and/or the air filters. In an extreme case, hydraulic lock-up of the engine is possible if enough oil gets into the combustion chambers and this could require a complete engine rebuild. Another significant concern with an overfilled crankcase is frothing of the oil since at its elevated level, it will be in contact with the spinning crankshaft journals leading to aeration of the oil which can starve the engine's bearings of the lubrication they require. Overfilling is not a good thing! It is also important to make sure the car is on a level surface when checking oil level.

    If your Z8's engine does not tend to burn oil, then I suggest checking it every time you fill up the gas tank. That way the engine should be at operating temperature and most gas stations provide a relatively level surface. The correct procedure for checking oil level under these circumstances is to let the engine idle for at least 15 seconds before turning it off. Then wait at least one minute for the oil to drain down into the sump. Now check the oil level with the dipstick (removed, wiped clean, reinserted until it bottoms out, immediately withdrawn). Any reading between the min and max indicators is OK, but if you have Castrol 10W-60 oil with you, topping up the oil level at this time is recommended so that you don't risk running below the min mark before your next gas tank fill-up. (Bavarian Autosport sells a special carrying case #83290144484 that holds one quart of oil and comes with disposable gloves, funnels and wipes, has BMW embroidered on the outside, and looks right at home in the Z8's trunk.) In a pinch, a small amount of a high grade synthetic motor oil can be added but it is not recommended on a regular basis. Never raise the oil level above the max mark. If you do, you should not run the engine at extremely high rpms until you can drain off some of the oil, either by briefly removing the drain plug in the oil pan or using a top-side oil suction device inserted through the dipstick tube (my choice).

    For those whose Z8s burn oil more rapidly or are somewhat anal about maintaining the level at the max mark (that's me), I recommend checking the oil level every time you return home from a drive. That way, the engine is at operating temperature and assuming you have a level surface in your garage, you can just let the engine idle for 15 seconds, then shut it down and wait at least a minute, then check the oil level and top up if necessary from your stash of Castrol 10-60. The nice thing about this regimen is that the next time you want to take your baby out for a spin, you don't have to check the oil because you already know it is correct.

    For reference: smoke caused by oil burned in the engine will appear grey to blue in color while smoke caused by moisture or a coolant leak will appear whitish in color.

  2. #2
    Z8Mania
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    GM- Im sure youre careful about over filling, but given the amount of oil in the engine, isnt it a more prudent practice for most people to wait for the dipstick to show the min line and then add oil slowly until it gets close to the max? Thats what they are now recommending on the V10 cars- partly because of the digital read out system doesnt do so well with incremental top offs, but also because its more straightforward for most people.

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    My concern with allowing the oil level to fall to the min mark before adding oil is that it leaves open the possibility that the level might fall below the min mark before you get around to checking it again. I'm sure there is a safety margin below the min mark but I don't know what it is and I don't think any of us wants to find out the hard way. The corollary to this is that by keeping the oil level at or near max, you have a built in margin of safety in case a particular set of circumstances causes the engine's oil consumption rate to increase unexpectedly. Also, keeping the oil level at the max mark means there will be more oil in the sump which will help the engine run cooler and potentially produce more power. Obviously there are lots of ways to manage the oil level in a Z8; my primary concern was to insure owners are using the proper checking procedure so they don't over or under fill the sump. Whatever works for you is fine with me!

  4. #4
    Z8Mania
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    As usual its hard to disagree with your advice but I would add in that I think the S62 engine carries over 7 quarts (seems I remembered correctly- its 7.4, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BMW_M62 ) and therefore if you frequently check the level and just make sure to top it off as you are getting close to the min line then the worst you will be is like 1/7th low- which should not be a problem. My one concern with having people keep the oil level so close to max is if you put in too much that can create too much pressure throughout the oil lines- this happened frequently to new E60 M5 owners.

    I think we are saying the same thing but with a slightly different ending: The key here is to be vigilant. I check my oil every 3-4 times I fill up with gas. A little preventative maintenance goes a long way.

  5. #5
    Team Z8 RRZ8's Avatar
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    Dear GM,

    It is important to remember, however, that an accurate reading of oil level in the S62 motor can only be achieved when the engine is at operating temperature (indicator needle on temp gauge vertical).

    I do not fully agree with you regarding the temperature. From what I understand the coolant is at temperature when the needle is vertical, but the oil is not. Since BMW did not put in an oil temperature gauge (imho too bad, they should have, why does the M3 have one and 'we' do not....) we have to guess when we can really put down the accelerator. My dealer says that 10-15 minutes of driving really warms up the oil, the coolant gauge is vertical long before this.... So if we measure our oil level as soon as the coolant gauge is vertical, there is a possibility of over-filing in the end........

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    Interesting point, however, I believe that engine operating temperature refers to the measurement of the coolant temp, not oil temp. Once the engine has warmed up, coolant temperature is maintained at a virtually constant level by the thermostat in the cooling system, no matter what conditions the engine is operating under, therefor this represents the actual engine operating temperature. Not only is this indicated by the temp gauge but there is also a warning light which will illuminate if the engine's operating temperature exceeds a safe level. As a result, references to engine operating temp by BMW must refer to coolant temperature. The reason they don't use oil temperature as a measure of engine operating temperature is because engine oil temperature can fluctuate substantially under various operating conditions and as you noted, there is no gauge for oil temp and no warning lights to indicate an unsafe oil temperature level has been reached. Apparently, then, according to BMW, when the engine reaches operating temperature, as measured by the coolant temp gauge, the status of the oil in the engine's circulatory system is correct to allow accurate oil level measurement.

    Having said that, I couldn't agree with you more that the Z8 should have an oil temp gauge and I have been sorely tempted to add one. I just can't figure out where to put it without sullying the car's beautiful dash. I have considered pulling the radio out and using that space for an oil temp gauge along with an oil pressure gauge, but find I do occasionally use the stereo so haven't followed through with that notion. I've also considered installing one of those gauge housings used on the Alpina to indicate gear selection and putting an oil temp gauge inside it instead. What I'd really like is a split gauge that shows both coolant and oil temperature to replace the OE temp gauge, but have no idea where to find one that would fit in the Z8's dash. In my X5 4.6is, not only is there an oil temp gauge but also warning lights on the tach which come on at start-up and stay on until the engine oil temperature starts to rise on the gauge, thereby indicating that it is safe to rev the engine at high levels. In the Z8, I just have to guess based on how long the engine has been running, which is not very accurate to say the least, but I agree that waiting for the oil to warm up is very important before romping on the loud pedal.

    What I don't understand is why the oil level in the S62 sump is lower after the engine has been sitting overnight or before the engine reaches operating temp? In most engines, when they are shut off, oil drains back into the sump from various areas of the engine and the oil level actually rises. Measurements taken when cold would then indicate a higher level of oil in the sump, just the opposite of the S62. I just can't figure out where the oil goes when the S62 motor cools down so that there is less of it in the sump than when it is warm. Any thoughts?

  7. #7
    Z8Mania
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    I wish I knew the answer to that. Id usually ask you!

    On oil temp- from memory- when I had an E39 M5, the oil temp gauge would be at its ready to rumble setting about 2 miles (about 5-8 min) from my house when the ambient air temp was anywhere from 40-70F.

    I wonder if someone makes a remote oil temp gauge that you could set to beep when the oil temp hits a certain range- you could just put it in the center console and wait for the beep...

  8. #8
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    @ GM: I have no idea where the oil should flow, but couldn't it be that the oil when thinner (operating temperature) is flowing more easily end because of this 'pushed in' the oil checking canal (from below) when hot (oil pump turning), and therefore giving a 'higher' reading ? Are you sure BMW is referring to operating temperature when just the coolant (and not the oil too) is at temp ?

    @ Z8 mania: 2 miles in 5-8 minutes ?

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    In the Z8 owner's manual and under the hood, BMW states that the engine should be "warmed up" before checking the oil level. Frankly, I really don't know what that means. Engine block warm to the touch? Indicator needle on coolant temp gauge starting to rise? Warm air available from heater vents? Engine oil temp at a particular level? Or engine at operating temp (seems logical to me)? Fortunately, BMW published a service bulletin on the subject and in it they state that on the S62 motors, the engine should be at operating temp when checking the oil level. Now, since the only way the owner can tell when the engine is at operating temp is by seeing the coolant temp gauge needle reach the vertical position, I don't see how they could be referring to anything else. If they wanted the owner to wait until the oil temp rose to a particular level, they would have to provide some way for the owner to obtain that information; but they don't. Please remember that even if the engine just idles its way to operating temp, the engine oil temp has also risen in the process. In fact, on the S62 motor, the warmed coolant is used to rapidly raise the engine oil's temp up to a safe operating level. There just isn't any practical way to know how warm it has gotten without a gauge so I don't see how they could expect us to use oil temp as the reference point. I suppose they could specify so many miles driven at such and such a speed, but they'd also have to specify rpm levels used and factor in ambient temperature. I think the reason they use coolant temp as the gauge is because oil temp must not be relevant to obtaining proper oil level measurements and because the owner has some way of determining when the engine is ready. I think it's a circulation issue, not really a temperature issue. That's not to say engine oil temp isn't important. In certain cars, BMW does specify that the engine oil should reach a particular temperature level before high rpm levels are used but that is not the same thing as checking oil level in the sump. As an aside, engine oil temps can run much higher than coolant temps which are limited by the boiling point of the water/coolant mixture in a pressurized system. So in the end, the only practical (i.e., owner can be trusted to make the determination) way to determine that the engine is "warmed up" is by watching the coolant temp gauge. If you feel more comfortable waiting for the engine oil temp to rise to some particular level before checking the engine's oil level, I see nothing wrong with the procedure; I just don't know how you can make it consistent without a gauge.

    As for the mystery of where the oil goes when the engine cools down, there are a few things to keep in mind. The majority of the oil used in the engine is located in the sump, whether the engine is running or not. This reservoir of oil is there to insure that the oil pickup for the oil pump never gets starved of oil when the oil moves to one side of the sump in response to g forces and to provide time for returning oil to cool down. Once picked up by the oil pump, oil is sent, under pressure, through various passageways and oil lines, both inside and outside the engine, to provide lubrication to moving parts, absorb heat from the combustion process, and filter the contaminants. Once the system has been pressurized and oil distributed throughout the system, the oil level remaining in the sump is what is critical to insure the oil pump doesn't starve. So when we measure the oil level in the sump and the engine is not running, we are using an interpolation provided by the engineers of what is the appropriate oil level. As a result, oil trapped in the pressurized system and oil that drains back must be factored into the equation. This means the oil filter, Vanos mechanism, etc. all play a role in determining proper oil level, which is why BMW wants the engine "warmed up" before taking the measurement. Also, the dipstick is being dipped into a big pan of oil (sump) located at the bottom of the engine, not really what I would call a canal. The conundrum for me is why there would be more oil in the sump when the engine has been warmed up and the oil system pressurized than after it has cooled down and presumably oil has drained back.

  10. #10
    Team Z8 KenZ8's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RRZ8 View Post

    @ Z8 mania: 2 miles in 5-8 minutes ?
    This is considered lightening speed in/around NYC. One more reason why I left.

  11. #11
    Z8Mania
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    warming up the engine- gentle caressing works well--- oh wait a minute

    Ken, you are welcome back to the center of the universe anytime.

    Where I live I will cover that 2 miles in that amount of time- thats an average of what 10-15mph? I keep the revs low- I just remember where the M5 engine would report that it was up to temp- but a safe margin is 10-15 min of gentle driving.

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    In reference to an earlier post by Z8Mania: Your position that it might be safer to have people wait until the oil level is close to the min mark before adding oil does jive with BMW's recommendation, so perhaps that should be the preferred regimen. At the same time, BMW also recommends checking the oil level every time you fill up the gas tank so perhaps frequent checking would help prevent the level from falling below the min mark. As I stated earlier, I prefer to keep my oil level at the max level but perhaps the method recommended by BMW and seconded by you makes more sense for many owners.

    I also wanted to ask about the oil problems experienced by E60 M5 owners you mentioned. I do not understand how overfilling the oil sump could create too much pressure in the oil lines? The oil pressure in those lines is determined by the oil pump and its pressure relief valve and they are fed by an oil pickup tube of some sort which is immersed in a pool of oil. Adding additional oil to that pool should have no impact on how they operate. What I think must be happening is that the V10 in the m5 has a relatively shallow sump to allow the engine to sit lower in the car and that makes it more susceptible to overfilling since there is very little air space for the excess oil to occupy. When overfilled, rather than affecting the engine's oil pressure level, it is the air pressure level in the sump that is raised and this could lead to oil being forced up into the intake manifold via the crankcase recirculation system. This system allows the gases present in the sump to enter the intake manifold where they combine with the air/fuel mixture and are burned in the cylinders. Those vapors are mostly a result of exhaust gases leaking past the rings in the cylinders and they end up in the sump as what is commonly called blow-by. By the way, those gases are also the primary source of contaminants in the engine's oil. In the pre-smog days, those gases were vented to the atmosphere via valve cover breathers but with emission controls came the requirement to keep those gases contained and modern engines re-burn them. Truth be told, re-burning those gases reduces the amount of power the engine produces but it also eliminates a source of pollution so it's a necessary trade-off. So my guess is that overfilling the sump on the E60 M5 motor leads to excessive oil (along with the gases) entering the intake manifold and this could cause some pretty significant problems, including hydraulic lock-up which can destroy an engine. As noted above, the Z8's S62 motor is susceptible to this same problem.

  13. #13
    Z8Mania
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    You may be right- I have got to differ to you in these matters as you know far more than I. I believe the problem with the V10 was there was a physical cable somewhere in the works that when there was too much pressure in it, the cable would be pushed off and all the oil of the engine would end up on the floor. For as long as I can remember I have been warned that overfilling oil could be potentially as dangerous as under-filling. I think in the end if someone is careful to check frequently using the proper procedure about engine warm up, then they really can't go wrong. One anecdotal story: the Ferrari recommends a similar thing for the F430, including waiting for the oil level to get closer to the bottom mark on the dip stick. However, the engine must be still running. The dipstick is mounted to the oil filler cap which is a beautiful *metal* cap. I can imagine a few owners trying to do this bare handed- ouch! Ive never looked in the tool kit, I bet there are gloves in there- I just use a spare set of old leather ski gloves. On the good news side, the Ferrari V8 has something like 11 quarts of oil in there and the dip stick shows you the top 1 quart- and the Ferrari engine does not have a history of eating oil- though this could be that many owners never put much mileage on the engine. So far in 2500 miles or so Ive had no drop in oil level.

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    If you can check the oil level in your Ferrari while the engine is running, I would guess its has a dry sump system. Can you confirm this?

  15. #15
    Z8Mania
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    Ferrari says the engine in the 430 is a dry sump and I believe the 599 is as well. I think the S85 V10 M engine is a dry sump too- but theres no dipstick- just the digital check.

  16. #16
    Z8 Ate My Homework! Norcal's Avatar
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    No dipstick in the 997 GT3 dry sump either.
    Last edited by Norcal; January 6th 2008 at 16:19.

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    Dry sumps are very different animals from wet sumps.

    In a wet sump, the surplus oil collects in the oil pan which is located at the bottom of the engine. Oil is picked up from the bottom of that pan by the oil pump and sent, under pressure, throughout the engine's lubrication system. One drawback to this system is that if, as a result of g forces, that surplus pool of oil moves away from the oil pump's pickup point, the pump may be starved of oil resulting in engine damage. Baffles are sometimes used to help control the oil's movements and in the S62, BMW uses multiple pick-up points which are chosen in response to g-forces to insure oil is picked up where it has collected. The S62 also uses oil extraction pumps to return oil from the cylinder heads to the sump and these, too, are g-sensitive. Having a wet sump also means the engine's vertical dimension must include the space required to store that oil, resulting in the engine sitting higher up in the engine compartment, which raises the car's center of gravity. Furthermore, because that pool of surplus oil is located right below the reciprocating crankshaft journals, contact between those journals and the oil causes foaming which can also lead to oil starvation in the system. Finally, because the oil reservoir is located in an active area of the engine, measuring its level while the engine is running is not practical, requiring an interpolation of the correct level to be used.

    In an effort to eliminate these drawbacks, a dry sump can be used. An engine with a dry sump does not store its surplus oil in an oil pan located below the engine. Instead, that oil is stored in a separate tank which can be located anywhere that is convenient. Oil is then withdrawn from this remote storage tank by the oil pump and sent, under pressure, throughout the engine's oiling system. The benefits to this approach are numerous. Because the oil tank can be vertical rather than horizontal, oil starvation problems due to g-forces are virtually eliminated. Since the engine no longer requires an oil pan, its vertical dimension can be shorter allowing it to sit lower in the car, thereby lowering the center of gravity. And, since oil storage requirements are no longer linked to the engine itself, the quantity of oil used in the system is virtually unlimited. The more oil in the system, the less likely it is to run at dangerously high temperature levels. It also eliminates oil contamination from blow-by and dilutes any contaminants that do get into the oil from other sources. Plus, with no oil to come in contact with the crankshaft journals, oil foaming is no longer a concern. Finally, since the oil level will be checked in a remote tank, it can be done while the engine is running and this method eliminates the interpolation required when measuring oil level in a static mode.

    So, why don't all cars use dry sumps? A wet sump is very inexpensive to engineer and build. A dry sump is much more complicated, requires non-traditional use of vehicle space, and costs a lot more to build. It also uses more engine power to operate so there are performance trade-offs involved. Dry sump's are common in race cars and as noted by Z8Mania and Norcal above, sometimes used in high performance cars, particularly where cost is not really an issue.

    So, assuming the M5 V10 is dry sumped, and given the reference to a hose becoming disconnected allowing the oil to drain onto the ground, I believe my initial explanation is incorrect and what is actually happening is that upon overfilling the dry sump tank, the pressure in that tank is raised to a level which causes one of the hoses that connects the tank to the engine to pop off its connector.

    The other point brought up by Z8Mania and Norcal is the trend toward eliminating the oil dipstick altogether. While the S62 motor in the Z8 does have a thermal sensor that keeps track of the oil level and turns on a warning light if that level falls below a safe point, this is really just a back-up system. In cars without a mechanical means of checking engine oil level, the owner is entirely dependent upon electronics to provide information concerning oil level and sufficient warning before damage occurs. Knowing the vagaries of automobile electronics, I do not find this comforting, but it appears to be the way of the future. Even more troubling, there are now cars being produced which do not allow oil to be added by the owner. The entire system is closed and can only be serviced by a dealer. Scary stuff to we old school car guys!

  18. #18
    Z8Mania
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    I can't claim to be truly an old school guy but I am absolutely with you about the dip sticks. I think if the companies want to give us both- thats fine, but just like checking air pressure in ones tires- I want to use a real, old fashioned dipstick or tire pressure gauge. Btw- the 599 has a data screen that shows both the tire pressure at each tire and also tire temp! I do have a pyrometer but Ive never tried testing that but I have compared the tire pressure readings vs. a real tire pressure gauge- the built in electronic system in the Ferrari is off by anywhere from 5-10%- each wheel usually reads slightly different. Its nice to check when motoring on the highway to make sure theres air in the tires and seeing the temp is fun too... btw- that car comes with run flats as an option, mine has them, they are the Bridgestone RE050A run flats, and overall I am pretty impressed with them for street duties. To go further off topic, if you switch to regular tires, its recommended that you go to the dealer to reprogram the computer. I have yet to find out exactly why- is it the F1 Trac (predictive traction control- it actually predicts slip before it happens) or is it the electronic damping suspension (its the delphi magno deal)? I suspect its both. At least the car has a real dip stick.

  19. #19
    Z8Mania
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    Here are the instructions for checking the oil in the 599-

    A. Run the engine at idle until reaching an engine oil temperature ranging from 185 to 194F (85-90C) {this engine warms up fast btw- Jerry}

    B. Run the engine at 4500 RPM for 1 minute.

    C. Run the engine at idle for 2 minutes, then (without turning the engine off) check the oil level. Note- if the oil level is not checked within 3 minutes (instead of 2 minutes as indicated above), repeat steps B and C before checking the level.

    D. Remove the dipstick from the sump and check the level: this must be between the MIN and MAX notches on the dipstick. Note difference between MAX and MIN=0.4 US Gallon (1.5 lieters).

    E. If the oil level is too low, unscrew the cap on the oil tank and top up with the recommended oil {Shell Helix Ultra SAE 10W60- btw- they dont sell quarts of this stuff my dealer told me Im good to use the Castrol TWS 10W60 I have on hand for the Z8- its just to have a quart in the car just in case} Keep the oil level between the MIN and MAX notches. Screw the cap back on tightly. Note- if the oul level is below the "MIN" notch, top it up and then have the system checked by your AUTHORIZED FERRARI DEALER.

    F. Run the engine at 4500 RPM for 1 minute.

    G. Run the engine at idle for 2 minutes, then (without turning the engine off) check the oil level. Note- as the first check was performed within a time range of 2-3 minutes, the second oil check must also be performed within the same time range. For instance if the first check was performed after 2 min and 30 sec, the seocnd check must also be performed after approximately 2 min and 30 sec.

    H. Remove the dip stick from the sump and check the level: this must be between the MIN and MAX notches on the dipstick. Screw the cap back on tightly.
    whew! thats a lot of steps!!

    Btw guys this is one helluva machine- the engine is insane. Imagine the S85 V10 engine taken to another quantum level.

  20. #20
    Wow, sounds awesome - good for you! Life is for enjoying to the fullest, and I'm thrilled you're setting such an inspiring example for us!
    Andrew Macpherson

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  21. #21
    Z8Mania
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    Thanks Andrew, dont know if Im a good example or not- just trying to have some fun along the way.

  22. #22
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    I enjoyed reading all of your posts. I have put about 800 miles on the car since I bought it and just checked the oil level for the first time. I was surprised to find it read low. I put another quart of oil in, but now I realize that I just was not reading the oil level correctly on the dipstick! I was used to oil cars with black oil. the oil on the z8 is so clean that I have a really hard time seeing the actual level. Now, I am pretty sure I am a quart high. What should I do? should I drain off a quart, or is a little bit high tolerable? thanks.

  23. #23
    I would drain it off, they sell simple oil extraction serynges at most online stores like Girots Garage or even Amazon. I'm not sure why it can't be over filled technically speaking, but I'm sure there must be a good reason.
    Andrew Macpherson

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  24. #24
    Z8Mania
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    Too much oil pressure could cause a rupture in the oil system. I call that an UH OH moment.

    I'm not sure if 1 quart would be enough to do it but I would not want to chance it.

  25. #25
    Team Z8 jawz's Avatar
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    Recommend extracting it because overfilling can cause certain seals to begin to leak due to onerpressue as Z8Mania described. It's more of a nuisance than anything but they never get better once they start leaking.

  26. #26
    Team Z8 RRZ8's Avatar
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    No question about it, you should drain the excess of oil right away!

  27. #27
    Andrew Macpherson

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    thanks. I ended up drawing it out with a drill operated pump sold at sears. the pump was dreadfully slow. took about 20 min for one quart, but it is done!