Kia Optima: Dipstick doesn't replace dipstick

  • Dipstick not put back, sheepish demeanour results
  • Optima vomits oil all over engine bay
  • Service staff 'unimpressed' by human error

I need to 'fess up. Every now and then I have what is referred to in the trade as a 'fail' and only a few days ago, I had a monumental one.

In June the oil level warning light went on and you can read all about that in the June update, but it did it again a few weeks ago, and that proved to be the start of a rather humiliating saga.

When an oil light goes on any car I am quick to react. I know about the terrible effects of ignoring warning lights, so prompt action has become one of my more positive habits when faced with mechanical issues.

This time around I had been driving down the A1 (again) when the oil level warning light chose to make its presence known (once again). I stopped off at the next filling station, bought a litre of oil and checked the level. The level was okay but the warning light was still on, so I bought another litre, and repeated the process.

All was fine after the second litre had been poured in but in my haste to get away I had forgotten to replace the dipstick, leaving it unsecured on the side of the engine bay. I do remember hearing a mild clonk later when I was driving the car away, but didn't think anything of it, assuming it must have been a stone or something not too terminal.

A few days passed and then, irritatingly, the oil light went on again. Something must be seriously wrong with the engine, I concluded, if the Kia had been burning oil at such an alarming rate. I pulled over, opened the bonnet and there staring at me was an engine bay... covered in oil. More importantly, a small but significant piece of visual information pointed to the cause of the problem. It was the absence of a dipstick.

Myriad bodge-jobs entered my mind. At first I thought about shoving a rolled-up piece of paper in the top of the dipstick hole but an engine wreckage caused by a rogue post-it note that had found its way down the dipstick pipe was too horrific to even consider. Then I toyed with idea of plugging the hole with a lone rawlplug found in the Kia footwell following a DIY offensive two weeks earlier but that also seemed like a super-bodge that would inevitably render the Optima inactive.

After a search in my toolkit (I carry it everywhere) I pushed a screwdriver down the dipstick pipe so the handle would stop the spray of oil until the next day, which coincidentally, was the day of the Optima's first full service.

This temporary solution proved reasonably effective but when I took the car into the Tower Hill Kia Garage service department in Chipperfield and explained what had happened the man behind the counter wasn't that impressed.

He stared at me like he'd just beaten the hell out of me at ping pong, and then told me that a new dipstick would have to be ordered. This would mean an extra day's stay for Optima but, more importantly, an extra day using a Tower Hill courtesy car. 

I must stress that Tower Hill man was perfectly pleasant and extremely polite, but it couldn't have been much fun dealing with a moron who couldn't be trusted to perform even the most basic car maintenance without cocking it all up.

He has my sympathies.

As Tower Hill man predicted, the new dipstick dutifully arrived the next day and I collected the Optima with no hassle at all. It was a very efficient service but I was glad not to face the same service guy again. I made a hasty departure, aware that I had made a total tool of myself. My blue-handled screwdriver was returned to my toolkit - a nice touch in view of the circumstances.

So, a little embarrassing but a lesson learned and that lesson is: when you check your oil, remember to put the chuffing dipstick back.

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Potential 'replacement' for missing dipstick is discovered in Bowdler toolkit

Emergency 'dipstick' immediately put in place to avoid further oil showers

Current mileage: 14,210 miles

Average mpg: 45.6mpg