The engine is the single most important component in car. Typically made of aluminum, iron or steel, it burns fuel and air to create power. If the engine fails, it may produce little or no power, forcing you to call for a tow. You can keep your car’s engine running properly, however, by checking it in the following ways.

#1) Pull the Oil Dipstick

Motor oil is essential to your engine’s performance and longevity. Whether it’s conventional, synthetic or semi-synthetic, all motor oil is designed to reduce friction within the engine’s cylinders and other moving components. This is important because friction creates heat, meaning low oil levels may cause your car to overheat even if the cooling system is otherwise functional.

To check the oil level, open your car’s hood and pull the oil dipstick at the top of the engine. ABC News recommends drivers check their engine’s oil levels at least once every two weeks. The dipstick should have two marks. The mark closet to the bottom indicates that you need to add oil whereas the mark closet to the top indicates that your engine has too much oil.

#2) Look for Leaks

You should also perform a visual inspection of your engine for leaks. With the hood open and ignition off, look around the top and sides of your engine. Dirt and soot are normal and shouldn’t cause reason for concern. But if you discover oil or coolant accumulating in a specific area, it may indicate a leak.

Head gasket failure, for example, allows fluids or combustion gases to leak from the engine. Consisting of a flat sheet of metal with cutouts, this otherwise simple component is designed to seal the area between the engine block and cylinder head. When a head gasket fails, oil, coolant and combustion gases escape from their respective compartments. A visual inspection, however, can help you identify a blown head gasket or other breach that’s causing your engine to leak fluids.

#3) Scan for OBD Codes

You don’t have to take your car to a professional mechanic to determine why the check engine light is on. Also known as a malfunction indicator lamp (MIL), this light indicates that your engine or a component isn’t functioning as intended. Most new cars use a standardized diagnostics reporting system for the check engine light. When a specific problem occurs, the car’s check engine light will turn and the on-board computer will store a code that’s unique to the problem. This means you diagnose engine problems by scanning your car’s computer with an on-board diagnostics (OBD) tool. Simply plug the tool into your car’s ODB cable, typically found below the driver- or passenger-side dashboard, and make a note of any codes displayed. You can then search for these codes online to determine the specific problem with which they are associated.

According to CNN, the most common cause of the check engine light is a failing oxygen (O2) sensor. When the O2 sensor fails, the engine may burn too much fuel or not enough fuel, known as running rich or lean respectively. Other reasons the check engine light turns on include a failing catalytic converter, loose gas cap or failing camshaft sensor.

#4) Drive It

There’s no better way to check your car’s engine than by taking it for a test drive. Low power or misfires during startups indicates a potential combustion leak. Combustion gases produced by the engine are used to power the car. If combustion gases escape, the engine will produce less power. So, pay attention to engine power, speed and RPMs when test driving your car.

Whether you’re looking to buy a new car or keep your current one running, you should check the engine. Neglecting to fix a small problem like a leaking gasket can cause serious damage that’s difficult and expensive to repair.

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