The days of having to check engine oil levels virtually everyday have long gone, but while I wasn’t looking (or driving new cars with long service intervals) the dipstick seems to have vanished.
I found myself in the Autocar’s impressive Alpina B3 coupe long termer over the Christmas holidays, (an ironic name for a car so unsuited to coping with snow) and it took me a day to realise that the odd bonging sound coming from the dashboard when I removed the key was alerting me to the oil warning light on the dash.
The warning light only seemed to come on - rather briefly - when switching off the engine, making it easy to miss. So, before heading north up the M6, I flipped the bonnet to check the dipstick. I couldn’t see it, so I resorted to reading the manual.
According to the standard-issue BMW manual that comes with the Alpina, the dipstick should be on the right of the engine, up against the bulkhead. Maybe it’s a victim of the extensive Alpina modifications to the base BMW engine. However, investigation of the manual revealed that the car also has an ‘electronic dipstick’, which can be found by scrolling through the computer display.
That was easy to find, but I then discovered that the car needs to have been driven for around six miles before the brain will declare the oil level. So I couldn’t check the oil before heading off.
Eventually, I got the electronics to reveal that the engine oil was at the minimum level. It also advised to add one litre of lubricant. However, by the time I had filled the car with fuel and topped up the oil at the service station, the computer decided the car had been stationary for too long and it wouldn’t give another live reading. (You can see the little scrolling clock on the picture - a sign that the oil level will not be revealed any time soon).
The upshot was that I had to remember to scroll through the computer’s settings before I next turned off the engine, to discover the oil was now at the ‘maximum’ setting and all was well.
Maybe I was missing something about the Alpina’s engine bay, but the good old dipstick was quite a useful analogue instrument and one of the last under-bonnet checks that could be performed by the driver.