Unraveling the mystery of the engine oil dipstick

Q: What is the proper way to interpret the reading on the oil dipstick? I have a 2017 Chrysler 200 that takes six quarts of oil. The fill line on the dipstick has a section that reads “safe zone.” The car was driven with the oil at the bottom of the safe line for about 3,000 miles. Was any engine damage possible? Is that safe zone simply a reserve area to protect from potential engine damage? My car actually came from the factory with the reading halfway on the safe zone, and I was told that was quite normal.

— K.T., Schaumburg, Ill.

A: The best way to read a dipstick is to remove it, wipe it off, reinsert it and then remove and read the oil level. But I suggest you wait a few minutes after shutting off the engine to allow the oil to return to the oil pan. Your initial reading was, perhaps, a bit under full. No damage would have occurred.

Q: Twice l have had close calls trying to stop on snow-covered roads (both times at low speeds). When brakes were applied, the car continued on without slowing. I'm assuming the ABS was confused by the complete lack of traction. This seems at odds with its intent and dangerous, as well. What gives?

— J.H., Chicago

A: It is possible, but unlikely, that all four wheels can stop rotating. If so, the vehicle may slide. Keep in mind that the ABS usually does not kick in below 12-15 mph. But we have driven on ice, even on the hockey rink at Notre Dame, and the ABS kicked in while braking. If this is a persistent problem with your vehicle, have it looked at.

Q: You may have misled with your reply about the Grand Cherokee (that pulled to the right). I have a Jeep with auto lane assist. It absolutely pulls if you tend to drift over the lane marker, and the boyfriend was correct in saying it is a safety feature in case the driver falls asleep. It steers you back into your lane. Not sure if this is the case for the person who wrote, but it should not have been dismissed as a joke!

— J.B., Lake Forest, Il.

A: I must agree that lane departure prevention systems may help the vehicle steer. But since the person’s question was about a persistent pull to the right, we would not overlook crowned roads as a possible cause. That’s unless she constantly rides near the center line of the road.

Q: In response to your item about why speedometers go up to 140 mph, it is probably so that manufacturers can use the same instrument cluster in all markets. 140 kph translates to a little less than 90 mph, which is a reasonable top speed for ordinary cars. And everybody but the U.S. has gone metric and thinks 140 kph is — well — ordinary. Just a thought, but it seems reasonable. You write a good column — that's why I read it.

— D.D., Chicago

A: For the most part, the speedometers in cars for the U.S. market display both mph and kph with the metric numbers a bit smaller. With a glance, the driver will see both. But with digital speedometers, the driver may have to switch between scales.

Send questions along with name and town to Motormouth, Rides, Chicago Tribune, 160 N. Stetson Ave., Third Floor, Chicago, IL 60601 or motormouth.tribune@gmail.com.

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