How to Check If the Oil Tank Is Empty

by Jack S. Waverly

Heating a home with oil requires maintaining proper fuel levels. Keeping an eye on the oil tank can sometimes be a hard task to do with a busy life. Checking the oil tank to see how low the fuel is helps prevent furnace breakdown, clogged heat pipes and cold nights in bed. How do you check to see if the oil tank is empty? There are four steps which you can do yourself before calling a serviceman. These are simple steps which require little time.

Check the gauge on the tank. This should be the first place you look to see if the oil tank is empty. More often than not, these gauges act like a gas gauge for a vehicle in that the reading will say "Empty" but have enough reserve to call for oil. If the tank reads "Empty," call your supplier and turn down the thermostat. If you don't have a gauge, proceed to the next step.

Remove the cap from the top of the tank. Turn the cap left to loosen it. Place the cap somewhere on top of the tank so you won't lose it. Using a flashlight, look down into the tank to see if you can spot the oil. If you see liquid, you have some oil. If you look into the tank and see a sludge-like or any non-liquid material floating, you are out of oil. This sludge is residue from the bottom of the tank mixed in with dirt or rust particles from the bottom of the tank. If you see liquid without sludge or residue, proceed to the next step.

Find a broom handle, or measuring stick about 3 to 4 feet long. Place the handle or stick into the hole and straight down until it reaches the bottom of the tank. Count to five so you get oil on the measuring stick. Pull the stick or handle straight out of the hole. The bottom of the stick should be covered in a reddish liquid; this is the oil. The closer to the bottom of the stick, the less oil you have. If you cannot "stick" the tank, because you have an underground tank, proceed to the next step.

Cut a 6-foot section of wire. The wire can be cable wire or covered wire as long as it is flexible and can be easily bent. Feed the wire into the hole and down the pipe into the oil tank until you reach the bottom. You will know you reach bottom when the wire runs into resistance. Wait five seconds and pull the wire back up through the pipe. Again, you should see a reddish liquid on the bottom of the wire. If there is no liquid, or the wire is covered in residue, you are out of oil.


  • check Use a rag or gloves when working with heating oil.

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