Wet and Dry

The saga I’m about to reveal all actually started with my other car. I had departed at around 5am for a trip to the Gold Coast (about 10 hours driving) and had just passed the last freeway service station. All of a sudden, while boring along the freeway, the check oil light came on.
In a mild panic I pulled off at the next exit to find a service station. When I did, I purchased whatever oil they had and poured about half a litre into the engine and proceeded on my way without further incident. The following week I put this car in for service and deduced that the issue had simply been a long time between services. My fault for failing to be diligent.
This incident then got me thinking about the fluid levels in the F355. The first thing was the water level. Here’s what the owner’s manual says:
Regularly check the level of the coolant in the tank, only when the engine is cold, the level must not fall below 2.8 to 3.1 (6 – 8 cm) below the filler cap.
So the expansion tank for the cooling system is located at the top, in the middle of the engine (item 6 above) and when I unscrewed the cap I did indeed find the water level to be a bit low. I therefore topped it up with about 1 litre of water, which was more that I expected it would take to get the level up.
Now checking the oil is a different matter. The owner’s manual says:
Check the oil every 500 miles (800 kms) by means of the dipstick under the oil tank filler cap.
The level must always be kept between the “Min” and “Max” marks on the dipstick.
Note: To check the oil level, leave the engine idle for a few minutes (oil temperature above 158 degree F), then stop the engine and check the oil immediately.
Unfortunately, what I took away from that was to check the oil when the car is warm, which is not completely correct. You MUST check the oil immediately after the car has stopped running as I will explain further.
So after taking the car out for a drive I left it for its customary cool down period (45 – 60 minutes) and then checked the oil.
The oil tank is the back right hand side of the engine bay (if looking at the engine from the rear). It is item 1 in the above diagram.
The oil filler cap (item 5 in diagram) has a dipstick connected as shown above with the requisite “Min” and “Max” lines.
After removing the cap, wiping the dipstick and checking the oil level I discovered, much to my horror, that no oil level was registered! Now in a mid state of panic I checked the level again and failed to find any trace of oil. The ‘red mist’ descended.
Oh no, I thought. The engine has no oil. What will I do? Then I remembered the oil I had purchased for my other car previously and only partially used. I retrieved that and poured about half of what remained into the F355 oil tank. Checking the oil level again, I still found no trace of oil on the dipstick. The panic level increased as I poured the remaining oil into the F355 oil tank. A final check after this still failed to reveal any traces of oil in the F355 tank.
With no more oil available I started making plans to immediately rush out and pick some up. As the ‘red mist’ of panic began to subside, the more logical side of my brain kicked in. Surely, the oil level couldn’t ‘disappear’, I must be missing something.
I was. After some research the important part of the owners manual I had dutifully neglected was:
Note: To check the oil level, leave the engine idle for a few minutes (oil temperature above 158 degree F), then stop the engine and check the oil immediately. 
The reason you need to check the oil level immediately after stopping the car is that the F355 has a dry sump configuration. Now I had no idea what the difference between a wet and dry sump was. I don’t feel too bad now because nearly everyone else I asked didn’t either. So here, in a nutshell is the difference between a wet and dry sump.

The above video details how oil works as a lubrication system for an engine. It resides at the bottom of the engine in a  ‘sump’ where it is pumped around the engine for lubrication and cooling.

Most cars have what is know as a wet sump, that is all the oil resides in the sump at the bottom of the car. You use a dipstick to check the oil level when the car is cool as all the oil has pooled in the sump at the bottom and you can measure the level.
Typically, the F355 is not a ‘normal’ car, it uses a dry sump system (as detailed in the above video). Why? A dry sump basically stores the oil in a separate reservoir. This means the sump can be smaller, therefore the engine can be mounted lower in the car for better balance. A dry sump system also ensure a more even supply of oil to the engine when accelerating, braking or cornering at high speeds. In a normal wet sump system the oil can ‘slosh’ to one side when cornering preventing adequate oil supply.
Having established that the F355 has a dry sump system I understand the reason why the oil level needs to be checked just after stopping the engine (so there is oil in the tank!). So I now need to check the oil the ‘correct’ way, up to temperature and just after stopping the engine.

When I now tested the level I discovered it to way above the ‘Max’ level like so:

Having the oil at such high levels is not good for the engine as it can screw up the sensors as well as cause the engine to blow smoke.
Now the challenge was getting the oil level down. After some internet searching I came across this thread (where I also took the oil level pictures from):
and it recommended the best option was to use a turkey baster to remove the excess oil from the tank.

Silly me considered a turkey baster an easy item to procure. Alas, there were none in my local shopping centre, so off to the Internet search engines I went.
I eventually found one that I could order form the Internet, which I did but figured, surely, I could buy one somewhere. After some more searching I located a suitable shop in a bigger shopping complex and headed off to secure it. Problem is that when I arrived, turned out there must have been a run on turkey basters as there were none to be found. “REALLY?”, I groaned. None? Hang on sec, what’s this. Hmmm, not exactly what I was after but it will do the job.

So rather than just a turkey baster I ended up with a
MasterChef Roasting & Basting Set

I figured that I could use the brush from the set to at least clean the vents in the car. You use that kind of justification when you pay more for something than you wanted don’t you now?
Armed with my baster and an assistant I ran the car for 60 seconds to get oil into the tank and started to suck out the excess. Problem is, how much do I take out? I wasn’t a hundred percent sure of how much I had actually put in. I kind of figured just over half a litre. I therefore removed about this amount.
With that complete I needed to check the oil at temperature, so I fired the car up and let it idle. As the engine heated up I started to get lots of smoke from the engine. ‘Oh no, what have I done wrong’, my brain screamed as the ‘red mist’ of panic descended again. Here’s where having someone to help you pays dividends. My helper pointed out that I had managed to spill a small amount of oil on the exhaust manifold. When this heated up the oil burnt off. Thus, the smoke.
I could see the oil on the manifold but there was nothing I could do as the engine was now hot. I no other option but to let it burn off, which I did (while still holding my breath). What had in fact had happened, even though I had been extremely careful transferring the oil out of the tank and into a container, was oil had travelled down the underside of the container, to the bottom, and dripped on the manifold.
With engine at temperature I discovered the oil level still above the maximum level. “That’s strange”, I thought. We decided to let the car cool down before attempting to remove any more oil. Getting hot engine oil on one’s skin is not fun at all, so safety first!
About an hour later we returned and drained another 0.3 litres and even then the oil level was still at the maximum. Now I’m sure I didn’t put about 0.8 litres in there. Strange. Maybe it was high to start?
With that complete, I cleaned up, thanked my assistant and put the car to bed, still concerned as to whether I had in fact now removed too much oil.
The big test was going to be the weekend run down the south coast. To be safe I decided it was best to take some oil along with me, just in case I had in fact removed too much. Turns out that even buying oil is fraught with complications.
The oil specified in the owner’s manual is 10W40, whereas the oil I had added to the engine was 20W50. Hmmmm, ok what’s the difference? Turns out that these numbers refer to the viscosity of the oil. The first number is a ‘winter’ or cold viscosity, while the second number is a ‘normal’ operating temperature viscosity. The lower the number the less viscous (or more easily flowing the oil will be). Thus, a 10W oil will move through the engine faster when cold than a 20W. For more details on all this stuff see:
So basically I had not only added too much oil, but I had also added the wrong type. No much I could do about that now.
The other question about oil for the F355 was whether it needed to have ‘magnesium’ or not? At this point I wanted to put the whole saga behind me so I went out and bought some Shell Helix 10W40 as my oil security blanket for upcoming journeys.
So the epilogue of this story is that the car completed the Cavallino run without incident, even with the oil getting up to temperature sitting in traffic. It has also been out on additional runs, again without incident, but I am not yet confident enough to go out without my oil security bottle.
Big learning experience here is to do EXACTLY what the owners manual says when it comes to checking the car and at least now I know the difference between a wet and dry sump. I’m still a little fuzzy on some of the details that go along with this in the F355 but I’m sure I’ll work those out in good time. If you have gotten through this whole post, then hopefully you will as well know what a dry sump is in case you ever come across one! Thanks for reading.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s