Changing Your Own Oil 101

Category: New Cars. Written by Grant Y 

Changing the oil is the most common auto maintenance tasks that you will perform each year. Regular oil changes keep your engine running smoothly and removes particle and sludge buildup that results from everyday driving.

If you’re like most people, an oil change is as complicated as driving to any one of dozens of express lube shops around Seattle. The benefits of these quick maintenance shops is that there is no need for an appointment and that they’re recognized brands. The drawbacks are that these shops are more expensive than a regular mechanic (this fact surprises most consumers) and that the quality of work is inconsistent. Stories of lube shops that forget to replace oil caps, charge for unnecessary work and even damage cars are unfortunately quite common these days.

With a few cheap tools and a half-hour, you can save both money and potential heartache by learning to change your own oil – so let’s get to it!

Tools You’ll Need:

  • Jackstands plus jack or commercial ramps (do not use wood or concrete blocks – they can break)
  • 4-6 quart oil pan (if you don’t know what size, it’s probably 4)
  • Wrench and socket set
  • Oil wrench
  • Replacement oil filter (cheap Fram filters from the store work great)
  • Replacement oil (Costco sellls 6qt of 5W-30 synthetic for under $20)
  • Newspapers and oil rags, just incase
  • (Optional) Liquid funnel, gloves

Step 1: Jack up the front of your vehicle so that you have enough clearance to work underneath the car. Make sure that your jacks are secure and that you also place them at the proper jack points (refer to your car/owner’s manual). These are often located at the sides of your car, behind the front wheels. Note: If you feel that the jacks are unsturdy or uncomfortable, then take it to the professionals! The author actually knows someone who was crushed (but luckily came out unscathed) when an improperly posted jack collapsed on one side of a car.

Step 2: Locate the oil nut or screw, which keeps in the engine oil. The base of the engine is often where you’ll find the nut, but different automakers put it in different locations. Again, refer to your owner’s manual before unbolting just any nut ony our car.

Step 3: Place your oil pan a few inches in front of where your oil will come out. Having a few newspapers or oil rags is handy incase the distance is off and you spill a bit. Unscrew / unbolt the nut and motor oil will now pour out. The pressure will eventually decrease and turn into a drip, at which point you can put the nut back on. It’s important you remember to put the nut back in – many a mechanic’s floor has been polished with brand new motor oil this way.

Step 4: Put your oil wrench around your old filter and turn counter-clockwise (it can be disorienting working on your back, so make sure you are twisting from right to left). The oil filter might be tight, so be sure to give a good tug if it’s stuck. Once it’s spinning, spin it off by hand slowly, as the filter is still filled with oil. Once it’s off, slowly dump the oil into the pan.

Step 5: Take your new oil filter and grease the lip of the filter with a bit of oil, to help create a seal. Tighten it back onto where your old filter just was and make sure it’s snug.

Step 6: Pop your hood, unscrew your oil cap and then fill your engine with new oil. Here’s where the funnel comes handy if you don’t want to drip oil all over your car when you try to put the container into the opening. Trick: Roll up a piece of standard printer paper to make a make-shift funnel.

Step 7: Screw oil cap back on and you’re done! Before removing your jacks however, I often like to start the car and let it run for a minute just to make sure there’s no leaks or other.

Congratulations, you have now successfully changed your own oil! Just make sure that you take your old oil to a local auto store (Napa and Schucks both dispose oil, Jiffy Lube charges $3) for proper disposal. Now, enjoy a beer (or since we’re in Seattle, a warm latte or chai tea) and pat yourself on the back!

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