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Changing your own oil is one of the most basic, but effective, ways to save some money on routine vehicle maintenance. For gearheads everywhere, it’s an easily learned right of passage in car maintenance and modification—we’ll send you the achievement badge when you’re done. Plus, it’s a job that’s necessary to keep your engine running smoothly, so it’s something vitally important to get you where you’re going.
Newer cars require an oil change service at intervals of between 5,000 and 10,000 miles, according to manufacturer recommendations. Older cars requiring more TLC would benefit from a 3,000-mile interval. That means getting dirty, grimy, and oil in your hair will likely occur once a year or so. Best of all, you don’t need much in terms of equipment to get the job done. Who’s ready?
Estimated Time Needed: 30 minutes to an hour.
Skill Level: Beginner
Vehicle System: Powertrain
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We’re not going to lie; there’s a real danger of the car falling off of the jack, onto you, and making your simple oil change a terrible day. That said, there are a few simple ways to help mitigate some of the dangers to keep yourself and others safe.
- Follow the proper procedure for jacking up your car.
- Never change the oil while your car is parked on a slope.
- Wear safety glasses.
- Wear mechanic gloves to protect your hands.
- Clean up spills or drips with kitty litter or quick-dry oil cleanup products as quickly as possible.
Photo by Depositphotos
Everything You'll Need
Changing a vehicle’s oil only requires a few specialized tools to get the job done, including something to remove the oil plug, remove and replace the oil filter, and get the oil into and out of the car's engine.
- The proper oil for your vehicle (check the owner's manual).
- The right oil filter.
You’ll also need a flat surface, such as a garage floor, driveway, or street parking, though check your local laws to make sure you’re not violating any codes when using the street because we ain’t getting your car out of the impound yard.
Arranging Your Workspace
Organizing your tools and gear so everything is easily reachable will save precious minutes waiting for your handy-dandy child or four-legged helper to bring you the sandpaper or blowtorch. ( You won’t need a blowtorch for this job. Please don’t have your kid hand you a blowtorch—Ed.)
- Raise the vehicle up to access the undercarriage if necessary. If you have a truck or SUV with good ground clearance (at least 10 inches from the ground), you may be able to skip this step. For most cars, however, you will have to raise the front end using a jack or ramps to get enough clearance. It is important to secure the car with wheel chocks or jack stands to keep it from falling off or rolling away when you are under the engine.
- Cover the ground underneath the engine with some cut-up cardboard boxes. The cardboard will soak up the inevitable oil spills.
- Let the engine run for a minute or two to warm up the oil before draining. It’ll come out easier when it’s warm.
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Changing the Oil
Let’s do this!
Draining the Old Oil
- After you've crawled under the vehicle, locate the engine drain plug. It’ll be bolted to the oil pan.
- Position the oil drain pan underneath the plug and remove the drain plug.
- Let the oil drain out completely. This can take a few minutes, depending on the size of the engine and the amount of the oil it requires.
- Reattach and tighten the oil drain plug. Thread the plug by hand and then use the same wrench as before to tighten it, but don't overtighten it as you could strip the threads.
Replacing the Oil Filter
- Locate the oil filter on the engine. Different engine designs have different locations for the oil filter, so you may have to consult your owner’s manual or look around the engine bay to find it. It's a cylindrical metal canister sometimes near one of the front wheel wells.
- Use the oil-filter wrench to remove the oil filter
- As you remove the filter, make sure to keep the threaded end upright so oil doesn't leak out. Place it upside-down on the drain pan to empty.
- Use your finger to spread a thin layer of new oil around the gasket of the new filter. Replace and hand-tighten firmly.
- Lower the car to the ground.
Adding the New Oil
- Open the oil cap on the top of the engine.
- Position the funnel in the oil filler hole.
- Add the required amount of new oil (check your owner’s manual or other documentation for your model) slowly, taking care not to overflow the funnel.
- Remove the dipstick from the engine, wipe it off, reinsert, then remove the dipstick once more and look at the tip. You should see a light layer of oil between the minimum and maximum level markings—the right amount.
- After you’ve put the oil cap back on, start the car and let it run for about 15 to 30 seconds so the new oil heats up and moves around inside.
- Check the dipstick again. Add oil as needed
- If the oil level is within the recommended minimum and maximum levels, you changed your oil.
You're done, you did it, congrats!
Tips from a Pro
Over the years, we’ve done our fair share of oil changes, including a first attempt that left a small scar on one of The Drive’s editor’s hands. To prevent that from happening, here are some tips to keep you safe and get this job done right.
- If the engine or the engine oil is too hot, let things cool before you start changing the oil, you don't want to burn yourself.
- Something like Oil-Dri will make oil spills a thing of the past and cleans up quickly.
- Recycle the old oil and oil filter by taking it to the recycling center or an automotive shop that accepts discarded oil.
Will changing my own oil save me money?
If you want to use quality oil, you can actually save a lot of money by doing it yourself. Typical $20 oil change deals, for example, use the cheap stuff to cut costs. By doing it yourself, you save money on the labor and can shop around for the best oil for the right price.
How do I know if my oil needs to be changed?
Sticking with a regular oil change schedule takes the guesswork out of knowing when to change the oil. If you don't have a normal routine, however, you should change it around the 5,000-mile mark after your last oil change.
Is synthetic oil really the best oil to choose?
You don’t have to use synthetic oil, especially if you want to save some money, but you will notice superior performance and results by using it. Synthetic oil tends to offer better protection, especially for older engines with 75,000 miles or more on the odometer.
We all have them, we all love them. And since you may not have access to the right tools, or have a friend you can bum a wrench off of, we also compiled a list of our best hacks to make your life easier and drain your pocket less. Here are our best life hacks for changing your oil.
- If you have a heavier vehicle, even with the right car jack can be difficult. To make your life easier, find a sturdy elongated object, something in the range of 4 to 5 feet in length, and either strap it to the jack's handle, or in the case of a pipe, slip in onto the handle, and use the extra leverage to make pumping easier.
- When changing your oil so infrequently, you may forget when you last did it. Get a piece of masking tap that you can write the date on and tape it to your glovebox. It acts as a perfect reminder.
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