How To Change Your Oil

In this fast-paced world of endless work and little play, the last thing most people think about is crawling under the car and changing their vehicle's oil. After all, there are Grease Monkeys and Jiffy Lubes on just about every corner, not to mention all the garages and big-box chains who can do the job for you.

But if you're the do-it-yourself car maintenance type, you'll find the process takes only about 30 minutes, if you have all of the right tools. Of course, you may get grimy, so if you have an aversion to getting your hands dirty, head out to a garage. If you're ready to get under the car and take care of business, then read on.

When to Change the Oil

Check your vehicle owner's manual and see what the manufacturer recommends. Most will tell you to make the change once every 3,000 to 7,500 miles, so this is a pretty good leeway. Your dad may tell you something completely different. Then there is the opinion of the mechanic at the local garage, who will also throw out a number and then offer to change it for you each time. The general rule of thumb, especially if you want to keep your vehicle in tip-top condition, is to change the oil every 3,000 miles.

Tools for the Job

  • It's a dirty job, so dress in old clothes that you don't mind getting grubby.
  • Eye protection (safety glasses/goggles) and latex gloves.
  • Oil filter wrench for the size of your vehicles filter and a box end wrench for the size of your vehicles drain plug.
  • Rags.
  • A drain pan that holds at least 6 quarts.
  • Oil. Check your vehicle owner's manual for the engine oil capacity (with filter) and the proper viscosity. Follow any specifications for an API (American Petroleum Institute) certified symbol.
  • An automotive grade funnel.
  • If you have a low-riding vehicle or just prefer more space to maneuver, then you need a jack and jack stands, or drive-on ramps. However, most vehicles have enough of a gap to easily reach the oil pan. Some oil filters are accessed via the underside of the vehicle. In these cases, propping the vehicle may be a better option.

Changing the Oil

  1. Make sure your vehicle is parked on a flat surface and not at an angle.

  2. Run the engine for several minutes to heat the oil before draining. Shut off the engine before proceeding.

  3. If using ramps, drive the vehicle onto the ramps. If using a jack and jack stands, raise the vehicle with the jack and lower it onto the stands. Never go under a vehicle unless it is supported by quality jack stands or drive-on ramps. Never go under a vehicle supported by drive-on ramps unless both of the non-ramped wheels (the ones which remain on the ground) are chocked. Blocks of wood of sufficient size suffice for this purpose; simply place them behind the tires. When using a jack, take care to lift the vehicle from a proper lifting point. If you're unsure where to place the jack, consider having just one more oil change done by a mechanic. When the vehicle is on the service hoist, ask if the mechanic would point out the proper lifting points on your vehicle.

  4. Always wear appropriate eye protection when working under the vehicle. Components under the vehicle will be hot. Use caution, especially when working near the exhaust system. The engine oil pan should be easy to identify. It's large and sags down a bit from the engine area. There will be a drain plug on the bottom edge.

  5. Once you find the engine oil pan and locate the drain plug, slip the drain pan below.

  6. Unscrew the drain plug with the proper size box end wrench. (counter clockwise to loosen). The oil rushing from the drain most likely will drive the drain plug into the drain pan. Remember, the oil will be hot, so it is best to just let the bolt fall into the drain pan rather than try to yank it away once it comes free. This will save your hands from getting burned and gooey.

  7. It will take several minutes for the oil to drain., Retrieve the drain plug from the drain pan and inspect the drain plug washer. A metal drain plug washer that is no longer flat should be replaced. A rubber drain plug washer that is damaged or deteriorated should be replaced. Reinstall the drain plug into the oil pan. Do not over tighten.

  8. Find the oil filter. Adjust the drain pan to catch the oil that will fall from the filter once it's removed from the engine. Attach the filter wrench tightly around the filter and rotate counter clockwise to remove. You may find yourself in a battle trying to remove the filter and even crush the body. Simply make sure the wrench grip is solid and try for that first release. Once you achieve that, the filter should twist right off. The filter gasket should come off with the filter. If it didn't, remove the filter gasket from the filter mounting area. Wipe the filter mounting area with a clean rag.

  9. Set the old filter off to the side and swab the housing area with the rag until it's free of old oil.

  10. You're now ready to install the new filter. Coat the filter gasket with clean oil. Screw it in, taking caution not to go to the extreme when tightening. The tightening instructions will be printed on most filters. If not,a good rule to use is to rotate until gasket contacts mounting surface, then tighten an additional ½ turn.

  11. At this point, the hard part is over. Now locate the lubricant depository, usually marked by a cap noted appropriately: oil. Open it and pour in the required amount of oil. Replace the cap upon completion and wipe up any excess oil.
  12. Start the vehicle and do a quick check on all of the components to seek out any leaks. With the engine running, verify there is no engine oil leaking from the filter or from the drain plug. Shut off the engine and check engine oil level.

  13. Now you're ready to clean up. Used motor oil is classified as hazardous waste and must be disposed of in accordance with all applicable laws. Using a funnel, carefully pour the used oil from the drain pan into a leak proof container. Take the old oil to your local garage or auto parts store for disposal.
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