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DIY: How to Change Your Oil

There's a small initial investment for supplies, but you'll make that back the first time you do it yourself.

What you will need:

  1. An oil filter wrench
  2. An adjustable wrench or a socket wrench
  3. Two empty plastic milk cartons, or other empty container
  4. A funnel
  5. Some rags
  6. New oil
  7. New oil filter
  8. A shallow plastic or metal pan that will hold at least 2 gallons (Cat litter pan works well)
  9. Fresh oil
  10. Wheel blocks
  11. Safety glasses
  12. A jack and a pair of jack stands or a pair of car ramps.
  13. Rubber gloves (Optional)

"How often do I need to change my oil?" you ask. Most manufacturers' recommendations are once every 7,500 miles, depending on the car and driving conditions. Most folks change it once every 6,000 miles. Conventional wisdom says that changing more often is better.

Personally, I recommend every 3,000 to 3,500 miles to my customers. This is because driving conditions are very rarely "Ideal" and keeping clean oil in the crankcase is the best way to keep your engine running for a good, long time.

Before You Start:

Follow these instructions carefully. Read and be sure you understand them before you begin. Gather together all of your tools and supplies before you begin. Allow plenty of time to do the job so you don't have to hurry. Remember that these are general instructions. For more detailed instructions pertaining to your specific vehicle, consult an appropriate repair manual.

Safety is important whenever you're working around machinery. Beware of hot objects, sharp instruments and hazardous materials. Don't substitute tools unless you're sure you won't compromise either your safety or the performance of your vehicle. Never work on a vehicle that is only supported by a jack. Use jack stands to support the vehicle while you work. Work on a solid, level surface. Never jack a car up on dirt or grass.

Okay, let's put on some old clothes and get to work. Make sure that your car is parked on a level grade, rather than on any sort of hill or inclined driveway. Warm oil drains much easier than cold oil so let your car run for about 10 minutes before you drain the oil. After the engine is nice and warm, jack up the car and place your jack stands under the frame to support the vehicle. Or, if you have car ramps, drive the car onto the ramps. In either case, block the rear wheels to prevent rolling. Set the parking brake and if you have an automatic transmission, put in Park.

Watch out for hot oil, it's a good idea to wear safety glasses when changing your oil. I wear a pair of latex examination gloves, exactly like your Doctor uses, to help keep my hands clean and pick up the drain plug that will probably fall into the drain pan. You can buy them at the auto parts store.

  • Grab your drain pan and wrench and slide under the car. Locate the oil drain plug on the oil pan.
  • Place your drain pan under the plug and unscrew the plug (counter-clockwise) with the wrench. Make sure you have a good fit and do not round off the drain plug. If it proves stubborn, get the proper size socket and ratchet or a 6-point box wrench.
  • As soon as you completely unscrew the drain plug, the oil will come out in a rush, so be careful. Like I said before... chances are the plug will fall into the pan along with the oil. Don't worry when it happens

When all the oil has drained into the pan, fish out the plug and screw it back in. Tighten it firmly, but not so hard that you strip the threads. I don't know how many drain plugs I have had to repair because people think you need to put 50,000 foot-pounds of torque on a drain plug.

Always change the filter whenever you change the oil. I could never see the sense in changing the oil and leaving a quart of dirty oil in the engine.

  • You'll be able to get to the old filter from either above or below the car. Place the oil filter wrench around the filter's body. There are two types of oil filter wrench, a cup type and a strap type. The cup type fits over the end of the filter like a socket and has a 3/8" or 1/2" square hole for fitting on a ratchet. The strap type fits around the body of the filter and will work on any filter. If you plan on doing all of your filter changes, invest in the cup type for your filter. With the strap type, grab the filter as close to the threaded end as you can. Place a pan under the filter to catch any leakage as the filter is removed.
  • The old filter may be a little tough to crack loose, but once it does, it will spin right off. Unscrew it completely and put it aside, it will be full of oil. Wipe the surface of the oil filter housing to make sure the old oil filter gasket did not stick to it and that it is clean and dirt free.
  • Take some of the new oil and coat the gasket of the new filter with it. This insures the new gasket will slip into place properly.
  • Install the new filter. In filters that sit straight up and down, I usually fill with new oil. Tighten the filter firmly, spin it hand tight and then another ¼ turn by hand. Do not tighten it with the oil filter wrench. All you'll do is distort the gasket and cause a leak.
  • On top of the engine locate the oil fill cap. It will usually say "Oil" or "Oil Fill" on it. Most of the time it's on top of a valve cover. Unscrew it and pour in the proper amount and type of oil recommended for your vehicle. Look in your owners' manual for the proper type of oil and the location of the oil fill if it's not obvious.
  • After you have the oil in, replace the oil fill cap and wipe up some of the oil you might have spilled.
  • Start the engine and with the engine running, carefully check around the filter and the drain plug area for any leaks. A leak will appear as some seepage at the oil filter connection or on the filter. If there is a leak, tighten up the oil filter a little more. If no leaks are found, shut off the engine and jack the car down. Once the car is on level ground again, recheck the oil and make sure it is at the full mark. Do not over fill the oil, that will cause engine damage.

Now that you're all done, pour the oil out of the pan, and using the funnel, transfer it to the empty milk containers or the oil bottles you just emptied. Take the used motor oil to local service or repair shop where, by law, they are required to take it in and have it recycled.

While you're waiting for the oil to drain is a good time to nose around under the car and make sure everything is in good shape.

And that's it, you're done. Top off the windshield washer fluid and you just saved your self $30.00 or $40.00.

Additional Information provided courtesy of
ALLDATAdiy.com and Warranty Direct
© 2000-2007 Vincent T. Ciulla

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