Save money, be self-sufficient, and ensure the quality care of your vehicle by skipping the local car shop and do a DIY oil change. It only takes about thirty minutes, and if you don’t mind getting dirty (and especially if you like a little dirt under your nails to impress people that you’re rustic and hard-working), this is a great way to get your car maintenance out of the way on your own terms.
Determine Whether or Not You’re Due for a Change
You’ll get conflicting advice from every angle (your dad, your uncle, the mechanic…), but your owner’s manual is the best way to determine at what mile marker you’ll need to change your oil. The best rule of thumb for a healthy car is to change the oil about every 3,000 miles.
- Junk clothes. (This is a dirty business!)
- There are many types and specifications for oil. Check your owner’s manual for exactly what kind of oil your car needs, making note of your engine’s oil capacity (with the filter), what viscosity of oil you need, and any specifications listed by the API (American Petroleum Institute).
- Oil Filter
- Wrenches which fit
- The size of your car’s filter, and
- The size of your car’s drain plug
- Glasses or goggles for eye protection
- Drain pan (that will hold the amount of oil in your car!)
- Funnel (This should be automotive grade, don't just boost one from the kitchen!)
- Jack (If your oil pan is not easily reached or if you’re just a space person and want more room to work.)
Step-by-step Instructions for How to Change the Oil
Step #1: Park your car on a flat surface only.
Step #2: Turn on the engine and run the car for several minutes to heat the oil before draining. Then, SHUT OFF THE ENGINE before changing the oil.
Step #3: Safely use your jack (or ramps) to raise your vehicle, if you choose to do so. No matter how you elevate your vehicle, do NOT go under it until you are confident it is secure! If it falls, it will cause injury or death. Follow the instructions that came with the jack or ramp and those in your owner’s manual. Safety instructions must be followed. If you do not feel sure about the safety of raising your vehicle yourself, take the car into a mechanic who can show you the proper way to raise your vehicle before attempting it on your own.
Step #4: Locate the oil pan. It is large and bulges out from the engine, with a drain plug on the bottom edge.
Important Note: Car components will be hot, especially around the exhaust system, and proper eyewear should be donned BEFORE you do any work.
Step #5: Place the drain pan below the drain plug.
Step #6: Use a box end wrench of proper size to unscrew the drain plug. (Remember: righty tighty, lefty loosey! Turn counterclockwise to loosen.)
Another Important Note: The pressure of the oil will likely push the drain plug into the drain pan. Don’t go after it! The oil is hot. Leave it and retrieve it later to avoid burns.
Step #7: Let the oil drain. This could take several minutes.
Step #8: Only after you are certain the oil is cool (this simply takes time!), retrieve the drain plug and assess the condition of the washer. Metal washers that aren’t flat should be replaced, and rubber washers that are worn-out should be replaced. Screw the drain plug back on, but do not overtighten.
Step #9: Locate the oil filter and resituate the drain pan under the oil filter to catch oil that flows out when you remove the filter for replacement. Use your appropriately sized wrench to remove the filter. This can be difficult. Take your time, using a solid grip on the wrench to yank the filter free. Once it has twisted off, the gasket should come off with it. If not, remove it yourself. Wipe down the filter brace with a clean rag.
Step #10: Set aside the old oil and make sure your work area is clean and free of old oil before continuing to work.
Step #11: Install the new filter by first coating the gasket with new, clean oil. Screw the gasket back on, again making sure not to overtighten. (Wait until the gasket touches the brace, then give it no more than an additional 1 ½ turns.)
Step #12: Locate the oil depository conveniently labeled “oil.” Open the cap and pour in the required amount of the correct oil. Replace the cap and wipe off any excess oil.
Step #13: Check your car’s components by running the engine and looking to see that there is no oil that is dripping from the filter or drain plug. Turn the car off again and recheck the oil levels.
Step #14: Clean up! Your old oil must be legally and properly disposed of. Use the funnel to pour the old oil into a leakproof container. Give the old oil to an auto store, garage, or gas station that accepts and can properly dispose of your old oil.