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Changing Your Car's/SUV's/Truck's Oil

Updated on September 16, 2015

Selecting Oil & Filter

Most of the information you need can usually be found in the vehicles owners manual. It should tell you the correct viscosity or "weight" of oil your vehicle requires as well as the amount. When looking in the manual be sure you are looking at the correct trim level as many times one manual will cover multiple trim levels. Different trim models may be equipped with different engines and need different oil. If you don't have an owners manual the auto parts person should be able to look it up the oil you'll need on their computer system.

The brand of oil you purchase is up to you. I will typically go with a better known brand like Quaker State, Castrol or Mobil 1 over a generic brand which is often only slightly less expensive.

How about Synthetics? Well, for most drivers a quality conventional oil will be just fine. If you tend to push your engine hard you may want to consider a synthetic. I usually do buy synthetic if I can find it on sale. You can usually find a name brand synthetic on sale at Walmart or another big box store for not much more than the regular price of conventional oil.

Filters are pretty simple to select. In big box stores there will typically be a reference book to show you the part number of the filter you need. After that it comes down to how much you want to spend. Again if you are going to be pushing your engine hard you may want to opt for a high end filter, but for most drivers a basic filter will be just fine.

Tools Required

To do the job properly you'll need a few tools and supplies other than the oil and the filter.

An oil filter wrench is one thing that you'll need. Avoid the adjustable type as there is often not enough room under the hood to work with these. The best filter wrench to buy is one that is specific to the oil filter size and fits on a ratchet, which you'll also need. You can usually pick these up at the same place you buy the oil filter.

You'll also need something to remove the plug in your oil pan. If you have a decent set of wrenches or a good socket set you will probably have this already. It's always good to check beforehand to avoid an extra trip to the store.

Some additional things you'll need are an oil pan to catch the draining oil, some rags for spills and clean-up and some containers to store the old oil in. A funnel isn't a bad idea either, it'll make the job less messy. A jack and jack stands or a set of ramps will be required if your vehicle is low to the ground.


Proper preparation will ensure that the job goes smoothly and safely. A few extra minutes during preparation can save you time performing the job.

After you have everything you gathered up the first step is to warm up the car to make the oil flow better. Warming the oil makes it less viscous and lets it flow out of the oil pan more easily. You can do this by taking it for a short drive or just letting it idle in the driveway. If you are letting the vehicle idle in a garage or other enclosed space there is plenty of ventilation for the exhaust fumes.

If you are using the drive-on type ramps have a friend guide you on them before turning the car off. When you get the car in position shut it off, put it in park (leave in first for a manual transmission) and apply the handbrake. If you are using a jack and jack stands get the car jacked up and put the jack stands securely in place.

Draining the Oil

Now that you have the car in position you're ready to drain the old oil. Pop the hood and remove the oil filler cap, this will help the oil flow out better. Next, put your drain pan under the drain plug and unscrew the plug by turning it counter-clockwise with the correct size wrench. Leave the plug off until the oil stops dripping out. When it does stop replace the plug. Install the plug hand tight and then use the wrench to snug it up about half a turn. Do not over-tighten as this can strip the threads and cause leaks or ruin the oil pan altogether.

Replace the Oil Filter

After the oil has been drained and you have reinstalled the plug you'll need to remove the old oil filter. This should be pretty simple but can be a little messy. Put the drain pan under the oil filter to catch any oil that spills out. Use you oil filter wrench to loose the oil filter by turning it counter clockwise. When you have it loosened you should be able to remove it the rest of the way by hand.

Before installing the new filter put a little oil in it. If it goes on upside-down you can fill it almost completely. If it goes on sideways just put a little. Next, rub a little oil on the seal of the new oil filter. Spin it on by hand as tight as possible and tighten it up a little using the filter wrench.

Refilling with Fresh Oil

Now that the old oil is out and the filter has been replaced it's time to fill the engine with new oil. Put in a little at first and have a look under the car to make sure there are no leaks. If there are none keep filling with oil until the required level is reached. To avoid overfilling check the dipstick periodically while filling. It may take a minute for the oil to flow down around the engine so wait a minute after pouring the oil in to check.

After the level is good replace the filler cap and start the engine. Always have a good look under the car again to make sure there are no leaks.

Job is Done

Now that the oil and filter have been replaced you can lower your vehicle and clean-up the area. Make sure you dispose of the old filter and oil properly. I usually just bring mine to a garage that's set up for that sort of thing. Keep an eye on the oil level particularly over the first few days after a change.

Go hold your head high and be happy that you saved a little money by doing this yourself and helped your vehicle to last a little longer.


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