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How to change the oil on your car

Updated on December 2, 2011

Why change your own oil?

I know, I've heard it a thousand times before. Replacing your own oil is pointless because it can be done for so cheap at the local car repair shop. They advertise deals where they'll change your oil for $15 or so. There are a few problems with this. First of all, what kind of oil are they using? You can bring your own and have them use that, but then you've got to add that to the expense. Second, do they know what they're doing? I've heard many a horror story about the wrong plug being put in a car, causing oil to leak everywhere and possibly even leading to engine failure.

It's also great to get to know your car a little better. Replacing your own oil and filter is something that is relatively easy and you'll learn just a little bit about your automobile and how to keep it in smooth running condition.

What you'll need to change your own oil

We always change oil and oil filters together, so go buy an appropriate oil filter and also some motor oil. Go with the synthetic oils. They are a little more expensive, but it's much better for your car in the long run. Ask the people in the auto section at the store what they recommend.

You're going to need to a way to lift up your car, because you're going to be getting under it. That's where the plug on the oil pan is. You'll also probably find the oil filter down there somewhere, although the exact spot is different on each car. You need a wrench or even better the appropriate socket for your oil plug and a socket wrench handle. You might also need an oil filter wrench, because those things can be a real pain to get off. Make sure you have the appropriate replacement gaskets for your oil plug and the o-rings that come with your new oil filter. You'll also need something to catch the oil in and plenty of old newspaper so you can clean up any spills quickly.

Draining the old oil

First, warm up the old oil by running your car for about 10 minutes. This is going to make other parts hot as well, so be careful as you change your oil not to burn yourself on anything. 

The second thing you want to do is pop the hood open and locate the oil filler cap somewhere on the top of your engine. Open that up, but don't put any oil in yet. We need that open so the oil drains better. Now get under your car and find the drain plug on the oil pan. Position whatever you are using to catch the old oil under this plug. The oil may come out at an angle, so be ready for that. 

Use your adjustable wrench or socket to unscrew the oil pan drainage plug. Don't drop the plug in your used oil. If you do, you'll need to get a strong magnet to find it later. Note that there is either a metal washer or a paper gasket ring around the oil pan plug. If it's paper, you'll need to replace it. You can reuse the metal washer as long as it isn't damaged.

Replacing the oil filter

Now find the oil filter. You might have trouble doing this, which is why I advised that you should have an oil filter wrench. Take it easy on this step, because you'll find that the oil filter has oil in it and you don't want that dropping to the ground and leaking everywhere. There will be a rubber gasket ring around the old oil filter. If it sticks to the engine when the oil filter comes off, make sure to remove it. You don't want to put a new filter over that old gasket, or it will leak.

Your new oil filter should already have a gasket around the top. Pre-fill this oil filter with as much new oil as you can. If your filter is mounted vertically on the engine, this means right to the top. If it's mounted at an angle, you'll probably have to fill it half way or 3/4 of the way up to avoid spilling. This is something they tend to not do at a garage and it's not good for your engine to skip this step. Now take some new oil and with your finger line the top of the gasket. This will help form a nice seal.

Thread the oil filter back on and tighten by hand. Do not use the oil filter wrench to tighten it on. You'll get it too tight and possibly even split the rubber gasket, which will cause it to leak.  

Putting the drain plug on

Now put the drain plug with new gaskets or the old metal washer back on. You'll probably forget this step if you do enough oil changes, and then you'll end up pouring new oil all over your garage floor. This happens to the best of us. Just try to run through a checklist every time to make sure you don't skip an important step like this.  

Pour in the new oil

Take the new oil you bought and add it through that opening at the top of your engine (the oil port). Add almost as much oil as is recommended in your owner's manual. Clean the dipstick and check the oil level after a couple minutes. Add more oil if you're below the recommended level. Put the valve cover back on and put the dipstick back in. Check underneath the car for any leaks. 

Test your oil change

Turn your car on and let it run for about 10 minutes. Check again for leaks. When you drive it again take a look for leaks after about 10 minutes of driving. Pop the hood and make sure there's no oil in there. If everything appears clean you have successfully changed your oil.  

What do I do with used motor oil?

You can usually take your used oil to a local car repair shop and they'll take care of it for free. Also, if you have a Wal-Mart Supercenter or any Wal-Mart with an auto shop in it they'll take your used motor oil. You should take advantage of this, because pouring used motor oil down the drain or in the local creek is not only bad for the environment, it's against the law!


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  • LakeShow T profile image

    LakeShow T 7 years ago

    Very useful information as always DB!