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How to do an Oil Change

Updated on August 7, 2013
Motor Oil
Motor Oil | Source

Why Change Your Oil

It is important to change the motor oil in your vehicle regularly because it helps keep it running smoothly. There are many fluids in a vehicle such as transmission fluid, power steering fluid, brake fluid, differential fluid, and the most important fluid, motor oil. Motor oil is a caramel color, fluid substance that protects the internal parts of an automotive engine. It does this by providing a lubricated film for the metal to metal surfaces to ride on and without motor oil the engine would seize up, meaning that it would break to the point of not running. That would be a really bad thing because it is a very expensive and time consuming project to replace an entire engine. A vehicle seizing up because of a lack of, or dirty, oil can be brought on by a number of things including the metal to metal surfaces becoming too hot and literally welding themselves to each other and also by a lack of lubrication that causes little metal shavings to break off and flow around the inside of the engine. These Metal shavings can get stuck in places they should not be such as in the oil passages and moving parts. This problem can cause serious damage to your vehicle and should absolutely be avoided at every cost.

Oil Dipstick
Oil Dipstick | Source

Helpful Tip:

Because of these three reasons, the motor oil should be changed more often than any other fluid in a vehicle.

  • Containments: Fresh air contains dirt, dust, bugs, humidity, and other contaminants. The air filter benefits a vehicle by cleaning most of these impurities out before it enters the engine but some of the contaminants can still slip past the filter and into the engine, where they work their way through to the various parts until they eventually reach the oil pan and settle into the motor oil.

  • Blow-By Gasses: Fuels such as gasoline and diesel make their way from the fuel tank to the engine in order to make it run. After it's been burned in an engine it becomes exhaust gas. Mostly all of the exhaust gas goes out of the tailpipe but some can slip past the piston rings, which are an internal engine part, and into the motor oil. This type of oil contamination is called blow-by gasses.

  • Extreme Temperatures: In the center of an engine temperatures can reach up to over one thousand degrees. Oil helps keep the engine cooled on the inside by dissipating the heat amongst the parts. If the oil is getting low or empty then the heat cannot be dissipated as easily and, over time, motor oil absorbs and dissipates so much heat that it wears down the ability to lubricate or dissipate.


Odometer
Odometer | Source

When To Change Your Oil

The most common interval oil should be changed at is every 3,000 miles or every 3 months. If it's a vehicle that's subjected to extreme conditions such as excessive towing, street racing, or higher temperatures than the average, then the interval would be reduced to between 2,000 and 2,500 miles or every 2 months. Newer vehicles, such as any modern General Motors or Chrysler vehicles, actually have an oil change monitoring system that takes certain things into consideration and displays the life of the oil into an easy to read percentage as well as giving the driver a reminder when they need to have their oil changed, Changing the motor oil in a vehicle is the number one way to prolong the life of it.

Oil Dipstick Level
Oil Dipstick Level | Source

Which Oil and Filter to Use

There are many different kinds of oil from conventional to full synthetic. The best oil for a vehicle depends on what's recommended from the manufacturer, the temperature range the vehicle is subjected to, how many miles are on the vehicle, and especially how it is driven. For the majority of vehicles it is recommended that you use conventional oil with a basic oil filter but higher end vehicles such as Cadillacs and similar cars usually call for full synthetic oil and upgraded filter instead. The owner of the vehicle has a decision on what oil to to use and whether the benefits outweigh the cost. The different motor oils you can choose from are:

Which Oil do You Use?

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Conventional oil is a basic oil that most cars have recommended by the manufacturer for use. It is a cheap oil that is readily available and does an adequate job of protecting the engine in a vehicle. When using conventional oil any oil filter can be used to clean it making it a good bundle deal at local parts stores, combining cheap oil and a cheap filter for a discounted price. This oil is best used for normal driving, outside temperatures within, roughly, 30 degrees to 110 degrees fahrenheit, and not excessively beating on the engine. Conventional motor oil and a cheap oil filter are a good choice for average use.

Semi-synthetic oil is a step up from conventional oil and is usually only a few dollars more. It is a combination of conventional and full synthetic oil. It provides increased protection by elevating the temperature range It can be used in and also by elongating the time interval between needed oil changes by a few hundred miles. If you are looking for a better oil than conventional motor oil or don't know what kind to use in your vehicle then this would be a good choice. It can be used with any oil filter so there's no need to worry about which filter you should buy.

High mileage oil is a motor oil that's designed to be used with engines which typically have 75,000 miles or more. It is usually a semi-synthetic oil that has added ingredients to revitalize seals and gaskets inside the engine prolonging its life. It can be used with any filter and is about the same price as semi-synthetic oil.

Full synthetic oil is best suited for sports cars and vehicles that are used on a constant basis. It has a very wide temperature range and can be used in the coldest and hottest parts of the world with no problem. Oil change intervals can be extended using full synthetic with some companies claiming their oil can withstand up to 15,000 miles before the oil needs changed. High end cars such as the Corvettes and newer Cadillac branded cars require synthetic oil. To have the best performance from this oil it is best to use a more expensive filter to clean better.

Diesel oil is a very heavy duty motor oil that is used in diesel powered vehicles. Diesel powered vehicles run a lot rougher and at much higher temperatures than the normal vehicle so they require a thicker oil that has a high temperature limit. This type of oil typically comes in weights of 5w-40 and 15w-40. If your vehicle takes gasoline to power it then you can disregard the use of diesel oil altogether.

Draining Motor Oil
Draining Motor Oil | Source

Which Motor Oil Weight to Use

Oils come in many different weights. The motor oil weight is always listed on the oil bottle and will say something like 5w-20, 5w-30, 10w-30, 5w-40, 10w-40, 15w-40, or 20w-50 among other such combinations of numbers. The first half of these numbers, 5w for example, mean the winter weight or how heavy it is in the winter, the lower this number is means the higher protection. 5w is a better winter weight in the winter while 10w is a better winter weight in the summer because it is not as cold. The reason oil needs a lower number in the winter is because even though the oil does not freeze in normal winter weather it does get thicker like molasses, and when it gets thicker it can be harder for an oil pump to circulate it through the engine. The lower winter weight means it doesn't thicken up as much. The second half of the combination of numbers means the weight of the oil regardless of the season or temperature. In this half the higher the number means the more protection. Many Ford made vehicles use 5w-20 which is considered a very thin oil. Most vehicles today require 5w-30 which is the best choice for all weather and temperatures. Any weights over 10w-30 are usually considered either diesel or racing oil. If you are going to use this weight or any others not listed here then I would advise you to research these oils more in depth to avoid any costly repairs.

Oil Filter
Oil Filter | Source

Tools You'll Need

  • paper towels
  • drain pan
  • jack
  • jack stands
  • funnel
  • oil filter wrench
  • wrench set or socket set & ratchet

How To Change Your Oil

To work as effectively and efficiently as possible you will want to gather all of the proper supplies, the motor oil, and the oil filter before you begin. You can put these supplies in your working space so they are readily available when you need to use them. Next, you will need to get the vehicle ready for the oil change by making sure the engine is cool and then jacking up the front end. The car should be jacked high enough so that you have adequate room to maneuver, once this is done you can move onto securing it safely with jack stands. Do not attempt to go under the vehicle until the jack stands are correctly in place, they are what keep the vehicle suspended for the amount of time you need. A jack can get the car up into the air but can't keep it there safely without added assistance. Once all of this is finished it's safe to get under the vehicle and begin working on it.

.Step 1: Remove the oil drain plug located on the oil pan on the bottom of the engine. The most common drain plug sizes are 10mm, 13mm, 15mm, or 3/8", 1/2", and 5/8". A wrench or socket can be used to remove this plug. Make sure all the oil that's drained from the vehicle ends up in an oil drain pan to prevent any spills. Oil is bad for the environment, harmful to animals, and stains most driveways and garages. After all the oil is drained, clean the plug and put it back into the vehicle.

Step 2: Inspect the new oil filter to make sure there aren't any factory defects and to get a good understanding of what the one already in the vehicle looks like. It will similarly resemble the new filter, if not identically. If it's a canister style filter it will be on the bottom or sides of the engine. If it's a paper filter it will usually be on the top of the engine inside of an equal sized housing. These housings usually require a special socket to remove it. An example would be any GM car with a 2.2 liter ECOTEC motor, this housing has a 32 mm low profile socket as the special socket.

Step 3: Remove the old oil filter, then remove the oil filter O-ring style gasket from the engine if it didn't already come off with the oil filter. Get the new oil filter and lubricate the new O-ring with clean motor oil. Once done, install it onto the vehicle. The O-ring style gasket is a round rubber gasket on the base of the canister type oil filters. The paper type filters don't have this gasket. If it is a canister type oil filter then tighten it without tools until hand tight. Installing an oil filter with a tool usually results in damage to the oil filter. If it is a paper filter in a housing on top then the cap will have a specific torque on it. If there is no way to get torque specification or a torque wrench then use a wrench or a socket and install it hand tight with tools. Don't over tighten it because the cap can crack easily. After that make sure the drain plug and new oil filter is tightened with the appropriate tools.

Step 4: Once everything has been tightened underneath the new oil can go in. All engines have a capacity and shouldn't be overfilled. The owners manual or your local parts store should have exact capacities for most of the fluids in the vehicle including oil. Fill the oil until it reads full on the oil dipstick on the engine, when it gets to the full limit look under the vehicle to make sure there are no obvious oil leaks. If there are any leaks then find the problem and correct it. If there are no leaks then start the vehicles engine. After the vehicle is running, again, make sure there are no obvious leaks. Let the vehicle run for a minute or two and then turn it off, recheck the oil level and add some if needed. Usually when checked before and after running the vehicle the oil should seem to be at a half a quart or so low. Make sure everything on the top and under the vehicle is safe and cleared away so that the hood can be closed, the vehicle can be lowered and you can clean up.

Step 5: Some newer cars have oil life monitoring systems which measure how long it has been since the last oil change, how hard the vehicle has been driven, how long the vehicle has been driven, the temperature of the motor, and the outside temperature to display either a percentage of the oil life or a reminder message when the oil needs changed. These monitors do not know when the oil is changed unless the monitors are then reset afterwords. You can reset the oil life monitor a few different ways, the owners manual of your vehicle will show the exact way for each one. An example would be some GM cars require the gas pedal to be pressed all the way down and released at normal speed three times to reset the monitor. Once the oil life monitor system has been reset the job is now completed.

Oil Refill
Oil Refill | Source

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