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Oil Change Tune-Up-Tips: Vacuum Pump Oil Changes

Updated on December 14, 2013
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I've played "captain obvious" before – stressing the importance of regular oil changes. They're something you practice if you want a working car, not a ton-and-a-half paperweight.

Depending on how you get it done though, it's a tedious or time-consuming exercise for most.

If you delegate your oil-change to professionals, you need to fit it into your schedule. Changing it yourself means also making time, and a messy chore for all but oil-in-veins enthusiasts (I made oil-angels myself – until hair started falling out).

This Hub focuses on an oil-change technique that reduces the mess (eliminating it on some cars) and reviewing one of the many inexpensive tools for the job.

Combining both can make one-person Jiffy Lubes out of formerly reluctant do-it-yourselfers – saving you folding-money.

Oil Change By Vacuum Pump/Fluid Extractor:

Typically, most people expect to get beneath a car to change its engine oil. Regardless of where engineers mercifully put the oil-filter, draining used-oil was regularly done at the oil-pan drain plug. Unscrew it, have something ready to catch the stuff, and accept that plenty of it was going on you.

The alternative is using a hand-operated or motorized device that extracts the used-oil (typically through the dipstick-tube of the engine).

Unfortunately, not all cars lend themselves to this technique. Engine's with circuitous dipstick-tubes make it difficult (or impossible) to fully immerse a hose in the pan. A flimsy/flexible dipstick can mean you're stuck changing oil the old-fashioned way.

You may hear disagreements over the efficacy of this pumping technique (also known as "top-down" oil changes). Chief among them is whether siphoning the used-stuff removes enough of it so as to not have "half-used/half-fresh" oil.

Top-down oil changes are regularly done in the service-departments of brands like Mercedes Benz and BMW. They work on a variety of models, as auto-consumer-advice giant Edmunds illustrated in this feature by Senior Editor Phillip Reed.

He and Associate Editor Mark Takahashi sucked the oil-pans nearly dry on both Reed's Honda Fit and Takahashi's Lotus Elise with a $63, 5-quart-capacity Fluid Extractor from Moeller. Oil changes would cost the Edmunds editor $170 each for his Lotus, and when finished, there was less than three tablespoons of oil left in Reed's Honda.

That's a helluva combo-punch for Top-Down oil changing:

  • Money saved in labor from henceforth (often the most expensive part of garage-bills)
  • Reduced effort (if your oil-filter is mounted on top of your engine, there's no getting under the car)
  • Removes used-oil effectively (all but disasterously-large metal wear and other contaminants are suspended in the used-oil – if it's warm)

I've enjoyed the reduced brow-furrowing of the top-down method several times now. Luckily, it's always gone something like this:

"Top-Down" Oil Change with CTA's Oil Extractor/Fluid Evacuator:

The heart of the CTA Oil Extractor and Fluid Evacuator: its 6-quart-capacity tank.
The heart of the CTA Oil Extractor and Fluid Evacuator: its 6-quart-capacity tank. | Source

I picked up the CTA pump from my local Pep Boys (in-store and online prices vary from $60-to-$90 dollars).

I had planned to try top-down oil changes as a solution to a persistent, gypsy-cursed drain plug leak: one of my former oil change trustees over-tightened my drain plug. The plug leaked some, necessitating a new oil pan ($50 from ECS Tuning).

By a stroke of luck, the new pan's plug also leaked.

That (and a nagging worry that my engine had been overfilled after the pan-replacement) got me off my duff and oil-pump shopping.

Damn you, new-but-leaky oil plug! Always replace the washer on your drain-plug and tighten to spec with a torque-wrench to help avoid this.
Damn you, new-but-leaky oil plug! Always replace the washer on your drain-plug and tighten to spec with a torque-wrench to help avoid this. | Source

It certainly looked like a Pep Boys-item when I opened the box (but appearances can certainly deceive – I disappointed many-a-date's parents at first) (some remained disappointed).


The contents of the CTA Oil Extractor and Fluid Evacuator-kit (after five oil changes).
The contents of the CTA Oil Extractor and Fluid Evacuator-kit (after five oil changes). | Source

The CTA pump comes with:

  • A 6-quart-capacity tank (each rib marks a quart)
  • The hand-pump
  • A siphoning hose
  • A Funnel attachment for pouring
  • A cap for storing

The tank doesn't come that "delicious" hue of yellow, I've been using this thing – and it works.

Fortunately, I was only over the dipstick "FULL"-mark by a couple of ounces. The pump's first oil-change pulled all but a bit of oil that drained when replacing the defective plug (I may not have oriented the hose then as well as I do now).

There's nothing special to using the CTA pump. Like any other oil change, the car benefits from being warm (but not searing-hot). Park the car on level-ground, then let it cool some.

Cooling down – oil benefits from being warm (but not burning-hot!) before changing.  It flows easier for removal and takes more impurities out with it.
Cooling down – oil benefits from being warm (but not burning-hot!) before changing. It flows easier for removal and takes more impurities out with it. | Source

Before beginning, check your current oil-level – a chance to see if any oil has 'disappeared' (burned/consumed) since your last service.

This oil level is right where I left it since the last oil change: just above the top hash-marks on the dipstick.
This oil level is right where I left it since the last oil change: just above the top hash-marks on the dipstick. | Source

Like I've mentioned before, a good-quality oil is a cornerstone of long-engine life.

Mobil 1's 0W-40 synthetic "Euro" blend works well with the 1.8T engine. Its "0W" cold-rating flows fast at start-up to lubricate parts, while its "40"-grade protects under high speeds (and temperatures).
Mobil 1's 0W-40 synthetic "Euro" blend works well with the 1.8T engine. Its "0W" cold-rating flows fast at start-up to lubricate parts, while its "40"-grade protects under high speeds (and temperatures). | Source

Mobil 1's 0W-40 is the factory-fill on a number of Autobahn-shredders, and can be used year-round despite some saying the "0W" limits it to winter use.

The CTA pump is prepared by screwing the hand-pump's handle into the piston. Then attach the hose to the tank.

Slowly insert the siphon hose into the dipstick-tube. Push in until you feel the hose reach the pan-bottom.

TIP: Gently see if it will go any further and stay (oil pans are deepest towards the back – where the drain-plug is).

Ready for siphoning, the CTA pump should look like this. After being pumped to build-vacuum, you can see it beginning to siphon oil from the engine.
Ready for siphoning, the CTA pump should look like this. After being pumped to build-vacuum, you can see it beginning to siphon oil from the engine. | Source

TIP: If your engine uses an oil-level sensor in its pan, check with those in-the-know to see if they recommend against top-down oil changes for your car. Thread the hose in gently if still green-lit.

With the hose in place, take the hand pump and insert it over the special grommet on top of the tank to begin pumping. It's a one-way seal that evacuates air, allowing a vacuum to form inside the tank.

If you're into wine – it works just like the rubber corks that vacuum-seal unfinished bottles (maximum vacuum is indicated by a strong resistance to continued-pumping). After a few pumps, dark used-oil should move visibly through the hose –

Oil turns dark when used. If its flowing freely through the hose, the color shouldn't concern you – oil can look like this after 500-to-1,000-miles.
Oil turns dark when used. If its flowing freely through the hose, the color shouldn't concern you – oil can look like this after 500-to-1,000-miles. | Source

– and into the tank (remember: you can check your progress with the "ribs" on the CTA-pump).

Source

You can leave the pump to do its thing (returning now and then to maintain the vacuum with follow-up pumps) and take care of other maintenance – like topping up your windshield-washer fluid.

Florida-bugs make this a nearly-as-vital fluid as the oil.
Florida-bugs make this a nearly-as-vital fluid as the oil. | Source

You'll know the pump has finished its job by the empty-drink-sound of ingesting only air. The CTA pump filled its tank to around the 5-quart mark – reassuring since a transversely-mounted 1.8T engine takes 4.8-quarts of oil.

Maybe not the "shiniest" model, but it delivers.  Filled to roughly 5-quarts, like it should be.
Maybe not the "shiniest" model, but it delivers. Filled to roughly 5-quarts, like it should be. | Source

That's the end of the über-easy part for me, since my filter is traditionally located low on the engine-block. I take a moment to check the underside of the oil-filler cap for milky-buildup (like in my Used Car Pro-Tips Hub) –

No white, milky-buildup of doom here (a sign of coolant and oil mixing in the engine). Keep knocking wood and rubbing rabbit's feet.
No white, milky-buildup of doom here (a sign of coolant and oil mixing in the engine). Keep knocking wood and rubbing rabbit's feet. | Source

– then jack the front of the car up to remove the old filter.

It goes up – and I go down.
It goes up – and I go down. | Source

It may not feel like a bed at the Waldorf, but getting under your car is never a wasted opportunity. It's a chance to make sure nothing else needs attention – like this inner CV-joint boot on the passenger-side front axle.

If it was going to happen, this isn't bad. The boot tore cleanly at its mouth – I used a pair of zip-ties to squeeze it shut above the tear (between the first and next boot-"ribs").
If it was going to happen, this isn't bad. The boot tore cleanly at its mouth – I used a pair of zip-ties to squeeze it shut above the tear (between the first and next boot-"ribs"). | Source

It tore cleanly just before its metal end-cap (but luckily, after the last rib on the rubber part). The space between that rib and the next were perfect for a couple of zip-ties – a makeshift tourniquet for the otherwise-fine axle boot.

When you can procure them, MANN W719/30 filters are ideal for transverse-1.8Ts (the longitudinal engines prefer a larger version due to a smaller oil-pan). If they're rare in your area, Purolator's L20252 filter is a good alternative (with a back-flow valve that's nearly as good as the MANN's, important for preventing dry-starts).

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Drained at the plug, or siphoned – the oil-filter always keeps some oil in it.

A bottom-mounted filter's only joy in life is relieving itself on you before you throw it out.

After thousands-of-miles eating "oil junk", used filters relish taking a leak on you.
After thousands-of-miles eating "oil junk", used filters relish taking a leak on you. | Source

Once you sort this out with the used filter, and its replacement is hand-screwed on (after wetting its seal and filling it with fresh oil), a top-down oil change ends like any other: refill the engine.

You should know your engine-oil capacity if attempting a top-down oil change, but definitely know "how much" before pouring the new stuff in!
You should know your engine-oil capacity if attempting a top-down oil change, but definitely know "how much" before pouring the new stuff in! | Source

The dipstick just began showing oil on it after around 4-quarts. The hashmarks on this dipstick are for the top-quart. Knowing your engine's capacity, see what your dipstick shows before adding the last quart/liter (however you measure).

This can be good to know when tracking oil consumption/"burning".

The dipstick just began to show oil around 4-quarts.  Its hashmarks are for the top/last quart in this engine.
The dipstick just began to show oil around 4-quarts. Its hashmarks are for the top/last quart in this engine. | Source

Whatever your engine's oil-capacity, it's a good idea to pour the last bit slowly – but you can pull the excess out with your pump if you overshoot the mark.

Finish up the job by starting up the car for a few seconds, then shut it off.

Recheck the oil level (it should have dropped as the new oil circulated), then top it up to "FULL" again.

Right where I like it, the oil-"seam" just above the hash marks – but still within the measuring notch of the dipstick.
Right where I like it, the oil-"seam" just above the hash marks – but still within the measuring notch of the dipstick. | Source

The CTA Oil Extractor and Fluid Evacuator has been reliably effective for my top-down oil changes.

Its build quality certainly isn't polished in a few aspects.

TIP: sometimes, the tank's rubber-valve pops off when removing the hand-pump. It pops back on when this occurs and continues to work strongly.

If you'd like to try top-down oil changes instead of draining at the plug (avoiding issues like plug-leaks and damaging threads), The CTA pump is an affordable and simple choice for getting the job done.

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