How To Change Your Own Oil
Changing your oil is one of the more joyfully simple and straightforward aspects of automotive maintenance.
Changing your car's oil is a quintessential part of automotive ownership. This vital fluid lubricates critical parts inside your vehicle's engine and ensures that the combustion process keeps going, and going, and going. Reliably and efficiently, too.
Over time, after being subjected to heat and pressures inside the engine, oil starts to break down. As it degrades, it is less effective at performing its job and also becomes contaminated with various wearing materials. Because of this, it must be changed to ensure it does its job and the engine continues to function flawlessly.
Changing your car's oil is luckily a simple procedure, but don't let its simplicity fool you. Slight missteps in the process can lead to catastrophic and expensive fixes. Fortunately, you've got many years of combined experience in The Drive's crack team of wrenching nerds at your fingertips to go over exactly how to do this crucial piece of maintenance.
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The Basics of Changing Your Oil
Estimated Time Needed: 45 Minutes
Skill Level: Newbie
Vehicle System: Engine
The Safety Aspects of Changing Your Oil
Working on your car can be very dangerous and quite messy, so here’s exactly what you’ll need to ensure you don’t die, get maimed, or lose a finger.
- Safety goggles, because splashing oil can do a number on your eyes
- Chemical-resistant gloves, because rooting around in warm oil for the oil pan drain plug could do a number on your skin
- Jack stands, because having a car fall on you could do a number on your life
- Wheel chocks (same reason as jack stands)
- A sturdy set of ramps (these could replace the jack stands)
Everything You’ll Need To Change Your Oil
Without breaking into your garage and examining what you're working with (who needs a breaking and entering beef in this economy?), these are all of the things you'll need to replace your engine's oil and its accompanying filter.
Organizing your tools and gear so everything is easily reachable will save precious minutes. You’ll also need a flat workspace, such as a garage floor, driveway, or street parking. Check your local laws to make sure you’re not violating any codes when using the street. We know, it's a big bummer that these codes exist.
Here’s How To Change Your Oil
Let us begin!
The first thing to know is you should never do an oil change immediately after you’ve driven the car. The oil will still be hot, and you could burn yourself. Park your car in a shaded area away from any traffic from cars or people, and allow it to cool down before you begin.
1. Safely position the vehicle and position the drain pan.
First, safely jack the vehicle up and put it on jack stands or drive it up on ramps. Either way, ensure it’s safely sitting on a flat surface. Then, chock the rear wheels to help prevent the car from rolling back or forth. Chocking them at the rear is important, but adding chocks to the front of them increases safety even more.
It's a good idea to position the optional big tarp underneath the pan, in case any oil spills out beyond the reaches of the pan, so it's easy to clean up and won't stain your driveway. Or your landlord's driveway, which could be an awkward conversation indeed. Also, if you're not quick enough when pulling the drain plug away, oil could flow down your arm and onto the ground.
Position the drain pan directly underneath the drain plug of the car, as well as underneath the filter. If it's a windy day, factor in that wind might make the oil stray off course, and adjust the drain pan as necessary. You might have to scoot the oil pan over to accommodate the filter after draining the oil, or vice versa, depending on how big the drain pan is. If you need help jacking the car up, read the Car Bibles article, How To Find Your Car’s Safe Jack Points.
2. Remove the oil filter from the car.
The oil filter could be the screw-in type underneath the engine near the drain pan, a screw-in type on the top of the engine, or a cartridge that’s accessible from the top of the engine. If it's the former, place the drain pan underneath it, as oil will drain out when it’s removed from underneath the car. Empty any remaining oil in the filter, as well.
This is where the oil filter removal tool comes in handy, as it’s common for filters to be on there really tight. In some cases, the vehicle's manufacturer might have a bespoke tool for opening up the bit on the top of the engine that houses the cartridge, so make sure you do your research if this is the case.
3. Let the warm oil flow.
Loosen and remove the drain plug and let all of the oil drain out into the pan. You’ll know it’s all out when the oil is down to just a couple of drops. When you remove the plug, there are a few options for what you do with it. You could try to remove it while it’s still on the wrench, you could remove it with your hand and risk dripping oil all over your arm and the ground, or you could let the plug drop into the oil, but then you have to fish it out later. This is where having thick chemical-resistant gloves comes in handy.
4. Reinstall the drain plug.
This is immensely important: Refit the drain plug. On some older cars a copper gasket is required to go between the plug and the oil pan. If this is what your vehicle has, make sure you have a new one ready to install with it. Use a good torque wrench to torque the bolt to the proper spec, which can be found in your owner’s manual.
5. Install the new oil filter.
Take a dab of the fresh new oil and rub it on the rubber gasket on the rim of the oil filter if it has one, then twist it in place. Typically, filters should be just a tad tighter than finger-tight, but do whatever your owner’s manual says. If there’s an oil filter cartridge housing on the top of the engine, re-torque the bolt to the required spec.
6. Feed the engine some fresh new oil.
Remove the oil filler cap, position your funnel, and pour in the oil. Double, triple, and quadruple check periodically how much oil is going in via the dipstick. Be sure to also pay attention to how much oil has left the container. If your oil capacity is six quarts and you’ve poured in four quarts, take extra care to slowly pour in the remaining quarts.
Some new cars don’t have dipsticks, in which case check and see what the proper fill procedure is in your vehicle’s factory or approved service manual. Heads-up: it can be a pain with some new cars.
7. Double- and triple-check the oil level.
Make sure your oil level is not too low and not too high. Make sure that it is at least above the minimum level on the dipstick. Then, double check and make sure that the oil drain plug and filter are properly tight, and that the oil fill cap is screwed back on.
8. Safely and carefully lower the vehicle back onto the ground.
Now’s the time to safely get the vehicle back down onto the ground. It’s a good idea to have a friend, partner, parent, or neighbor spot you if you’re pulling the vehicle down off of some ramps. If you’re lowering the vehicle down off of a jack, ensure the wheels are attached and also verbally communicate what you’re doing, such as, “Is everything clear, and can I now safely lower the vehicle?” It might sound weird, but it’s a good way to make extra certain of your actions.
9. Turn it on.
Once everything looks good, turn the car on. You want to make sure there are no weird noises or leaks coming from anywhere on the engine or through any potential oil cooler lines. Then, turn it off, let it cool, re-check the oil level, and add as much as necessary. Depending on the engine's design, pan capacity, any oil cooler lines, etc., you might have to add more oil to get the level past the minimum level on the dipstick or on the diagnostic screen if the car doesn't have a dipstick.
Pro Tips to Changing Your Oil
Over the years, The Drive’s editors have put in many hours performing this basic piece of maintenance. That’s why we have some good tips to make the experience just a tad easier and smooth.
- Turn the oil's bottle on its side, or even flip it around, and tip it into the funnel. This helps avoid glugging, which can cause spillage.
- Some brands sell oil containers with built-in extendable nozzles, such as Motul and Liqui Moly. These make adding oil a tad easier and help if you're in a pinch because you lost or forgot to buy a funnel.
- Don't necessarily pour in all of the oil when you're ready to do so. Sometimes, it's best to pour in just below the car's max capacity, then turn the car on, let it circulate, and then turn it off to re-check. It's better to be a tad below the maximum capacity (but well above the minimum capacity) instead of over the max capacity.
- If you spill oil on your driveway and want to clean it up, the sooner the better. Some firm scrubbing with some water and dish soap pulls it up nicely. Otherwise, if you let it sit for a while, it could turn into a nasty stain.
FAQs About Changing Your Oil
You’ve got questions, The Drive has answers!
Q. What do I do with the old oil?
A. Properly dispose of it, as well as the used filter. Here are some tips on how to do so!
Q. Why should I change my oil?
A. Engine oil is your engine's single most crucial fluid and must stay clean and at its maximum operational status to ensure your car is functioning properly.
Q. What should you keep in mind while draining oil?
A. Most importantly, be aware of your surroundings, as well as the direction that the oil is pouring. A strong wind could make it flow out at an angle. Also, if you accidentally kick the pan of drained oil while doing other steps in the oil change process, it could spill it all over, so give yourself plenty of room.
Some of us can read over this guide several times and still not get a good idea of what it's like to change your oil. That's why it's a good idea to have a good video from a reputable source to help clear everything up and paint a good picture!