How to Change Your Own Oil
The best way to complete a DIY oil change in your garage
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Changing your own oil is one of the most basic but effective ways to save some money on routine vehicle maintenance. It is a necessary step for keeping your engine running smoothly. Common every 5,000 to 10,000 miles, it's a skill that is easy to learn after you've done it a few times by yourself or with a friend.
Best of all, you don't need much in terms of equipment to get the job done. As long as you have a few key tools, the right type of oil for your vehicle and the replacement filter, you can get the job done in under an hour.
There isn't a lot that can go wrong when changing your oil, but there are a couple of steps to take to make sure you stay safe. The main challenge is if you have to jack your car up to access the underside of the engine where the oil drain plug is located. If this is the case, keep in mind the following safety tips:
- Never change the oil with your car parked on a slope. You’ll want to find a flat surface.
- If you have to jack the car up, use jack stands to keep it in place in case the car jack fails. This will also help distribute the weight more evenly.
- Be careful not to get any oil on your face when draining it.
- Clean up any spills or drips as quickly as possible to prevent the oil from staining the concrete or asphalt underneath the car.
Things You'll Need
Changing a vehicle's oil only requires a few specialized tools to get the job done. These tools will help you remove the oil plug, replace the oil filter, and get the top on and off.
You will need the following tools:
- A wrench to remove the oil plug. You should use a box end wrench instead of a socket.
- An oil filter wrench that is compatible with your specific oil filter.
- An oil drain pan to collect the oil below your vehicle.
- A funnel to direct the flow of the new oil into the engine from the top.
- Latex gloves to keep the oil off your hands.
- The car jack/stands or ramps/wheel chocks to securely raise your vehicle to access the undercarriage if necessary.
- The proper replacement oil for your vehicle. Check the vehicle's manual or the manufacturer's website to get the specific type of oil it needs and the necessary amount.
- The proper oil filter. This is the part that keeps oil clean as it flows through the engine. All vehicles have one type of compatible oil filter, so you'll have to find the right one, using the owner’s manual or manufacturer's website once again.
Once you have the proper tools and materials, there's only a minor preparation process to get the vehicle ready for the oil change. Essentially, you just have to get the vehicle in the proper location and position:
- Find a suitable location. It's much easier to change your oil in a controlled environment, like a garage, if possible. At the very least, you should find a flat area to park the vehicle on so it doesn't roll away or fall off of the ramps or jack stands.
- Raise the vehicle up to access the undercarriage if necessary. If you have a truck or SUV with good ground clearance (at least 10 inches from the ground), you may be able to skip this step. For most cars, however, you will have to raise the front end using a jack or ramps to get enough clearance. It is important to secure the car with wheel chocks or jack stands to keep it from falling off or rolling away when you are under the engine.
- Cover the ground underneath the engine. There's a good chance (especially if this is your first oil change by yourself) that some oil will drip or leak onto the surface below the vehicle. While you can prevent any permanent stains by cleaning it up quickly, a simple tarp or towel is usually enough to protect the surface without a major cleanup afterward.
- Let the engine run for a minute or two. It's important to warm up the oil inside before draining it. If you have just been driving your vehicle, however, you can skip this step.
Changing the Oil
Once everything is ready, the time to actually change the oil has arrived. This will be a three-step process that involves draining the old oil and then adding the new after the oil filter has been replaced. It’s important that you follow the steps in the right order listed here so you don't mix any old and new oil or damage any of the internal engine components.
Draining the Old Oil
The old adage "out with the old, in with the new" accurately describes the first step of replacing your oil. You have to get the old, used oil out of the engine so nothing is left when you go to add the new oil.
- Locate the drain plug. This will be somewhere underneath your engine near the front of your vehicle. You can usually see the oil pan itself attached to the bottom of the engine with a plug sticking out somewhere.
- Position the oil drain pan. You can usually position it directly underneath the plug. As you begin to remove the drain plug, the oil will start to leak through the threads, usually starting with a drip before turning into a steady stream. If the oil pan isn’t in position before you remove the drain plug, you'll have a mess on your hands.
- Remove the drain plug. You will need to use the correct wrench size to loosen the tension on the plug before you can twist it off by hand. Remove it slowly so you can control the amount of oil that drains out.
- Let the oil drain out completely. This can take a few minutes, depending on the size of the engine and the amount of the oil it requires. The stream of oil will begin to dissipate and turn into a few drops before finally stopping.
- Reattach and tighten the oil plug. Thread the plug by hand and then use the same wrench as before to tighten it until it is secure.
Replacing the Oil Filter
Now that the old oil is out of the engine, it's time to replace the oil filter before you add the new oil. This will make sure the new oil remains free from impurities for as long as possible.
- Locate the oil filter on the engine. Different engine designs have different locations for the oil filter, so you may have to consult your owner's manual or look around the engine bay to find it.
- Remove the oil filter. After you have located it, take your oil filter wrench and secure it around the circumference of the oil filter. Depending on the size of the engine bay, you may have to reach from above or below, whichever site is closer or more accessible to the oil filter. Once the wrench is secure and you have a good grip on the handle, loosen it until you can freely rotate it by hand. Slowly remove it from the threading. As you remove it from the engine bay, make sure to keep the threaded end upright so any remaining old oil doesn't drip or leak out from the opening. Once it is free, you can leave it on the oil drain pan upside down to remove the rest of the oil inside.
- Attach and secure the new filter. Position the proper end with the opening on the engine and slowly thread it by hand. Once you reach the point where you cannot tighten it by hand anymore, fasten the wrench around the circumference of the filter and torque it down until it is secure.
Adding the New Oil
With the old oil out and the new oil filter in, you now have an engine that is prime for the new stuff. You will have to add the correct amount by checking the dipstick for an accurate measurement.
- Open the lid on the top of the engine. This is where you will be pouring the oil in using the funnel.
- Position the funnel in the opening. You may have to position the funnel from an angle if there is any other engine part obstructing the opening.
- Add the new oil. Slowly pour the oil from the container into the funnel. Be careful not to overflow the funnel by pouring too quickly. You may have to stop pouring for a few seconds so the funnel clears. If you have a large engine, you may have to add a couple of containers worth of oil to get the correct amount.
- Check the dipstick. Once you feel like you have the correct amount or if you just want to check the levels at any point, remove the dipstick from the engine. Take the tip and wipe it off so any old oil gets removed from the surface. Next, insert the dipstick back into the engine all the way until it stops. Then, remove the dipstick once more and look at the tip. You should see a light layer of oil on the tip. If the edge of that layer is between the minimum and maximum level markings on the dipstick, you have the right amount.
- Start the engine. Make sure you remove the funnel and put the lid back on beforehand. Let it run for about 15 to 30 seconds so the new oil heats up and moves around inside.
- Check the dipstick again and add more oil if necessary. You may find that the oil level has lowered, meaning you'll have to add a little bit more to get it to the correct level again.
- If the oil level is within the recommended minimum and maximum levels, you have successfully changed your oil.
- If the engine or the engine oil is too hot, let things cool before you start changing the oil. It is easy to burn yourself after a vehicle has been on for a long period of time.
- Make sure you clean up any oil where it's not supposed to be quickly.
- Make sure you always support a lifted car with jack stands or ramps and wheel chocks to keep it secure while working underneath it.
- Recycle the old oil and oil filter by taking it to the recycling center or an automotive shop that accepts discarded oil.
Q. Will changing my own oil save me money?
A. If you want to use quality oil, you can actually save a lot of money by doing it yourself. Typical $20 oil change deals, for example, use the cheap stuff to cut costs. By doing it yourself, you save money on the labor and can shop around for the best oil for the right price.
Q. How do I know if my oil needs to be changed?
A. Sticking with a regular oil change schedule takes the guesswork out of knowing when to change the oil. If you don't have a normal routine, however, you should change it around the 5,000-mile mark after your last oil change.
Q. Is synthetic oil really the best oil to choose?
A. You don't have to use synthetic oil, especially if you want to save some money, but you will notice superior performance and results by using it. Synthetic oil tends to offer better protection, especially for older engines with 75,000 miles or more on the odometer.