Learn to change your motor oil with ease
When I was a kid, my Dad always changed his own motor oil and oil filter on our family station wagon. For him, it was a matter of pride and a way to keep his car out of the repair shop.
Nowadays, the cost of doing it yourself is just about the same as having a service center do it for you, but I still think it’s a good practice. You’ll have the personal satisfaction of completing the job yourself.
It’s a teachable task you can pass on to the next generation, and it’s a great way to kill a weekend afternoon while having a couple of cold ones. It’s not that difficult either. Here are a few easy steps to changing your own motor oil and filter.
When to Change Your Oil and Filter?
You should change your oil and filter every 3,000 miles, but you can get away with doing it every 5,000 miles if you don’t drive your car that often. Don’t just go by the numbers though.
You need to check the oil yourself. Pop open your hood and look for the long, yellow dipstick. It’s usually yellow but that might not always be the case. There are typically two long dipsticks in your engine block that are easily recognizable: one for the motor oil and one for the transmission fluid.
Related: How to change a flat tire
The transmission fluid is reddish in color. That’s not what you’re looking for here. New motor oil is almost clear or honey-like with a smooth, oily sheen. Motor oil that needs to be changed has a gritty texture and it can look dark brown or even pitch black.
Tools and Equipment You’ll Need:
- Oil Filter and Motor Oil
- Oil Filter Wrench or Wide-mouth Adjustable Wrench
- Socket set and Ratchet
- Oil Pan
- Gloves (optional)
- Large Towels
- Wheel Wedges
GUY TIP: The owner’s manual will tell you some valuable information like what type of motor oil you need and how many quarts to buy. Most vehicles take about 4.5 quarts of motor oil. When you go to the automotive store, look for a booklet that they keep near the motor oil section.
Find your vehicle’s make and model in the booklet and you’ll find the right oil filter for the job. Your total cost for oil and filter will hover between $20 and $30 dollars.
Step One: Setup for A Quick Job
Park your car on a flat, level stretch of pavement. You first need to let your car cool down. The motor oil needs to be cool and sitting at the bottom of your vehicle’s oil pan waiting for you to pull the plug. Get your gear ready. Line up your new oil filter and motor oil quarts. Pull out your socket set, adjustable wrench, and ratchet.
Place your oil pan nearby. Put on your gloves if you want to keep your hands clean. Also, you might want to use a large towel so that any motor oil that misses your oil pan won’t stain the pavement. I also use one to place all my tools on.
GUY TIP: This is the most crucial step. If you don’t have your tools well organized from the start, then this could potentially turn into a long and messy afternoon. The goal is to appreciate this task, and maybe even enjoy it. That can only happen if you ace this first step.
Step Two: Draining the Old Oil
Depending on where you’re changing your oil and what type of vehicle you have, you might need to raise the vehicle. The vehicle’s oil pan is usually located at the bottom rear section of your engine block, so you’ll need to jack up the front end of your car. Place wheel wedges beneath the rear tires because you will be underneath the vehicle.
Look for the appropriate section of the frame to place your jack. Some vehicles use arrows to indicate where to place the jack, but it’s usually located about a foot and a half behind your front passenger tire.
Now, raise the vehicle using the jack. Once the vehicle is raised you want to feel around underneath the engine block. You want to feel around for a flat metal pan that terminates in a large metal bolt. That’s the drain plug.
Now, using your socket set, try a few different socket attachments on that bolt until you get a snug fit. This is kindof fun because you can try to guess the size and see how many times it takes you to get the right one. Bring your oil pan underneath the drain plug before you unscrew it.
Once it’s lined up right, go ahead and unscrew that drain plug. Don’t go all the way. Just before it’s ready to fall, you’ll want to unscrew it the last couple of turns by hand, so you don’t lose the plug in a sea of black motor oil.
GUY TIP: Remember, righty-tighty…lefty-loosey? Well, sometimes it’s reversed. If you give the bolt a good tug and it doesn’t budge, try turning in the opposite direction.
Step Three: Changing the Old Filter
At this point, the old motor oil is draining out of the engine block and that usually takes about six or seven minutes. So, you can come out from underneath the vehicle and get to work on the oil filter while you wait. Most oil filters are bright colored, so you can spot them easily. They can be located nearly anywhere on the engine block.
It varies widely from model to model. It’s a round, cylindrical-shaped device. You can look at the new one that you bought to match it up if necessary.
Now that you’ve located it. Turn it counter-clockwise using the oil filter wrench attachment or an adjustable head wrench. Take your new oil filter and lubricate the rubber gasket rim with some of the new motor oil. Then, place it back onto the engine block. Hand-tighten only.
GUY TIP: Surprise. Be careful with the old motor oil filter. There’s some residual motor oil inside.
Step Four: New Oil
Pop back under the vehicle and make sure that all the old oil has drained out. It’s okay if there are just a few drips left. Place the drain plug bolt back onto the vehicle’s oil pan by using the socket set and ratchet.
Carefully, pull your oil pan out from underneath the vehicle. You can pour this old motor oil into a metal drum or bucket and take it to your local gas station for recycling later. Now, you can lower your vehicle back down to the pavement and remove the jack and wheel wedges.
You still need to put in the new motor oil. There’s a large screw cap on the top of your engine block. It most likely will say: MOTOR OIL on top, but it’s not always the case with older vehicles. Consult the owner’s manual if you’re not sure. Once it’s opened, get your funnel and slowly pour in all the motor oil quarts that you need.
When finished, replace the cap and hand-tighten it. You can check the dipstick to make sure that you’ve put the right amount of oil, but if you followed the instructions from the owner’s manual this won’t be necessary.
Step Five: Clean-Up
The job isn’t quite done until you’ve cleaned up your work area. This means wiping down your tools and putting them back in an orderly fashion for the next job.
As mentioned earlier, the motor oil can be recycled at your local gas station. It should never be poured down the drain or poured in the grass or dirt. The old motor oil filter can also be recycled. Just wrap it in a sealed plastic or paper bag.
Sure, this maintenance work can be done in 20 minutes by the guys down at the repair shop. These days, it will even cost about the same. That’s not the point though. It’s a rewarding job and a way to connect with your vehicle.
You can find other problems in the process such as a leaky gasket or hose that will require repair. It also gets easier every time you do it. I enjoy changing my vehicle’s motor oil and filter to bond with my friends.
We all get together once a month or so and do all our cars together. It’s a dirty job, but it’s time well spent.