How To Change Your Oil

Changing the oil in your car yourself is a fundamental component of basic car maintenance and a great way to save both time and money. Here is how to change your own oil:

  1. Supplies you will need. Initially, you will need to buy a few tools and accessories that you will use every time you change your oil. These include an oil filter wrench, a socket set and ratchet, a drain pan, and a set of car ramps. The total cost for all of these items is under $100. They will become your trusted friends and pay for themselves over the life of the car. Each time you do an oil change, you'll also need a new oil filter, drain plug gasket and four quarts of oil. It's also a great idea to have some absorbent rags handy as the job can get messy.

    The best place to buy the oil and filter is at any automotive parts store. A typical 4-cylinder gasoline engine will need 4 quarts of 5W-30 oil, but it's always a good idea to check the car owner's manual or the spec book in the store to be sure about the specifications for your car. Motor oil is available from many different brands, so just make sure you see the "Starburst" symbol on the oil container--this symbol signifies the oil passes the engine manufacturer's specifications. The spec book will also tell you the correct oil filter to use for your particular automobile, as well as the correct drain plug gasket.

  2. Make sure your car is warmed up by driving it around the block a few times. Once the temperature gauge on the dashboard is in the mid-range, it's warmed up sufficiently. Warming up your car before you change your oil is important because oil flows better when it's warm, and drains out of the engine more thoroughly. Driving the car around a bit will also cause more dirt particles to get suspended in the oil, which means they will be more readily removed when the used oil is drained out of the vehicle.
  3. Now it's time to get to work. With a new filter and gasket and 4 quarts of fresh oil in hand, you're now ready to change that oil. Find a level surface--preferably in a garage--and position your car ramps directly in front of the front tires. Start your car and drive up the center of the ramps (Hint: It's always a good idea to have a helper with this part). Once the vehicle is safely perched on top of the ramps, set the parking brake and shut off the engine. Get out of the car and inspect the car to make sure the front tires are centered on the ramps. Grab a hold of the front fender and push on the chassis to make sure the car is stable. As an added safety precaution, put a brick or log behind one or both of the rear wheels to prevent the car from rolling off the car ramps. Once you're certain that the car is secure, you can move on to the next step.
  4. Pop open the hood and slide under the car with your socket set and ratchet, oil filter wrench and drain pan. Find the oil drain plug--it's at the bottom of the engine--and place your oil drain pan directly under the plug. Select the socket that fits most securely over the plug. Attach the socket to the ratchet and set the ratchet to the "Off" position. Place the socket over the drain plug and loosen the drain plug.
  5. Here comes the sloppy part. Once the plug is removed, out comes the old, dirty oil. The objective here is to get all of the oil into the drain pan--instead of onto you. With experience, this part of the job gets easier. As the oil drains into your pan, wipe off the oil plug and replace the old drain plug gasket with the new one. Expect about five minutes for the used oil to finish draining. Once the oil is finished draining, replace the plug, set your ratchet to "On" and tighten the plug until it is snug.
  6. You're not done under there yet! You still need to remove the old oil filter using the oil filter wrench. This step can also be a bit awkward but also gets easier with practice. The oil filter is usually located towards the back of the engine and is most commonly accessible from underneath the car. Once you find the oil filter, slide the oil drain pan directly underneath it. If you're changing the filter for the first time, be sure to buy an oil filter wrench that fits your filter--the most common style is a strap-style oil filter wrench, although some people prefer a socket-style wrench. Slide the wrench over the filter and as you turn the filter in a counter-clockwise rotation, the strap will tighten around the body of the filter. Once you remove the old filter, put it face down in the oil drain pan.
  7. Take the new filter in one hand, and dip your index finger of your other hand in the old oil. Run your oil-drenched finger over the rubber gasket of the new filter. This will ensure a tight seal when you screw on the new filter. When you spin on the new filter, only use hand pressure to tighten the filter. You don't need to use the oil filter wrench to tighten it. With the new filter in place, you can slide out from under the car, making sure to pull out the oil pan and all of your tools.
  8. With everything secure underneath, you're now ready to add the new oil. The oil supply cap is on the top of the engine, and should be easy to spot. Unscrew the cap and carefully pour all 4 quarts of fresh new oil into the engine. Replace the cap securely and you're almost finished!
  9. Close the hood, remove the blocks you placed behind the rear wheels, start your car, take off the parking brake, and back down off the car ramps. Let the car idle for a minute before you shut it off. Pop open the hood one more time and pull out the oil dipstick to make sure the oil level is at the correct level. Wipe the dipstick with a rag--put it back into its sheath and then pull it out and check the level. It should be right on target.
  10. The last step is to drain your used oil into a plastic container and take it to your local lube shop for recycling. Most shops even take your old filter for proper disposal. The entire oil change should take about 30 minutes or less to complete, but, like anything else, the more times you do it, the more proficient you will be.
  11. Congratulations on a great job!


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