How to Change Your Oil

oil change
  • 1-2 hours
  • Beginner
  • 50-100
What You'll Need
Jack stands
Oil drain pan
Socket or combination wrench
Oil filter wrench
Oil filter
6 quarts quality motor oil
What You'll Need
Jack stands
Oil drain pan
Socket or combination wrench
Oil filter wrench
Oil filter
6 quarts quality motor oil

You can change your oil yourself, even if you’re not a mechanic. Regular car maintenance will extend the life of your vehicle, and an oil and filter change can also improve your MPG. To do so, follow these steps.

Step 1 - Gather Your Tools and Materials

Pick up an oil change kit on Amazon.

If this is the first time you’ve changed your own oil, this step may take longer than the others. You will need to buy 6 quarts of good oil. Here we recommend staying with the manufacturer's recommended oil for your car. Your engine will need about 5 of those quarts (check your owner’s manual for the correct amount). Keep 1 quart in the trunk of your car in case the car needs an extra quart during the operation of the vehicle. Choose a high quality name brand motor oil. Do not mix oil. If you chose a synthetic oil such as Mobil1, do not mix regular oil with synthetic oil.

Pick up a good oil filter for the vehicle. A good filter will remove the carbon from the engine oil. Talk to your mechanic and find out what is the best filter for you. There are a significant amount of "cheap" filters. Always go with the best. A good filter is a lot cheaper than an engine overhaul.

Buy a decent oil filter wrench from your local auto parts house. There are several different styles of wrenches. They key here is getting one that works in close quarters. Chose one that will do the job for you and get the filter off the engine. One option is a metal strap wrench.

Get a decent oil drain pan to put under the car. Forget the old dishpan or bucket. You need a pan that will contain the oil that can be closed to seal the oil after it is drained. This way you can recycle the oil after it is drained rather than dumping it in the trash or on the ground.

If oil gets on your hands or arms, it's not like acid. Mechanics use clean engine oil to wash off dirty oil, but afterward wash thoroughly with soap and water. Petroleum-based products are better off of the skin.

Step 2 - Jack Up the Car

Elevate the front of the vehicle using the car jack. Raise it only enough to give you access to the underside of the engine and give you some room to move a wrench. Use jack stands whenever possible. Never depend on your car jack while you are under the car. Too many fail and people get crushed when the car comes down.

Step 3 - Remove the Fill Cap and Oil Pan Plug

Locate the oil fill cap on the engine (where you add oil to the engine). Remove it and set it aside. Crawl under the car and locate the engine pan plug on the lowest part of the engine oil pan. The oil pan covers the entire bottom end of the engine. The drain plug has a hexagonal head on it and may be any size.

Place the oil drain pan directly under the drain plug. Use a socket wrench or a combination wrench of the right size to loosen the oil drain plug and remove it completely. You will likely get some oil on your hands.

Let the oil drain completely from the engine into the container under the vehicle. Be patient. Give it time to all drain out. It will start quickly but slow down as it goes.

Step 4 - Replace the Drain Plug and Remove the Filter

Replace the drain plug on the engine oil pan. Rule of thumb is that you tighten the drain plug really tight. How tight is tight? Well, I use a combination wrench (the closed end) and use 1 finger to pull it tight. When my 1 finger cannot pull it any tighter, that is tight enough. If you don't have much strength in your hands, use 2 fingers to pull the wrench, but no more. That will seal the drain plug and keep you from stripping the threads out of the oil pan.

Next move the drain pan to a point under the oil filter. Use your filter wrench and rotate the filter counterclockwise to remove it (counterclockwise as you are looking at the filter on the engine from the bottom). A couple of turns with the filter wrench and the oil filter will come free from the engine. At that point, you can unscrew it with your hands and drop it into the pan beneath it. Oil will escape from the filter and drain down into the pan. This is normal.

Step 5 - Install the New Filter and Lower the Car

Open the new filter. You'll notice it has a rubber gasket on the base. Open one of the bottles of engine oil and take a little oil from it to coat the rubber gasket thoroughly. If you don't do this, you won't get the filter off the engine the next time. The rubber gasket will seal itself to the engine and cause you a lot of grief.

Screw the new filter onto the filter pipe coming out of the engine and screw it down to the base (using hands only). Turn it with your hands until it is tight. Use the filter wrench you bought and turn the filter ¼ a turn more to seal it.

TIP: Some say turn it ½ a turn more, but a ¼ turn is sufficient and will make it a lot easier to loosen next time.

You are done under the car. Remove your drained oil and its container for proper disposal later. Release the jack and whatever else you are using to hold the car in the up position. Put the car on the ground in normal driving status.

Step 6 - Add New Oil and Pressurize the System

Find the engine oil fill on the valve cover and add 5 quarts of new engine oil. Cap the oil fill hole. Pull the engine dipstick and check the oil level. You will find that it reads 1 quart high. The reason is the filter is empty. This extra quart will reside in the filter after the engine is shut down.

Start the engine but do not rev it. Just let it idle. The light on the dash that says "OIL" should illuminate for a brief time and then extinguish. This is the time for your oil pump to pick up the new oil and pressurize the system. Let the vehicle engine run for about 5 minutes. This warms up the engine and lets the oil circulate. It also gives you a chance to make sure the filter is not leaking. Check under the vehicle and make sure you are not leaking oil onto the pavement.

Shut the engine off. Check the dipstick on the engine and it should read "FULL." You should have no oil leaks under the engine.

The next time you have to do all of this is 3,000 miles later. If you value your engine and your car, you will maintain this schedule. Every mile you drive over this figure means wear on the engine and early engine failure. Always change your filter with every oil change.

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