How to Change Your Motor Oil

by Brett & Kate McKay on October 29, 2009 · 85 comments

in Manly Skills

oilchange

Ever since I’ve owned a car, I’ve always taken it to a quick lube to get the oil changed. Every 3,000 miles I would find myself sitting in a lounge munching on complimentary donuts while some other man changed my oil.

But it never felt right.

I would stare out the window into the garage and watch the mechanics work deftly on my car. I would think, “That looks easy. Why am I paying another man $25 for a job that I could do myself?”

In addition to the resentment I felt for paying another man to change my oil, I was also jealous. I admired the knowledge and skills those men who worked on my car had, and I wanted to be able to do it too.

Of course, I never did anything about it, mainly out of laziness.

Well, after 10 years of taking my car to a quick lube to change my oil, I finally got around to learning how to change the oil in my car last month. And boy did it feel good.

Below, I provide a short guide on how to change the oil in your car. Let’s get started.

The Benefits of Changing Your Oil Yourself

Save money. Getting your oil changed at Jiffy Lube or similar shops usually runs between $25 and $30. Half the cost goes to labor.  They have deals every now and then, but they’re few and far between. Changing your oil yourself will only set you back about $15 for a new filter and some new oil. In this tough economy, every little bit helps. The manly man is self-reliant and frugal.

You won’t get stuff stolen from your car. After one visit to the quick lube, my cell phone was missing. Of course, when I called the workers on it, they played dumb. I also had a few CD’s taken from another oil change place. (If you’re reading this Fast Lube guy, I want my Weezer Blue Album back.)

You’ll feel manly. Nothing will boost your manly confidence like learning a manual skill and doing a job yourself. The satisfaction you get after changing your oil is way more fulfilling than the satisfaction you’ll get getting a perfect score on Guitar Hero. You’ll get your hands greasy, and you’ll have the manly smell of sweat and oil emanate from you.

How Often Should You Change Your Motor Oil?

The common number that car dealers and mechanics put out there for oil changes is to do it every 3,000 miles or every three months. Because it has been repeated so often, many people have come to believe that it’s an unalterable law of the universe.

The 3,000 mile rule is actually good advice… if you own a quick lube and want to make loads of money. Modern engines and motor oils can actually last much longer than 3,000 miles in between oil changes. Most cars can go 5,000 miles in between oil changes. I’ve also seen some cars that can go for 12,000 miles before they need a change. There really isn’t hard and fast number. Bottom line, it’s longer than 3,000 miles.

Dealers and mechanics propagate the 3,000 mile rule because it means drivers come in more often to get their oil changed, which means more money for car dealers and garages.

So forget the 3,000 mile rule. Check your owner’s manual to find out how many miles your car can go in between oil changes.

How to Change Your Motor Oil

Gather your tools and materials. You don’t need much to change your oil. Below we list the essentials:

  • New oil filter. Different cars require different sized oil filters. Check your car’s owner’s manual to find out what size you need. You can also check the auto parts book that all auto stores carry to find out which oil filter you car takes. You just need to know your car’s year, model, and make.
  • Oil. You need enough oil to refill your engine after you drain it. Most cars require 4 or 5 quarts of oil. Also, make sure you get the correct oil grade for your car. Check your owner’s manual for the grade and number of quarts you need.
  • Oil filter wrench. Sometimes you can get the filter off just by unscrewing it by hand. If it’s too tight, bust out an oil filter wrench. It’s an attachment that you put on the end of a socket wrench. Make sure you get the right size filter wrench attachment for the size of your oil filter. The attachment will set you back about $3.
  • Socket wrench set. You’ll need a socket wrench to unscrew the drain plug and maybe to unscrew the oil filter.
  • Something to catch the old oil. Anything will work. You can get a fancy oil drip pan or you can use an old refrigerator drawer or an old bucket.
  • A funnel.
  • Some old rags. In case you drop the oil plug into the oil pan and you need to wipe it off. They’re also good for wiping off your hands.
  • Car ramp. While not a necessary item, it can make your job easier. You can buy plastic ramps that will elevate your car’s front off the ground. This will give you more room to work underneath your car. You can find car ramps at most auto stores for about $30.

Warm up your car. To ensure that you drain all the old oil out of your engine block, warm it up by taking your car for a spin. You don’t want the oil to be too hot, just warm enough so it thins out a bit. To tell if your car is warmed up enough, just turn on your heater. When your feet get nice and toasty, you’re ready to drain the oil.

Park the car on a flat surface. Park your car on a flat surface and engage the parking break. If you have those ramps, place them in front of your front wheels and drive up them. It’s always good to have someone out front guiding you so you don’t end up driving off the other end of the ramps. For added safety, put blocks behind both rear tires.

Pop the hood and remove the oil filler cap. Removing the oil filler cap can help the oil drain faster. It allows air to flow into the engine as the oil drains out.

Remove the oil plug. Locate the oil plug underneath your car. It’s pretty easy to find. It’s a fairly large bolt on the oil pan’s bottom. Take an appropriate sized socket or wrench and start unscrewing the nut.

If the nut is too tight, try this little trick: get a piece of pipe that’s a bit longer than your socket wrench and place it over your socket wrench’s handle. This will give you some added leverage.

Don’t remove the oil plug completely with your wrench or you risk getting oil all over the place. Loosen it enough so that you can start unscrewing it with your fingers. Before you remove the plug, place your drip pan underneath the hole. When everything looks lined up, remove the plug. Make sure to hold onto the oil plug tightly or else you’ll have to fish for it in your drip pan.

Let the oil drain. After you remove the oil plug, let the oil drain out completely. It takes about 2 minutes for most engines to drain.

Oil filterHere’s what an oil filter looks like

Remove the oil filter. Probably the hardest part in removing an oil filter is finding it on your engine. The first time I changed the oil, I spent a couple of minutes underneath my car scratching my head looking for the damn thing. The problem is there isn’t a standard position for where oil filters go, so it could be on your engine’s side, back, bottom, or top. Just look at your new oil filter and start looking underneath your car for something that looks similar. That’s your oil filter.

Now if the car manufacturer decides to put your filter in a weird place, it can be hard to remove. You might have to contort your arm in weird ways to unscrew it, but be assured you can remove it.

Oftentimes you can simply unscrew the filter by hand. However, if it’s too tight, bust out your filter wrench. Give it a few turns until it loosens up. Once it does, remove the filter wrench and finish unscrewing the filter by hand.

Before you remove the filter, make sure to have your drip pan underneath it. When you remove the filter a good stream of oil will come out.

When you remove the oil filter, make sure the rubber gasket ring comes off with it. If it stays on the car, the new filter won’t get an adequate seal on the engine.

Install the new oil filter. Dip your finger in some new oil and smear it on the gasket ring of your new filter. This will help the filter seat better against the engine. Thread the new filter onto the hole where the oil filter goes. It doesn’t take much to tighten your oil filter. Tighten it with your fingers until it stops turning. Then give it one more strong half turn. That should do the trick. Some oil filters come with instructions on how many turns you need to give a filter to tighten it. When in doubt, follow the instructions.

Replace the oil plug. Some mechanics suggest replacing the sealing washer on your oil plug before you start tightening it. If it’s a metal one in good condition, you can get away without replacing it. Put the washer in place and thread the drain plug back into its hole. Start tightening. When it’s nice and tight get out from under your car and remove the drip pan.

Refill the engine with oil. Place your funnel in the oil filler hole on the top of your engine and start filling your car up with new oil. Again, depending on the car, 4 to 5 quarts should do the trick. Once the oil is all in, screw on the oil cap and close the hood.

Let the car run. When you’re all done, start the car and let it run for about 5 minutes. This does two things. First, it allows your engine to regain proper oil pressure. Second, it gives you a chance to see if you have any leaks near your oil plug and oil filter. If you see any leaks, stop the car and tighten the plug and filter as needed.

Dispose of your old oil. Unless you want to go to prison or pay a hefty fine, don’t dump your motor oil in a sewer or the trash. Instead, take it to a proper disposal location. Most states have laws that require quick lubes and gas stations to accept used motor oil from consumers for free or at a nominal cost.  Just place your used oil in the drip pan in a couple of old milk jugs. You’ll need to use your funnel and a helping hand to make the transfer. Screw on the lids, put the jugs in the back of your car, and drop them off at your local quick lube. You can also give them your old oil filter.

You’re done! Grab a Miller High Life or a hand crafted soda and revel in a job well done.

Any other tips on changing your car’s oil? Share them with us in the comments.

{ 85 comments… read them below or add one }

1 David Young October 29, 2009 at 9:27 pm

Brett,

One thing you might want to mention is that when you remove the oil plug, the oil isn’t going to flow straight down. Instead it’s going to shoot about 4-6 inches out, so whatever your catching the oil in should be positioned accordingly!

On a side note, law school is less interesting without you around this year. Looking forward to the book signing in December.

2 Rob October 29, 2009 at 9:37 pm

Good article. My dad and I have changed the oil in several family cars on many occasions, and I love feeling of a manly job well done, as you point out.

I will say, however, that in my experience the quick lube option isn’t too bad. $25 is pretty high compared to what I’ve seen, and usually the quick lube places in my area are cheaper because what you pay for labor, they more than make up for in efficiency and buying oil and filters in bulk.

3 COD October 29, 2009 at 9:41 pm

Once you get the oil filter loose cover it with a ziplock and then finish taking if off. All the oil that leaks out as you unscrew the filter will end up in the ziplock and not on you or your garage floor.

4 Jim October 29, 2009 at 9:52 pm

Good article! I’ve been changing my own oil for about 30 years, and I’ve done a ton of research to try to get it right. May I offer a couple of additional tips to get the longest life out of your car?

You can find out the manufacturers recommendation on oil cycle by reading your drivers manual or through online research. If you live in an urban center or area of harsh weather (and most of us do), you’ll want to follow the guidelines for severe duty. this is usually about half the “normal duty” in the book, and is where the “3,000 miles: lube it or lose it” comes from.

Take the time to research the oil you put in the vehicle, and spend the extra dough to buy the best you can afford. Make sure its rated for your vehicle: especially true for diesels!

Finally, spend money and buy a good filter. If you go for the $2 special, you may be unhappy with the results.

Thanks for the great blog!

5 Jack Donovan October 29, 2009 at 10:48 pm

This is good to put out there. There are a lot of older guys and country boys who can’t fathom a world where a man doesn’t change his own oil…but realistically, at a certain point, shop classes disappeared, and you can grow up without any real reason to do this. (Also, if you live in an apartment and don’t have a garage, changing your own oil is not practical.) A couple of years ago when my dad came to visit we flushed my radiator together, and that was fun. He used to take engines apart and re-assemble them, but now even he has someone else do it for convenience.

I work in a blue collar job, but what I often feel I’m missing is a real overview of engines and how they work. The kind of thing you miss out on when you’re in honors English. There ought to be a remedial adult shop class for highly verbal nerds…

6 Darrell Mozingo October 29, 2009 at 11:04 pm

@Jack Donovan:

Try How Stuff Works: http://www.howstuffworks.com/engine.htm

Good resources for catching up on the basics for a lot of this stuff.

7 Igor October 29, 2009 at 11:15 pm

Two more great reasons to change your own oil:
-Quick change places like to forget things like oil plugs and to tighten filters properly. I know of more then a few people who 2 days after getting their oil changed got a low oil light because it all spilled out.
-No matter how much of a doof you may look like the rest of the time, take a Saturday afternoon, go out and change the oil in your car and your ladies’, then come back in the house covered in driveway gunk and oil, you will look like the manliest of men for quite some time.

8 dannyb October 29, 2009 at 11:54 pm

Read “Shopclass as Soulcraft.” This book sums it up great.

9 TTFK October 30, 2009 at 12:11 am

I do have to disagree with the ‘saving money’ part of things.

Try this exercise. Add up all the time it takes you do EVERYTHING, including:

- Going to the store to buy the oil and filters
- Jacking up the car
- Waiting for the oil to drain
- Changing the filter and putting in fresh oil
- Checking for leaks (making sure not to overtighten the oil drain bolt in your aluminum oil pan unless you like paying several hundred dollars for a new one)
- Driving back to the store to dispose of the old oil.

Now, give a REALISTIC estimate of what your time is worth in dollars. Then, compare it to the cost of an oil change.

For the time it takes, I would have to complete the entire exercise in under 12-15 minutes to make it worth what my time is worth to have someone else do it for me. When I can pay $20 for someone else to do it, often while I am off doing something else constructive, it is a no-brainer.

10 Brett McKay October 30, 2009 at 12:20 am

@TTFK-

I have added it up and I think changing your own oil still puts you out on top. If you add up all the things you have listed it takes you about 45 minutes tops to change your own oil. Which is about how long it takes to have someone else change it. And I don’t know about you, but I’m unable to do constructive things while my oil is being changed because, well, my car is being worked on, so I’m in the waiting room waiting for it to be done. So, either way, 40 minutes of my time are going to be eaten up, either with me changing the oil or with me reading an issue of Sports Illustarted from 2002. I’d rather do the former and save $15-$20.

11 Brian Driggs October 30, 2009 at 12:46 am

Excellent to hear we’re changing our own oil these days, sir. Kudos to you for taking the plunge. For me, it would seem a bit odd that a manly man would concern himself with discussions of hairstyle or fashion without first discussing automotive pursuits. I was surprised to learn you’ve paid others to do this simple job for you, but I recognize that we must all start somewhere.

As a gearhead, I hope this recent venture into the world of metal and brawn has whet your appetite for more involved automotive pursuits. The satisfaction of a job well done after an oil change is one thing. Turning the key and hearing the engine you’ve built with your two hands roar to life is quite another.

It is reassuring to know that there are wrenches being turned at the Art of Manliness.

12 Chris R. October 30, 2009 at 1:10 am

Also to point out that changing your oil is a gateway job. Sure you might not be doing much but you’re getting familiar with your vehicle, next thing you know you’ll be swapping out transmissions! Not to mention do you know what kind of oil they use at the shops, probably the crappy grade, and crappy filter, what else do you expect for 25$. use that 25$ and you’ll get high quality synthetic oil (which is not made from dino oil BTW) , high quality oil filter and longer intervals. Better quality oil also means longer engine line, so are you really saving money if your car dies early? Dunno, but I guess the general rule that you get what you pay for applies here.

The 3000 mile interval doesn’t really apply any more, engines are more reliable and the oil is better especially if you use synthetic. Some brands advertise as long as 25000 between changes (amsoil) I usually change my oil ~7000 miles on our newer cars.

Another tip: if you have a lower car, one you can’t crawl under normally, use ramps instead of a jack, it’s much faster and you won’t bend little parts underneath with the jack.

Another manly tip: Get some coveralls, they pay for them self and can be used in other places.

For more reading have a look at: http://www.bobistheoilguy.com/

13 Eric J. October 30, 2009 at 1:10 am

While I would agree with Brett that you really do save money when changing your own oil, I’d also say that I’m not a fan of the idea of breaking everything down into “how much is my time worth?” Many, maybe most home improvement-esque projects, can be done by a professional in less time than it would take you, but I really feel like outsourcing all of your labor to someone else takes a bite out of your manliness. Maybe the real question should be, “How much can I pay other people to do things for me before my manliness takes a hit?”

14 Marc KS October 30, 2009 at 1:25 am

Great article on how to change your oil -

I do disagree with the saving money part – Generally if I go to an oil change place I inevitably end up paying less than if I do it myself. The benefit to doing it myself is that I can make sure that I use a decent quality oil and filter.

Most quick lube places use the cheapest oil available and the crappiest filters they can find. Most also refuse to add 20% Lucas Oil (even if I supply it). If you have never used Lucas Oil, check it out… well worth the extra cash.

15 K.C. October 30, 2009 at 4:37 am

Great article Brett,

I recently changed my oil for the first time in a few years (I used to change it in my first car, a 1955 Ford Fairlane. But haven’t in my second or my current car until now). I’d always have my mechanic do it. But I’ve always felt so good changing it myself, first time I did it I got my whole arm covered in oil, boy was I happy.

I’m glad you added the tip on using the pipe for more leverage, I had to pull that trick out when doing mine, worked like a charm.

To add my two cents to the saving money factor, I personally didn’t save money this last time, only because I incurred added cost with the oil catch pan (didn’t have one, but now I do, so one time fee but lasts a long time) and I went for full synthetic which wasn’t on sale. But, I do think that on average I’ll save money in the long run, and as you mentioned don’t have to worry about stuff getting stolen.

Thanks,

K.C.

16 Aaron October 30, 2009 at 7:45 am

Nice article, Brett. You didn’t leave anything out that I noticed.

Here are some things I picked up while working as a mechanic:
1) When removing the drain plug, loosen it with a wrench and then take it off with your fingers. If you press the plug against the oil pan while turning it, the oil won’t come out until you remove pressure. You can tell when the plug is ready to come off when you feel a bump (the threads contacting). It may take a little bit of practice, but you’ll be able to remove the plug without getting any oil on you.
2) Never buy Fram. Contrary to popular opinion, they’re cheaply made and if they tear up your engine Fram won’t cover it. Unless you know what you’re doing, safest bet is to always buy filters from your dealership. For example, Toyota filters have a valve that prevents oil from flowing while the engine is shut off. The newer Tacomas need this because their oil filter is inverted on the top of the engine.
3) Yes, practically all cars made now can go more than 3000 miles without an oil change, but you should always go by what your owner’s manual says. Some vehicles made as recently as 10 years ago still have to be changed at 3000 miles. For instance, the older Toyota 1.8 liter engines are notorious for building up sludge if you frequently go past 3000 miles on oil changes.
4. Synthetic oil is better than conventional oil, but if you have a high mileage vehicle and you’ve always run conventional stuff in it, don’t switch to synthetic. It can actually cause problems.

17 Aaron October 30, 2009 at 7:48 am

One more thing, and you might want to add this to the article, Brett; when you spill oil, use kitty litter to soak it up and dispose of it.

18 Dave October 30, 2009 at 8:14 am

After years of having it done at the shop I recently started doing my own oil changes again using a fluid extractor. Instead of draining from the pan I suck it out through the dipstick tube. You can argue that it doesn’t get all of the oil out but it’s close enough and it’s a whole lot easier than getting under the car and messing with the drain plug.

19 Christine the Soccer Mom October 30, 2009 at 8:23 am

I have to say that I learned to change my oil as soon as I had a license. Dad made sure I could do all my basic tune-ups: oil, filters, spark plugs, cap and rotor (back in the day!), and even change a tire! When I first changed my oil, it took me nearly an hour, and when I pulled the plug, my father looked down through the engine compartment of my ’77 Corolla and laughed as it spilled out – quickly AND at that angle – all down my arm. Thanks, Dad. ;)

But by the time I moved on to a new car, I’d gotten that time down to under 30 minutes. (Admittedly, I did not use ramps.) My next car took me 45 minutes, but eventually, I got a rhythm that got it down to about 20 minutes. The money saved was easy, too. I remember paying to get my oil changed later, when hubby and I were busy with two jobs, etc., and I was appalled! It is much, much less expensive to DYI, and you do get the added benefit of accomplishing something on your own. I haven’t had to change my oil since I got engaged, but I could still do it if I needed to, and I do recall that nice feeling of accomplishment when I was finished.

BTW, most of the time, auto parts stores like Advance Auto Parts (if you’re east of the Mississippii you know them, I’m sure) will not only help you get all the right filters, etc., but will also take the used oil at no cost to you. If you’re new to that game, I’d recommend a store like them over someplace like Wal Mart any day. They will also be sure you’ve got all the right tools and accessories. After a couple of times, you’ll know on your own what to get, but by then you’ll be ready to move on to other DYI projects on your car, and they’ll help you get started there, too. ;)

20 Andy October 30, 2009 at 8:48 am

I know for a fact I save money every time I change the oil in my Suburban. I’ve used Mobile 1 since the day I bought it and have had zero problems through the 140k miles. I recently had to take an unscheduled road trip for a funeral and needed the oil changed immediately. I went to a shop and paid $80 for a synthetic job. Wow! Typically it will cost me $28 for the oil and filter when I do it myself. It takes about 30 minutes with prep and cleanup. I don’t have to use ramps since I can crawl under the truck with no problem. But then I don’t use ramps on my Saturn either, just put my arm under there.

With today’s cars being so advanced changing your own oil is one of the last things we can do ourselves. I’ll keep doing it as long as I can find where the oil comes out and where the oil goes in.

21 Brian Escamilla October 30, 2009 at 9:02 am

Great article! I don’t have much to add beyond what’s already been said, but there are a few tips that make things easier.

A magnetic drain plug costs only a couple of bucks and is a great investment. Not only can you just stick it to the side of the oil pan instead of losing it in a sea of hot, dirty oil, but it also collects any metallic pieces that might otherwise be circulating throughout your engine and lets you know the condition of your motors internals.

Also, you should get a high quality filter like K&N that has a hex lug on the bottom (about the size of your drain plug). Chances are, you already have the right socket and you don’t need a separate wrench or adapter to remove it.

Changing your oil isn’t just about saving money for me. In fact, I pay about the same for taking it to a lube place as I do doing it myself. However, the higher quality of the oil and filter I use as well as the peace of mind that comes with knowing the job was done right is worth the effort.

Case in point, a mechanic friend of mine got lazy and took his car to a lube joint to have it done. On his way home he noticed the car was running terribly and started smoking. When he checked the oil level he realized they added new oil without draining the old and his rotating assembly was basically submerged in dirty oil. You’ve been warned!

22 sean October 30, 2009 at 9:22 am

I used to change my own oil all the time. I remember when I was working on my PhD years ago, I was once sitting at a table at a university pub 2with some colleagues when I rose to leave, saying I had to go change my oil. One of the others at the table, always on the lookout for a bargain, and assuming I was taking the car to a shop, asked me how much I paid for an oil change. When I told him it cost me about 12 bucks, he gasped and asked me where I went. When I told them I did it myself, the table went silent. Then one, speaking uncertainly, asked: “You change your own oil?” like it was the most unbelievable thing in the whole world. They had no idea how it was done, or that just about anyone could do it. Educated beyond reason, yet a simple change was beyond them.

As Zane Grey once said: There’s nothing dumber than an educated man, once you gt him out of whatever field he was educated in.

23 library_goon October 30, 2009 at 9:31 am

Thanks for this post, Brett. Learning to change my own oil is on my list ‘manly’ things I want to learn. My regular mechanic is almost impossible to get up with anymore, and I hate taking my truck to one of those franchise chains. My Dad used to do it when he was still in good health, so I’m sure he has many of the tools I need.

24 Dan October 30, 2009 at 9:32 am

Another good reason to change the oil yourself is that the worst thing you can do to your car is take it to a Jiffy Lube place… Either do it yourself, or take it to a reputable private shop (the good ones will usually charge $30-$40 and change the oil and replenish all the fluids…power steering, anti-freeze, etc). My (real) mechanic friends say that they get a lot of their business from repair shops like Jiffy Lube because they screw up simple jobs big time and have to get the car fixed before the customer comes back…
Do the oil yourself or get it done a real mechanic shop. Leave the Jiffy Lube-esque places alone.

25 Greg October 30, 2009 at 9:50 am

Until I got “timed out” with the children and the usual list of weekend chores (yeah, we split them up, I’m also the Laundry King) I did my own lube & oil changes on two cars. Right now, Quickie lube or the dealer gets the $$. I’m still enjoying my fantasy of eventually owning the garage I saw plans for in college. Work shop on one side, two bays, one bay having a lube pit-pretty much like the ones at the quickie lubes! Ah, dreams…
A couple of digressions to the DIY theme.
First, on oil change intervals. A few years back, a magazine (I think it was Consumer Reports) did a year long service test using a taxi fleet. They found no difference in engine wear between the cars with oil changes at 3,000 mile and 7,500 mile service intervals. Note, that was taxi service in a large city…that’s about as severe use as severe use gets.
Second, I’ve found if your vehicle is used almost exclusively for low mileage short trips, it really helps to take it out once a month for a highway speed trip of 15-20 miles. There are a lot of ‘parasitic’ electrical loads on newer vehicles, and the battery will drain. Also, this will get the drivetrain up to operating temperature long enough to discourage sludge build ups.

26 Michael October 30, 2009 at 10:22 am

A few points. First, the oil change places price normally only incudes a certain amount of oil. If you need more, it’s much more. My car takes 7 quarts and it runs me nearly $50. Granted, too, that was 7 years ago, the last time I didn’t do it myself.

Second, contrary to marketing and other advice, the type of oil has less to do with how long between changes as the engine. For example, many newer cars have aluminum block engines that run significantly cooler, keeping the oil functioning properly longer. Older cars with cast iron blocks run hotter, requiring more frequent changes (probably closer to the 3,000 number).

Lastly, regarding disposal, check with your rubbish removal agency. Ours offers catch pans and will come pick them up if you call and leave it out at the curb along with the filter. They will also leave you a clean pan at the same time. You don’t have to go anywhere but the end of the driveway.

27 Tman October 30, 2009 at 10:26 am

Thanks for another great article. In the 27years I’ve owned a car I’ve never “gotten it changed”. I’ve sure made a mess a few times which is why I always lay a large sheet of cardboard under the catch pan first. I’ve never paid full price for oil either. Just bought two 5qt jugs of full synthetic for $23 at wallmart and got a $15 gift card back.
One of the reasons I enjoy this site is that these are things you can do/share with your boys or others. Sent the “so you want to be a cop” to a fine young 16 year old yesterday. Plus I like the zip lock bag trick noted above- had never heard that before. Keep ‘em coming Brett!

28 Shmikey October 30, 2009 at 10:47 am

Just a note for the environment, oil on our streets is oil in our streams (and that goes for any toxic fluids, and note that biodegradable does not mean nontoxic). Place your car over a gravel pit, because gravel and soil will act as a filter and will not harm our water, but oil on the pavement will eventually end up in our waterways. It is best to not ramp or jack your vehicle when it is not on pavement, but I have changed my oil plenty of times just sliding up underneath my vehicle without raising it, it is a tight fit and a little awkward, but it is still feasible with most vehicles. Washing you car should also be done on your lawn and not in your drive for the same reason. The detergents and waxes will eventually make it to our waterways. Our surveys have shown that more than 50% of people believe that the storm and sanitary sewer systems are the same. Storm sewers drain directly to the waterways and are not treated.

29 Brian October 30, 2009 at 10:48 am

I’ve changed my oil for years, and although for a time I did use Wal-Mart or a Quick Lube to do it, I’ve found that I do save a little money plus I have the satisfaction of doing it myself.

I remember the first time I changed the oil on my own car when I was 16. I removed the drain plug, but the fluid was really red. When I asked my dad, who was helping me, he started laughing and said that I’d removed the plug from the transmission pan! Needless to say, I’ve never made that mistake again, but if you’re new to changing your own oil, you might be certain to remove the plug closest to the front of the car, not the rear!

I’ll also put a plug in for full synthetic oils. All oils are not created equal, and a good quality oil can really help the life of your engine (I used to work for an oil wholesaler, and there is definitely a difference). I personally use Castrol Syntec, and my ’98 Ford F150 pick-up (has there been an article about pick-ups? If not, there should be) has 164,000 miles on it and is still going strong. The last time I had my truck’s oil changed at a Wal-Mart, it set me back $70, since it holds 7 quarts. After that I vowed to go back to changing my own.

As for removing the oil or grease from your hands afterward, I recommend GOOP or at least something with pumice, which will help remove the grease and grind very well. You can even get it with a small plastic brush that cleans under your fingernails.

After you’ve mastered the oil changes, the next task is to learn to change your brakes. Disc brakes in particular are easy to change, and you can really save some dough by doing it yourself, as well as having that manly satisfaction!

30 Kiltman October 30, 2009 at 10:55 am

Great article!

One further tip: For the pennies they cost, I think it’s a good idea to replace the plug washer every time! I learned this the hard way after the old washer leaked…

31 Isi October 30, 2009 at 10:59 am

@Aaron – I actually put a small amount of kitty litter out before I start. I have never been able to get the initial flow into the bucket without spilling – or worse – when the plug is just about out and oil uses it as a guide to go else – anywhere but the bucket.

I see a lot of notes about when to change the oil. My current car doesn’t have this (2001 Caravan) but in the past I have drove a few newer cars that tell you when the viscosity of the oil is not appropriate to the engine – I know that a few Chevy trucks did this as early as 2003 and I am sure there are other that do as well. I think the part is an Oil Viscosity Sensor – when the oil isn’t right – right of course being defined however the sensor is calibrated – a light illuminates on the dash – this usually means you need to change the oil within a two or three fill-ups of gas or some number of miles.

32 Brian October 30, 2009 at 11:15 am

Only thing I would add is to check when you remove the old oil filter to make sure that the old gasket came off with it. If it tears or sticks to the oil pump you need to get it off before putting on the new filter.

Also if you ever have any major mechanical issues that caused your car to overheat or if you have blown a head gasket make sure to change the oil along with the other repairs that you do. An overheated engine can break down the oil and a blown head gasket can get water and antifreeze into your oil. Either is bad.

A further tip, high quality synthetic oil will last longer and may improve your mpg.

33 David October 30, 2009 at 12:03 pm

My Dad taught me how to change oil, just like the post. It was a good father – son bonding moment. And, as I worked my way through school and made due on a minimum salary with my first job – it was a useful skill that saved money. These days, I bring my vehicles to a good mechanic who will do it nearly as cheap as the quick oil change places I don’t trust. As a bonus, they also lube all the fittings, check the belts, etc. Something that is missing from the post, but needs to be part of every 5,000 mile oil change / engine check-up. A vehicle with fresh oil & filter and a broken belt or worn fitting won’t get you anywhere. Also, I save $$$ by bringing my own oil (Royal Purple) and filter (K&N) – which is top of line and sells retail for the same price you’ll get changed for the junk they sell at the quick oil change places.

34 Kevin October 30, 2009 at 12:46 pm

One thing to be careful about – when you re-tighten the oil drain plug be very careful not to OVER-tighten it. Most (all?) are designed to shear off if over-tightened…which keeps you from stripping the threads out of the oil and pan (good thing because it means you won’t need a new oil pan), but you’ll then have to extract a bolt with no head on it, and buy a new one, which means you’ll have to drain your oil again to replace it. When I’m re-tightening, I always keep my hand close to the head of the ratchet which prevents me from applying too much force due to the added leverage of the handle.

35 KJS October 30, 2009 at 12:59 pm

I have gotten the itch to start changing my own oil on my 2008 Honda Civic – now that the room I’m renting has an actual driveway, I have space to do so. I’ve started replacing my own air filter/other basic stuff as well and it feels good to learn about that.

Re: the oil change intervals – said 2008 Honda Civic has a “Maintenance Minder” system that does some basic computing of usage/wear/etc. to determine when your oil needs to be changed. It was so confusing when I couldn’t find a mileage amount given in the Owners Manual – it just says “Replace when Maintenance Minder hits 15% Oil Life”. In my experience, my car goes about 5500 miles between changes. Before people start saying I’m crazy – this is straight out of the recommended factory guidelines and is followed by Honda dealers.

36 Jerome October 30, 2009 at 2:07 pm

Something that should also be mentioned here is the other stuff that lube shops will usually do as part of their packaged service for that 25 bucks. Most places I have seen (and I used to work at one in high school), will also check all of the levels and condition of other fluids the vehicle uses. They will also check the air filter, wiper blades, bulbs, and tire pressure. Some of this can be a bit of a pain such as checking all the different gear boxes on a four wheel drive truck/SUV. Just make sure that you’re having this stuff checked out according to the owner’s manual if you decide to stop taking your vehicle to one of these places.

37 Bob Jones Esq October 30, 2009 at 2:34 pm

You don’t need a fingernail brush, just go make sausages. Somehow, your fingernails magically get clean…

38 T. Axel October 30, 2009 at 3:31 pm

@Igor
x2 on the mediocre quality of quick change places. I must confess, I worked at one such establishment during a summer in college and the amount of illegal narcotics consumed on premises during working hours by the high school dropouts who worked there astounded me. They are almost certainly still doing a poor job of changing your oil.

39 Brian Driggs October 30, 2009 at 4:07 pm

Bringing up oil and filters with car guys is asking for a million different opinions. Not as many as the “How do I break in an engine” discussion, but a lot nonetheless. A couple more thoughts on the subject.

1. Most synthetic oil on the market (even Mobil 1) isn’t 100% synthetic. Redline, Royal Purple, come to mind as being true synthetics, but just about anything labeled synthetic at the local chain is going to be a very refined conventional oil. Google it if you don’t believe me. I’m not posting another link to that oil guy’s website. I’m using Redline in my race car and Shell Rotella T “Synthetic” 10W-30 in my Mitsubishi. (The additional cleaning agents in the diesel oil have done wonders for me. Improved mileage, eliminated hydraulic lifter tick, smoother idle, and it’s $20/gallon.)

2. Fram filters get a bad rap. I don’t know anyone who’s ever *actually* had a failure due to a Fram filter failing. I know I haven’t. I’ve heard good things about Wix (who also makes NAPA Gold), but I’m hardly inclined or worried enough to switch. I even run a filter other than the one their catalogs suggest in order to aide in pressurization at start up and idle, since my engine (tell me one of you knows the 4G63) is known for low oil pressure.

What benefit is there to using synthetic oils and premium filters on commuters or daily drivers? They extend the engine life? Really? Here in our consumer culture where the average owner barely keeps his car longer than he keeps his wife, do we need to focus on maintaining our engines to last 200,000 miles?

If using dino oil and cheap filters reduces the life of my engine from 250,000 miles to 200,000 miles, I’m fine with it. I’ll probably have it out and apart several times between now and then, none of which for repairs. (Go fast with class, man.)

40 Joe B. October 30, 2009 at 5:13 pm

The quick lube place my wife took the car to last time noticed that our front ball join was getting worn out. They recommended taking it to the dealer to get looked at. It’s something I wouldn’t have known to look for (or known what it was, had I known to look).

I Could’ve saved some money doing the oil myself, but not all quick lube places do a poor job.

41 Trenden October 30, 2009 at 5:45 pm

Here’s another vote for synthetic, but I’m an abnormal American I guess. I’m still on my original wife and I maintain my cars to last as long as possible. My 2001 VW Passat is up to 167k miles and I’d like to get to 300k if possible. The engine still purrs like a kitten so we’re doing well so far….

42 Aaron October 30, 2009 at 6:04 pm

@Brian

I know you don’t know me from a hole in the ground, but a fellow mechanic I worked with had a Fram filter destroy his engine. I want to say that they neglected to drill the oil return passages, but it’s been a few years and I may be remembering wrong.

43 Landon Alger October 30, 2009 at 8:37 pm

Let me practice my reading and analytical skills.

You just learned this a month ago.
You need to change your oil every >3,000 miles
Therefore, you have only changed your oil one time.

And you are writing articles on it and teaching others?

44 Brett McKay October 30, 2009 at 8:51 pm

Sure am Landon. It’s changing your oil, not jujitsu. The way I did it last month is the way I’ll do it in several months and the way I’ll do it forever, and the way other people can do it. You don’t have to become an oil change sensei to teach other people how.

45 Jonny | thelifething.com October 30, 2009 at 11:20 pm

Sorry guys but I get two ridiculously hot girls in tiny clothing to do mine. They generally have a fight afterwards.

46 Big Ed October 31, 2009 at 3:09 am

Great article Brett!

Just one additional note on Fram filters, which I have used successfully for a long time. They dip the end of the filter in a sand texture material which gives a firm gripping point . This benefit is greatly appreciated when the filter is located in an almost inaccessible area of the engine compartment.

47 Kevin of Strength and Fitness Blog October 31, 2009 at 7:48 am

I’ve done this ritual countless times in my life. I’ve also gone to the express oil change places for the sake of convenience. Either way is OK, but you should know how to do it yourself. You never know when you’ll need to. Or you may need to help a friend do this.

48 Keith D October 31, 2009 at 8:31 am

My dad taught me to change oil 40 years ago and I taught my son. There have been periods when I took vehicles to quick lube places. I like the ones that will let you watch. Frankly, most have done OK. Mostly when changing oil for an employer owned vehicle. I’ll echo Brian Driggs on Fram. I’ve used dozens of them over the years as well as Motorcraft, Purolater and Delco. All have been fine. My first car lasted 18 years, my last two Rangers lasted over 215K, my two sedans about 190K. My Dad’s timetable was Spring and Fall. If you think about it, average yearly mileage for most people is about 12K. 5-6K between changes. Easier than watching mileage. Just put it on your calendar. A sunny Sunday afternoon in April or October with Nascar on the radio makes for a good time. I drive hard, DC traffic mileage on my work trucks and stick to about 5-6K intervals, probably once a season. presently using Valvoline high mileage. I buy most of the supplies at Walmart. Lastly, watch the drain plug retighten. It’s a bitch to strip one. Tighten filters by hand and tighten drain plugs hand tight. I usually use two fingers on the ratchet handle instead of palming it.

49 Tom Pierett October 31, 2009 at 1:28 pm

Can’t get a filter off and no filter wrench? Use an old belt. Wrap it around the filter and through the buckle. Then pull in a tightening motion. This is hard to describe as I am right-handed and I tighten the belt on my slacks to the right. With the filter reverse it as if you are tightening to the left, counter clockwise to get the filter off. It’s gotten me out of a couple of jams.

50 Anthony J. Kern October 31, 2009 at 4:49 pm

Aaron makes a lot of good points. Especially about the mileage. Personally, I’d rather be on the safe side and change my oil early and often. My ’78 Mercedes diesel has a quarter million miles on it. I take meticulous care of it, including changing the oil every 3K, even though Mercedes recommends changing at 5K. Twenty bucks is a small price to pay to know my engine will likely be over 300,000 miles before I rebuild it.

51 p51mustang November 1, 2009 at 1:17 am

I’m 56, and a junior high-school classmate taught me how to change oil on my first car, a ’60 Ford Starliner. I spent so much money keeping that V-8 fueled I neglected the oil, and when I sold it back to a mechanic he said I had sludged up the engine. Then I worked in a Chevron gas station for about 6 months and got more practice. After that I’ve changed my own oil on 8 vehicles since then, even in LA and SF where I did it parked on the street. Growing up in Arizona we thought nothing of dumping the used oil on the ground to kill weeds, and after the environmental movement took hold we stopped that. By the way, are there any other Art of Manliness fans besides me who happen to be gay, enjoy working hard and getting dirty, and thereby defying the stereotype?

52 jmart November 1, 2009 at 2:37 am

Back in highschool my dad taught me how to change it, we’d put it up on ramps and do it along the same lines of above. He’s older now, bad back, so he just takes it to the store. I live in a college apartment so there’s not much I can do about it right now, but when I’m out with a house I’ll be getting back to the personal changing. Even though it’s not a difficult car issue it’s a good starting point to getting oriented with cars.

53 mp November 1, 2009 at 3:37 pm

Oil changes are the gateway drug of car maintenance. Grab a shop manual for your specific car. They generally include diagnostic info, drawings of how things come apart and step by step instructions for any procedure that can be done at home (which is to say almost all).

Suggestion to continue series: Brake pad replacement. Saves a lot of money, is more or less universal and takes about 15 minutes per wheel.

54 Embarassed To Say November 1, 2009 at 10:24 pm

Does anybody actually get away with that “here, take these nice jugs of old oil” move? I stopped changing my own oil years ago when municipal trash systems stopped simply collecting it at the curb and I found NOBODY would take it from me. Shouldn’t any place that SELLS oil have to ACCEPT it back? I mean really, we expect that for SODA bottles, after all!

55 Geoff November 2, 2009 at 12:15 am

Here’s a few thoughts on your post.

“The 3,000 mile rule is actually good advice… if you own a quick lube and want to make loads of money. Modern engines and motor oils can actually last much longer than 3,000 miles in between oil changes.”

You go on to mention that the reader should consult his vehicle owner’s manual, which is good advice. Most vehicle owner manuals specify two different maintenance schedules depending on how the car or truck is actually driven; they’re called “standard service” and “severe duty”, or words to that effect. In my case, a 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee, the “severe duty” maintenance schedule specifies a 3,000 mile oil change interval. Here’s a snippet from that manual:
“Schedule “B”
Follow this schedule if you usually operate your vehicle
under one or more of the following conditions.
• Day or night temperatures are below 32°F (0°C)
• Stop and go driving
• Excessive engine idling
• Driving in dusty conditions
• Short trips of less than 10 miles (16.2 km)
• More than 50% of your driving is at sustained high speeds during hot weather, above 90°F (32°C)
• Trailer towing
• Taxi, police, or delivery service (commercial service)
• Off-road or desert driving
• If equipped for and operated with E-85 (ethanol) fuel.
NOTE: If ANY of these apply to you, change your engine oil every 3,000 miles (5 000 km) or 3 months, whichever comes first, and follow the maintenance recommendations in Maintenance Schedule B.””

Note that this recommendation from Chrysler is about a vehicle with a heavy duty 8 cylinder engine equipped with a towing package. Your average passenger car has much lower tolerance for abuse designed into its mechanical bits.

As far as Chrysler is concerned, if you’re an urban driver, your vehicle probably meets the criteria for the more severe service maintenance regimen.
***
You suggest a car ramp set. Car ramps can be incredibly useful; I’ve got a set myself. I always use them in conjunction with a set of jack stands, however. I’ve always been told that ramps alone are not a safe enough support to trust your life to, and a little precaution goes a long way. You can get jack stands adequate for most light vehicles for $25 or so. And the safest approach is to always change the oil with the car resting with its wheels on the ground if you can fit under it to do the work.
***
“If it’s too tight, bust out an oil filter wrench. It’s an attachment that you put on the end of a socket wrench.”
There are actually many styles, and it’s understandable that brevity would dictate you only describe one. However, the cap-style wrench you describe only works well if there is room to swing the ratchet around under the car. Some people use strap-style wrenches, others use a giant pair of ChannelLock(R) pliers, it really depends on what works on the vehicle in question. The only way to know is to look underneath the car before you buy the tool.

Some day, you might encounter the oil filter that was apparently cranked onto the engine by an angry 900 pound gorilla. The cap-style wrenches will slip. A strap wrench won’t. One time I was caught without a strap wrench that would fit, and I solved it by drilling two holes into the cap wrench I had, then screwing through it with two sheet metal screws into the oil filter itself. Presto! No more slipping. It was a bit messy, but that’s part of the deal sometimes.
***
“If the nut is too tight, try this little trick: get a piece of pipe that’s a bit longer than your socket wrench and place it over your socket wrench’s handle. This will give you some added leverage.”
It will also break the ratchet mechanism in your wrench if the drain plug really is tight. Don’t do this. Instead, get an open end or box-style wrench, and a light ball-peen hammer. Put the wrench on the bolt, and tap the other end of it firmly with the hammer in the direction it needs to turn. This is exactly the same principle behind what makes air-powered impact guns so useful for busting stubborn lug nuts loose: you create a torque “moment” that will free the stuck plug without the risk of twisting the head off or destroying the wrench flats.
You can whack the side of your ratchet with your palm if you don’t have a box wrench, but don’t use a hammer on it. Get the right tool, even if it means putting the oil change off for several days.

Oh, and when you put the drain plug back on, finger-tighten it until it stops. Then get out your wrench and “snug” it down 1/4 -1/2 a turn. All you’re trying to do is make sure it won’t come loose, and it’s tight enough to seal. Massive muscle power is not called for here. If it’s too tight for your kid sister to bust loose with the wrench without help, it’s too tight.
***
“Some old rags. In case you drop the oil plug into the oil pan and you need to wipe it off. They’re also good for wiping off your hands.”
Two things here. First, you should be wearing rubber gloves when dealing with motor oil. It contains known carcinogens, and a thick, heavy pair of gloves will prevent you from burning your skin on hot motor oil, which can easily reach scalding temperatures.

Second, everyone drops the oil plug into the drain pan sooner or later. Those of us with our thinking caps on just reach into our toolbox for our handy magnetic pick-up tool. There are several styles, but the least expensive and most common is a strong magnet on the end of a telescoping rod. You’ll thank me after you fish your first drain plug out without burning your hands or getting them covered with oil.

In fact, if you have your engine oil good and hot, I would almost recommend just *planning* to drop the drain plug into the pan if you’ve got a magnetic pick-up tool. It will help keep you from getting burned.

Oh, and by the way, let that thing drip for a solid 15 minutes. Take the time you spend waiting for it to drain thoroughly and use it to tend to other maintenance items on the car that should be performed at every oil change:
* Check coolant level in overflow reservoir and add as needed
* Check power steering and brake fluids, adding as needed. (Clean the area around the brake master cylinder’s fill cap thoroughly before opening with a rag.)
* Check condition of belts and hoses
* Top off windshield washer fluid, remembering the tank for the rear wiper if it is separate and your vehicle is so equipped
* Check tire pressure on all four tires *and* the spare and adjust as needed
* Lubricate all door hinges and striker plates with either clean engine oil or aerosol white lithium grease

After you’re done with the oil change, check the transmission fluid on an automatic-equipped car with the engine running, parking brake set, and the vehicle on level ground. Neglecting your transmission is a sure ticket to an expensive repair job. By the way, if you have a Mercedes or Chrysler product without a transmission dip stick, pay close attention to any red fluid leaks that appear under the car, and have it serviced immediately if they appear. These vehicles are supposed to have “lifetime” transmission fluid (if not under severe service!) and thus don’t have a dipstick.

Good luck as you progress in at-home car repair, it is a rewarding, and most manly skill to acquire.

–Geoff

56 Russel Geist November 2, 2009 at 2:24 pm

For those looking for a place to dispose of your motor oil, call your nearest Wal-Mart. The chances are high that: 1) They accept used motor-oil; 2) It’s free; and 3) You don’t need to drop it off in a specific container, just dump it in their receptacle. They will likely require you to sign a log, so you don’t come in that often (they don’t want mechanics using them as their disposal).

57 Nik November 2, 2009 at 3:33 pm

I would recommend finding the oil filter under your car before deciding to change the oil on your car for the first time. As allegedly rewarding as changing your oil is, if your oil filter is in a truly unfortunate location (thank you, GM), you might be better off not doing it yourself. On my old car, the only way I could get at my oil filter was by removing the wheel and unscrewing the sheathing around the wheel well. I found that really annoying and NOT rewarding. That’s the type of oil change you should just pay someone to do for you–especially in an unheated Minnesota garage in winter–unless you really love sliding under your car.

Of course, like Brett said, if you’re really gung-ho, you WILL be able to get the oil filter off . . . eventually. But there’s no guarantee you’re going to want to do what it takes, especially if you don’t have your car on a ramp/lift/jacks and you have to unscrew the filter by hand or with a strap wrench.

That’s just my take. On my current car, the filter isn’t a problem, so I will probably start changing my own oil once I have a garage, but if I still owned my own car, it just wouldn’t be worth it to me.

58 Nik November 2, 2009 at 3:34 pm

Another thing I wanted to mention: most recycling centers that I have ever seen have a large motor oil receptacle.

59 Mute November 3, 2009 at 7:38 am

Like you and Geoff said, use a ramp and/or a set of jack stands. It really can’t be emphasized enough that a jack alone isn’t enough to support a vehicle safely. They’re unstable and if the car falls, it will probably kill you.

60 Sarge November 3, 2009 at 3:26 pm

While not mentioned, I recommend filling the filter at least half-way with oil. Also, after checking for leaks and finding none, back the car off the ramps, shut down and be sure to check the level on the dipstick.

As to disposal, most communities have a hazardous waste program and in addition to Walmart, most auto parts stores will also take that old oil off your hands.

61 Tamara November 4, 2009 at 10:12 am

What about the cost associated with oil disposal? You can’t (or at least shouldn’t) just throw the oil away. It should be disposed of properly and environmentally, and that costs money. Plus, your 20 minutes (or less) of sitting in your car is less time than going to the store, buying the oil and filter, and changing the oil. Also, you need the initial outlay of the jack and drain pan, not huge costs, but costs nonetheless.

My dad is a mechanic, has the necessary tools, and hardly every changes his own oil because the cost and time are more for him to do it than to spend $25.00 and have it done for him.

62 Russel Geist November 4, 2009 at 7:50 pm

Tamara, those are certainly additional factors to consider when making the decision. For instance, the is a cost to dispose of the used oil. However, as has already been pointed out, there are numerous businesses in most communities that accept used motor oil for free, so no additional cost is borne.

The time you quote at the quick-lube (20 minutes) does not include travel time to the quick lube. So, travel time to quick-lube vs. travel time to store to buy supplies is probably a better fit and equal. Plus, you can stock up on oil and filters if you find a good deal, or you can multitask and pick up the supplies when you are headed to a store like Wal-Mart for something else. Additionally, if you get good at the change, you can likely complete the task in less than the 20 minutes if-you’re-lucky time frame you wait at the quick lube.

True, the initial outlay for jack stands and drain pan (why not use what you’ve got, though) is greater than a quick-lube, but you’ll probably make that up after 2 DIY changes.

Is your dad a mechanic by trade or by hobby? If by trade, I can understand why he wouldn’t want to do the mundane car maintenance things himself. However, most hobbyists I know gladly perform any and all maintenance and repair themselves. After all, it’s what they enjoy.

63 Chris November 5, 2009 at 12:44 pm

Awesome post. I love working on my car, and would encourage all men to do the same. However, when buying oil for your car, pay attention to the weight you are buying. Most engines take a 10W30 or 5W30 motor oil. Using them interchangeably or even mixing them together won’t really hurt, but most manufacturers recommend a certain weight for certain temperatures. However, many newer engines (such as Hondas, and maybe some Fords, not sure) require a 5W20 oil. Sometimes it is stampted on the filler cap. When in doubt, look in your car’s owner’s manual. They all have a page called “fluids and capacities” or something like that. It lists how much oil you need to fill your car or truck, and what weight to use. Buy that every time, and you’re good to go. As far as brand, I like Pennzoil, but as long as it has the SAE logo on the bottle (little blue emblem with white SAE letters), you’re good to go. Happy wrenching!

64 Chris November 5, 2009 at 12:52 pm

D’oh. Speed reading….Brett did of course mention that the proper grade is required…I just didn’t see any specifics.

65 sarah November 6, 2009 at 11:37 am

I know this will probably get flammed, but I really dont mind dropping my car off at Walmart for an oil change. I have the tire plan, so they alse rotate my tires, air them up, top off all my fluids, and even vacuum out the front seats of my car. It costs about $25, but I can drop it off on my way to work (right next door to where I work), pick it up on my way home, and be done for another 3 months. To me, saving the extra $5 just isnt worth it here – I will save the money on my groceries or other things.

66 Steve C. November 6, 2009 at 12:50 pm

Note that you also get to make sure it gets done RIGHT. You get to choose your oil, and you gain familiarity with your car. The black box has one layer of opacity stripped away.

67 Preston November 7, 2009 at 2:50 pm

Great idea. Despite some of the folks wanting to debate you on the cost effectiveness of changing your own oil, there is something very rewarding from working on your own car. I did not change my oil since it was due, but I changed my air filter, wiper blades and will be changing out my spark plugs.

Despite taking auto-mechanics in high school, I have gotten away from doing any maintenance on my vehicles. I used the same excuse as others- my time is too valuable. However, I will conduct basic maintenance on my cars because it is rewarding and I do want to know about my vehicles in case of an emergency.

Thanks for the article.

68 Todd G. November 12, 2009 at 3:15 pm

My father taught me how to change oil before I could even drive. My first car was a 1972 Gran Torino Sport. I to this day remember my fist major scewup. I had drained the oil, removed the filter, installed the new filter, and then removed myself from under the car. I proceeded to dump 7 quarts of the new(then) Castrol Syntec in the engine. Little did I know that it had all run out of the drain hole that I forgot to plug. What a mess. That was the last time I made that mistake.

69 J November 17, 2009 at 2:44 pm

If your oil filter is stuck and your normal tools won’t get it undone, once it’s drained, punch a hole in the old filter with a screwdriver. That should give you the adequate torque to remove it. It isn’t pretty, but it works.

70 Jake December 1, 2009 at 4:53 pm

Time to add my Two Cents. First off, this is an excellent article, and very accurate, besides a couple of things.
1) KNOW that you are draining the oil, and not the transmission fluid. sometimes, (Unbeknownst to many until its too late) car manufacturers put drain plugs on their Transmission pan, and often look very similar to an oil pan. transmission fluid is generally red. check your owners manual for the correct drain plug.
2) Also, in some Vehicles (mainly bigger ones), they have a Transmission fluid filter as well, that looks Identical to an oil filter. (although they are generally smaller). Make sure you know that its the oil filter, and not a Transmission fluid filter.
3) some oil filters are called “Canister” filters. they look…. nothing like a regular oil filter. check with your owners manual again to make sure you get the right filter (or ask the friendly store clerk at an auto parts store). canister filters are on the newer cars. around 2004 and later, generally.
Cheers!

71 Tim January 14, 2010 at 4:09 am

Good luck buying enough oil to fill anything more than a lawn mower for $15.

My BMW M5 (E39) takes almost 9 quarts of oil (at about $12 a quart). If I could find somewhere that would service my car for 30 bucks, I’d be all over it. Oil for one oil change costs around $105 usually.

Also, if you have a really high performance car, the oil system is probably dry sump, meaning that a self oil change is a bad idea unless you really know what you are doing.

72 Brady Durden February 20, 2010 at 2:45 am

If the oil filter is REALLY stuck on there, you can hammer a screwdriver right into the side of the filter. Just make sure to hammer it in at an angle, you don’t want to hit the post that runs down the center from the car. Now your filter has a nice handle, although you might get covered in oil from it leaking from the holes, but it’s a sure-fire way to get it unstuck.

73 Mike March 6, 2010 at 11:37 am

Hi,

I just found this entry out of the blue while roaming google and I thought I’d add a few thoughs, what with being a mechanic (in a real garage, not a lube joint), I think I can be of service.

First, the quality of the oil in lube joint isn’t bad. It’s the same oil you can buy in bottles and jugs at the store, only we get it by the truckload and store it in large tanks rather than stock miles of shelves with 1L. bottle. It’s much cheaper that way.

What you have to watch for are places that use cheap filters. A good solution is to just bring your own. Many clients at work always bring an OE filter for their service.

I’d advise against stabbing and oil filter with a screw driver. It might seem like a good idea to gift it with a handle, but if it rips, you’re stuck having to get your car towed. If it’s too tight for the filter wrench and the end of the filter gets crushed, I suggest moving the wrench down to the base of the filter where it’s stiffer. Then if THAT doesn’t work, at least the filter isn’t destoryed, and you can drive the car to the shoop yourself, saving $$$.

Even if your manual says 5000, 6000 or however many miles, I really do recommendchaning it at 3K. *Most* people drive “severe duty” cycles without knowing, be it from the heat, cold, length of trips, driving habits, etc. An oil change, especially if done yourself, is cheap insurance on that 10-20,000 dollar vehicle.

Finally, I really do have to say that going to a garage (not lube joint) to change your oil is NOT a bad idea, because while the mechanic is under your car, he doens’t just look at the oil pour down. We always look over a few points. Before we raise the car, we take a quick peek at the air and cabin filters, the belt(s) and AT fluid, and while it’s up we can see if other components are showing signs of failure, we check for leaks, we check for loose parts in the suspension and steering, and we even glance at the brakes , should abnormal wear catch our sight.

This might see like fishing for money on our part (and it is) but it’s also keeping your car safe and in shape. Not to mention catching parts before they fail allows you to plan the maintenance, rather than getting towed to the garage when the failure happens.

74 Dennis April 12, 2010 at 8:09 am

When adding the oil it’s best to leave a quart out, then start the engine for a minute or so, then add the last quart. This ensures the vehicle is not overfilled before it flows through the filter. Also make sure none of the filter gasket remains stuck on the vehicle by wiping the rim b4 you install filter.

75 Jeff April 16, 2010 at 3:26 pm

Brett–
I’m sorry to hear about the loss of your blue Weezer album. I just changed my oil this morning. Been doing it for years……

76 Brent June 16, 2010 at 9:21 am

I applaud you for wanting and finally changing your oil however there really is more to it than what you wrote although what you wrote will suffice. I’d like to ad a bit to it. You are correct in pointing out you should look in your vehicle manual to see what type of oil you should use and what the drain interval(s) are since how you use it depends on the amount of mileage at which oil should be drained. Having done this all my life on practically every type of vehicle and piece of equipment I feel I have a few extra points that are worth noting. First of all, be certain of what type of oil you should use. More and more these days, synthetic oils are required and you ARE NOT going to spend $15 to change synthetic oil and a good quality filter. Now we get to filters that vary greatly in quality. There are sites that can help but one I know of that does a good job is the Amsoil Synthetic oil site where you can obtain a list of how each filter on the market performs. Buy the best one you can find. There will be a chart to show the how every brand of filter performs. Most equipment makers agree as do oil companies that it requires a micron size of 5 or above to harm an engine so using a filter that removes everything above 5 microns is a very good idea. Several companies make this type of filter with Amsoil making a kit that installs over the original filter mount which has the fittings and oil lines to install a dual filter set-up. Dual filters have been in use on big trucks forever. The common application involves a full flow filter as you normally use on your vehicle and a by-pass filter that filters oil to as little as 1 micron ensuring your engine will never have to endure anything foreign that will hurt it’s bearings and other internals. A by-pass filter generally filters all the oil in your engine about once every five minutes of highway driving. I like these systems more than I can tell you in this post. Not only does a by-pass system do a much better job but used in conjunction with certain oils such as Amsoil and some other brands of synthetic oil, it can extend your oil life to the point of NEVER having to drain all your oil with changing filters according to their claimed life and by sending in oil samples for analysis. This has more than one benefit since it will immediately point out any internal problem your engine might be having. There are filters that are rated for 30,000 miles when used in this manner. Newer type filters also employ nano-technology that lets them hold 10 times the amount of pollutant as a normal filter. I encourage everyone to check further into this entire oil changing thing. Also, check your air cleaner at the same time and keep a running count on the number of miles on your fuel filter since a clean filter does more to extend the life of a fuel pump than practically anything except using quality fuels. I must go now but I have much more to say about maintaining your vehicle and the filters that need to be changed and when. Remember you have a battery that needs to be checked on a regular basis and doing so when you check your oil will just put you ahead of the curve. Next time I’ll get into cleaning your throttle body since this is a very easy job that’s never done by most people and it will greatly increase the efficiency of your fuel system. More to come.

77 Brent June 16, 2010 at 7:22 pm

I’m back with a few more tips on car maintenance. More and more we see vehicles with no grease zerks in the front steering and u-joints. This is not as big a deal for u-joints and cv joints as it is the steering parts. Check your vehicle to see if there are plugs that can be removed and have a grease zerk installed. If this is the condition, then by all means, removed the plugs and replace them with grease zerks. I’ve had many GM vehicles that had no place to put zerks in the driveshaft and u joints but the sealed units were so superior that there was no need to do so. U joint come in as many varying qualities as there are joints and the same goes for cv(constant velocity) joints most often used in front drive applications as well as 4 WD applications. Each time you’re under your vehicle for whatever reason, check the condition of the boots that cover the cv joints. A perfectly good cv joint with a torn boot will rapidly become a bad cv joint needing replacement. I can’t stress how valuable cleaning a grease zerk before greasing the joint is. Any dirt on the outside will be forced into the joint and will cause premature failure. If your car has a differential no matter whether front or rear with it’s own fluid, be sure to check the level since often a seal can leak at the end of the axle and not be seen where it will lower the level. Take a strong light and look for any oily residue anywhere since there should be none anywhere. Just remember a brand new vehicle doesn’t sit overnight and leave a drop of something on the floor. Keep a close eye on the floor or surface where you park your vehicle also since some leaks with travel down the underside of a vehicle and never drop off, especially if they’re leaking down along the exhaust where they are burned up. Many small parts such as PCV parts that keep the oil in your engine and any blowby pulled into the fuel delivery chamber where it will be burned in the exhaust. This valve keeps a vacuum pulled on your crankcase so there is never pressure in your crankcase, something that will ruin seals and gaskets and is also part of stopping an oil leak before it begins. When you change oil, that’s a good time(if not before) to check your coolant level, something easily done simply by looking at the overflow canister. It will have level marks easily read to show where the level should be when cold or hot. A cold level mark that is low when you look at it in the morning when the vehicle is cold has a leak that you need to find. If you can’t find a leak anywhere on the sytem, it would indicate a leak due to a cracked head or head gaskets or if you smell coolant inside your vehicle or notice a film on your windows, you might have a heater core leaking. These are very easy things to keep your eyes on(and your nose). If you suspect you have a leak in a heater core or head, install a bottle of something such as Barr’s Leak that seals this leak, often permanently. I had a pick up with a very small leak in my heater core but plenty enough to bother me with the smell and mess up the windows. I bought a large jar of Barr’s Leak, installed it following the directions and drove the vehicle anothet 20 years without incident. I also had this same condition and a very large diesel tractor that would have cost thousands of dollars to fix the tiny cracks in the heads and solved it permanently with that same product. If you can’t see your radiator or air conditioner condenser from the front, make sure you look at these coolers as well as any other coolers such as transmission and engine oil coolers for signs of a leak and always look them over with a strong light to make sure you can tell how much crud is in these coolers. Sometimes a car will begin to run hotter than usual or too hot and there is nothing wrong other than a dirty radiator or a/c condenser or both. I regularly blow these coolers out with compressed air but be careful using air or pressurized water to not blow at the fins at an angle which will keep them from flowing air properly. If you feel comfortable removing your grill, do so and take a stiff nylon brush and clean these coolers. After removing large foreign objects, spray them down with a cleaner that’s safe to use on them such as Simple Green and let it sit a while before using pressurized water to wash it out. Many radiators are hard to clean from the rear due to shrouds that limit your ability to reach them so blowing through from the front is a good thing to do. On a particular pickup I have, the grill lets bugs and small rocks through to the coolers behind. After using special combs to straighten the fins too many times, the fins began to break off and the only repair for this is to replace the coolers. Remember that the longer a cooler is in service, even though you can’t see the fractures, the fins become separated from the cooling tubes. Sometimes a radiator will look just fine but won’t cool properly. This is a time to replace it. On the pickup I had with a grill that let insects through it, after running many miles on small roads with no shoulders, grasshoppers and other large bugs take their toll on a cooler, flattening the fins. When I had to replace a worn out radiator, I cut a piece of 1/4″ hail screen or what some refer to as hardware cloth and installed it behind(after painting it black so it didn’t detract from the looks of the front end)the grill. In my particular case, it was easy to use black tye-wraps and tie it to the grill itself. There were places I drilled holes that couldn’t be seen so as to hold the tye-wraps on place. That completely stopped my ruined fin problems and I have since done it to many vehicles. The screen, which is galvanized, won’t rust and it will stop small rocks and break large insects into pieces that don’t hurt the coolers you’re looking to protect. I still have to blow out or wash out the small debris but it stopped coolers from being ruined. If you buy a new vehicle and have this problem from the start, there are generally aftermarket grill inserts that will accomplish the same thing and give the vehicle a custom look. I had the custom grill I wanted and the look I wanted so the hail screen worked well for me as well as costing nearly nothing except a bit of labor. Well, I’m worn out so until next time, here’s to those of you who wish to protect your vehicle and make sure it has the proper amount of oil in it instead of a fraction it is supposed to have due to sheer incompetence on the part of the people working at the oil changing facility. You can never learn too much about your car. I wish everyone safe and uneventful motoring, especially concerning the things you can control and that’s the health of your machine.

78 Brent June 17, 2010 at 12:22 pm

This is my third post so everyone is sick of me now but there are a few other things I wanted to add. I’ll go right back to changing oil since reading how others collect the oil and what they do with it. I realize not everyone has access to a 30 gallon or 55 gallon drum but if you do you can make the best drain pain of all. There are countless types on the market but not a single one of them addresses the splash factor and while many have a spout of pouring the oil into a container, they still have that splash factor. I have a method many of you might like that’s guaranteed to stop the splash. Cut off the bottom 3-4″ of a steel drum and by making many cuts a quarter inch deep or a bit more all around the top you can use pliers or similar tools to bend the top down to where it’s almost touching the outside of the drum. At this point you can lay a piece of aluminum and preferably old style galvanized window screen over it and wrap a piece of wire around it where the folded part of the top is where the wire holds the screen in place. When the oil hits it, it splashes back but not past the screen so it keeps the oil in the container and not on the floor or on you. This is a great way to avoid a mess. It can also be done by using self tapping screws to hold it and you can also use a plastic barrel bottom that makes putting the screws in much easier. I like to leave a big of sag in the screen so when I remove my filter I can just turn it on it’s side on the screen and the oil drains out of it without trying to do something like finding a can to put it in or hold it right side up and try to keep from turning it over. I normally change my oil when it is very hot. Don’t do this if you don’t have a good glove and understand you can hold the drain plug in until it’s free before removing it and have hot oil run down your arm(s). I keep a glove just for this purpose. Heavy rubber gloves are great for this and will last forever. I try to jack my vehicle up in a way where the oil drain port is the lowest point on the pan. I sometimes use drive on jacks but my car is very close to the ground so sliding a very thin floor jack under it works well. I jack it up several inches and put my big floor jack under the exact center of the frame. A small jack will most times have enough lift to not need the larger jack. Once I have the oil plug out and the oil is down to a drip, I loosen the filter with a wrench if it’s very hot and let it drain out into the same pan or another pan depending on whether both points will drain into the same pan. I will leave the vehicle and drain plug and filter just like this overnight till there is no oil draining at all. I time this to coincide to a time when I won’t need the vehicle until the next day. I wipe all oil off the outside of the pan and clean the filter adapter very clean generally using a solvent in a pressurized can so it is clean, clean, clean. I oil my filter gasket and if it’s a filter that mounts vertically, fill the filter with oil before installation. I always use a filter with a check valve which keeps the oil that would normally drain back out of the engine up to the highest level it will hold it. This will generally insure the lifters and maybe the complete valve train has oil in it on a cold start, a time that’s been proven to cause as much as 90% of bearing wear. If I don’t drive an engine really hard which can either be simply driving hard or working an engine hard to perform a job function is has to do, I just don’t wear an engine out. I will eventually get to the point where so many other things are so worn that I don’t want to replace I sell the vehicle with an engine that’s still in decent shape no matter what the mileage is. When disposing of oil, Soccer Mom points out that many auto parts retailers will take your old oil for free and that’s a great feature. I and many other people build oil burning stoves and more and more, people are buying furnaces that will burn virtually anything. You can buy a furnace to heat a large building with nothing but used motor oil These furnaces burn at temperatures high enough to not even have a visible exhaust as you’re accustomed to seeing from a gas furnace. They will burn most any liquid than can be burned and that’s a good way to get rid of old oil and save a lot of money heating your home, shop or any building. Many companies make these furnaces and they can be bought and installed for as little as $5,000, no more than most conventional gas or propane fired furnaces but the fuel is free if you have access to a fair amount of oil. They are also very efficient so if you’re wanting free heating, check into it. The internet is a good source to find out about these furnaces and you probably have local professionals that can price them, install them and tell you anything you want to know about them. Since I have things other than a car to change oil on, I have enough oil I produce to heat my home. Something to think about.

79 Kennan July 14, 2010 at 10:53 pm

one thing no one else addressed on here that I saw that brett had wrong was don’t follow the directions on how tight your filter should be….I did that once on someone else’s car and all their oil drained out cause the filter worked loose. I always tighten as tight as possible with my hands (which is tighter than most of you with your hands) then give it at least one full turn with the wrench sometimes two.

80 grunt August 1, 2010 at 3:14 pm

The last oil change for my passat cost $57.29 including tax at the dealer (disposal fee, labor, filter, 5 quarts Mobile One 0W-40, and a washer). Five quarts of Mobile One and the cheapest filter available at my local O’Reilly’s Auto Part store is currently $54.16 with tax. Weird.

81 Tyler December 12, 2012 at 8:20 am

I used to always help my dad change the oil on all of our trucks when I was a kid. After all that time learning, changing it myself the first time was more or less a breeze. However, now that my car sits in a college dorm parking lot most of the year, I usually have to go get it done by someone else. I’ve never had a problem with the lube shops, and they always check fluid levels, tire pressure, etc. I will probably take that tip to bring your own filter, though.

As far as the interval between changes goes, I’m a fan of the better-safe-than-sorry principle. I always change my oil at 3000 miles, and if I forget or just don’t have time, it’s not too big of a deal.

Another tip: in warmer seasons, you can usually step up the thickness of the oil to make things run a little smoother (or to save time finding a hard-to-find grade). For example, my ’98 Saturn takes 5W-30 oil, but I’ll usually step it up to 10W-30 in the summer. When in doubt, however, always go with the manufacturer’s recommendation.

82 Rob April 29, 2013 at 11:46 pm

I read the whole thing and everyone’s life story in one sitting. I’d like to say that when you first start your engine after changing / filling the oil, make sure your oil pressure gauge reads pressure, or your (usually red) oil pressure light goes out.

It’s very, very rare that you will get a bad oil filter but they can get into an air lock situation. This is remedied by unscrewing the filter and then re-tightening it.

Running an engine without proper pressure will wreck it.

83 Chris December 16, 2013 at 4:56 pm

After reading over everything, all I can say is… Australian prices for all of this are FAR higher.

84 Steve January 24, 2014 at 4:36 pm

To all the people here who are saying its cheaper to pay someone to change your oil; you are assuming that its only going to be done once.

Changing the oil is something you will do repeatedly over the years

85 Dx February 17, 2014 at 11:35 pm

I don’t know why but Brent’s entire post was narrated by the voice of Ron Swanson (Parks and Recs) in my head. Good post! Now reward your self with eggs and bacon my good man.

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