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.
Here’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.
Last updated: November 19, 2015