How to Change Your Oil

There are several keys to successfully completing any automotive project.  The first and most important of these is safety.  Thousands of average Americans and experienced mechanics alike are injured each year for failing to be sufficiently careful when working on their automobiles. You should consider safety glasses and gloves as necessary in each of the following steps.  Another essential to a successful project is ensuring the appropriate tools and factory recommended components are employed.  As vehicle manufacturer recommendations can vary widely, you should consult you owners manual for specifics.  Most of this information is also available on manufacturer websites.

Changing your oil will require all but the most slender shade-tree mechanics to “jack” the vehicle off the ground or to drive up on appropriately rated ramps.  Both are available from any auto parts retailer.  Again, you should consult your owner’s manual to ensure that the correct jack-points are used to safely lift the vehicle if necessary and to correctly place jack stands.  In addition to a solid, level surface you will need to acquire the following before getting started:

Tools Needed

  • A ratchet or open end wrench (usually 5/8 inch but, consult your manual for appropriate size)
  • Oil filter wrench
  • Funnel
  • A approved bin or recycle container
  • New oil filter
  • New Oil
  • Jack, Jack-stands or ramp( (depending on vehicle height and mechanic’s dimensions)
  • Safety Glasses, Gloves
  • Drop Cloth (newspaper, trash bags etc.)

What to do Before Changing the Oil in Your Car

After securing a solid, level surface and after determining whether it will be necessary to lift the vehicle (and doing so) you are almost ready to get started.  Whether or not it was necessary to lift the vehicle, ensure that your vehicle is in “park” (or in first gear in the case of a manual transmission) that your vehicle’s emergency brake is engaged, and that the wheels are securely “chocked” with a brick, stone, or any other implement that will keep your vehicle from rolling if your brake fails or transmission slips. Check twice.  You can never be too careful.

Now that the vehicle is securely in place all you need to do is ensure that it has sufficiently cooled before getting to get to work.   Depending on the make, age, and condition of your vehicle’s engine, it can reach temperatures in excess of 200 degrees (F).   If the engine is not allowed to cool after operation you could be severely burned by engine surfaces or by the very hot oil you will soon be draining out.

The vehicle is now securely in place and you have double checked for safety.  You have allowed the engine to sufficiently cool and you have acquired all the necessary tools and fluids.  Let’s do this.

Changing the Oil in Your Car

Place your recycle bin under the oil pan.  In order to keep your surface or driveway clean and to prevent oil from contaminating the environment, you will also do well place a drop cloth or newspapers down in your work area.  Check your manual for specifics but the pan and drain plug (actually a threaded bolt) will generally be found on the bottom of the engine and near the front axle.  Use your wrench or ratchet to loosen the drain plug.  Do not remove it all at once as there will usually be a “rush” of oil when the plug is first removed.  You should loosen it until you see the first trickle of oil and then adjust the placement of your recycle bin to ensure it all drains where it ought to and not on you or your driveway.  Finish removing the plug and make certain not to lose it.  On many vehicles there is also a sealing washer.  Often times this part can be re-used, but if it is bent, broken or you are uncertain, replace it or consult your owner’s manual.

Though most of the oil will be drained in the first 3-5 minutes, complete draining time will vary depending on how cool the oil is. Feel free to get out and stretch your legs while waiting to begin the next step.

Once the bulk of the oil has drained you can now remove the filter.  The filter and upper parts of the motor can hold up to another quart so, just as in the previous step, you will need to loosen the filter using the filter wrench to see where the oil will drain. Adjust the placement of the bin if necessary, and then finish removing the filter. Keep the opening of the filter vertical to prevent spilling.   Once the oil has stopped draining you are ready to continue.

Replace your drain plug, paying careful attention no to “cross” thread as this can cause leaks and costly damage to your vehicle. This plug should be tight but care should be taken not bend or otherwise damage the pan or the plug by over-tightening.

Before replacing the filter you should take a small amount of oil on your fingertip and apply it to the rubber gasket on the mounting side.  Unlike the oil drain plug you should attempt to hand-tighten the oil filter instead of using the filter wrench to ensure that it is snug without causing damage. A ½  to ¾ turn after making contact with the engine is usually a good place to stop turning it.  If you are unable to do so carefully by hand, use the filter wrench to replace the filter taking care not to over-tighten

Just as double-checking is important for your safety it is important to check both drain plug and filter before moving on to ensure the safety of your engine.  Once ensuring that your plug and filter are in place you are ready to replace your engine oil.

You should have already checked your vehicle’s manual to ensure you have the suggested oil for your engine.  Before removing your oil fill cap ensure that the area surrounding it is clean, so that debris does not get into the oil or the related systems.  You should also clean your funnel before placing it into the oil fill opening.  Pour oil in slowly, stopping at  a half quart short of the recommended amount.  Allow 3-5 minutes for the oil to make its way to the pan before checking the level on your dipstick.  If necessary pour the remaining oil in or If the level is in the recommended range you replace your oil fill cap and safely store the remaining oil.  Before starting the vehicle check both filter and drain plug again to ensure that there are no leaks.

After carefully removing your oil bin, tools and all project related materials from underneath the vehicle, carefully lower the vehicle off of jack-stands or ramps.  After completing these steps, aside from making sure your will not soil your upholstery, you are ready to start the engine.

Start the vehicle engine and allow it to run for several minutes.  Turn the vehicle off and inspect underneath for leaks.  If you kept your work area clean it will be much easier to tell if any oil you might see is from leaks.  If there are no leaks you have completed a successful oil change.

How to Clean Up After Changing Your Oil

Before you pull a muscle patting yourself on the back there is one more important task that you must attend to. Most national auto parts retailers and reputable recycling centers will allow you to safely dispose of waste oil and filters for recycling.  If you are uncertain where to do this you should contact your local municipality for the nearest approved center.

This is important for the environment as oil is highly toxic, and you could face serious fines for disposing of it improperly.

Keep a log of the mileage to ensure appropriate intervals between maintenance and consult your manual to confirm whether or not your vehicle has a “reset” button that you may need to activate after this service.

Oil Changing Process in Review:

  1. Check your manual to ensure you have the right type and amount of oil.
  2. Ensure you have the appropriate tools before starting work.  This includes safety glasses and gloves along with the list above.
  3. Ensure that you have a safe location to do the work.
  4. Safely lift and secure the vehicle if necessary, and prep your project area to prevent messes.
  5. Allow engine to cool before working.
  6. Drain engine oil in appropriate container. Oil pan first, filter second.
  7. Tighten drain plug with wrench and hand tighten new oil filter
  8. Refill your oil
  9. Start engine and ensure there are no leaks
  10. Responsibly recycle waste oil and filter and log your mileage

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