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How To Change Your Oil Made Simple

Chris Kaiser

Whether you’re just sick of paying your mechanic to do it or you have recently adopted a DIY ethos, changing your oil at home doesn’t have to be either intimidating or difficult. Allow us to demystify this most basic of car maintenance rituals, one of the few you can still accomplish on modern vehicles regardless of whether you drive an old Packard Caribbean or a new F-150.

The first thing you’ll need to do is consult your owner’s manual and/or the web to find out what type of oil your vehicle calls for. Also note the level of viscosity, whether it’s a synthetic or not, and the total amount of oil your vehicle takes.

You’ll also want to determine how frequently you will want to be changing your oil. Since ranges can vary so widely based on your manufacturer’s recommendation, driving habits, and type of vehicle (anywhere from three to eight thousand miles), running time should be your key gauge, not total mileage. The more stop-and-go driving you do, the more often you’ll need to change your oil. Our advice, since you’re already saving on the cost of a mechanic, is to go ahead and splurge on the more frequent oil changes.

Dad teaching son how to change oil in car

Supplies

The next thing will be to visit your local auto parts store for the requisite supplies. These will include the following:

  • quarts of oil
  • a new oil filter
  • a funnel
  • a jack
  • socket wrench
  • drain pan
  • oil receptacle

Additional optional supplies might include: a creeper, plastic gloves, an apron or coveralls, an oil filter wrench/tool, and wheel stops. Remember, depending on your vehicle’s height you may or may not need jack stands. Your old Ford Bronco should be fine without them, whereas accessing the oil pan on your Chevy Camaro might prove trickier.

Changing the Oil

Now that you’ve gathered your supplies and cleared your calendar (because if this is your first oil change, its best to leave yourself some time for troubleshooting), you’re now ready to get to business.

  1. Allow the engine to cool at least 20-30 minutes. (For a cold engine you can run it for 2-3 minutes to decrease viscosity without overheating the oil.)
  2. Check your oil level using the dip stick. Most dip sticks will have an indicator line. Also, the darker the oil is the more in need of replacing it will be.
Checking dipstick for oil change
  1. Depending on access you may or may not need to jack up your vehicle.
  2. Find the drain plug nut located on the bottom of the oil pan.
  3. Place your drain pan under the oil pan.
  4. Using your socket wrench slowly loosen the nut and allow the oil to drain into the drain pan. Be careful to keep a tight grip on the nut so you won’t need to fish it back out of the drain pan later.
  5. While the oil is draining, locate your oil filter.
  6. Taking a tight grip or using an oil filter wrench, screw off the oil filter and replace with the new oil filter.
  7. Replace the nut on the oil pan.
Loosening drain plug nut on oil pan
Draining oil pan
Replacing the drain plug nut
  1. Pull out the drain pan, being careful to avoid spilling.
  2. Lower your vehicle.
  3. Locate oil fill cap in engine compartment.
  4. Using a funnel, pour in your quarts of oil and replace the cap.
Pouring new oil in oil pan
  1. Recheck your oil level with the dip stick, check the dashboard gauge or on-board diagnostic depending on your vehicle.
  2. Start up your vehicle and check underneath for any drips or leaks.
  3. Dispose of the oil by taking it to the local dump. You can also check with your local body shop. Many will take used oil, and some even offer trade value.

Any other at-home maintenance you want to see explained? Let us know in the comments!

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Chris Kaiser
Chris Kaiser

Chris’ greatest passions include topiary, spelunking, and pushing aging compact cars well past 200,000 miles on cross-country road trips. His taste in cars runs from the classic and esoteric to the deeply practical with an abiding affection for VW Things, old Studebakers, and all things hybrid-crossover.

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