Do You Change Your Own Oil? Beginner’s DIY Oil Changing Guide

oil changing guide - featured imageHave you ever been sitting in one of those quick lube places, waiting while a mechanic changes your oil, and thought, Isn’t this something I could learn to do myself? Well, you absolutely can! Changing your oil doesn’t require special tools or unique knowledge. Here’s what you need to know:

How to Purchase the Right Oil

Your owner’s manual will have the specifics. Look for the Engine Oil section. If you don’t have your owner’s manual, consult an official source online. The oil type might even be printed on your car’s oil cap. Generally, cars will use either 5W-20 or 5W-30 weight oil.

Oil is categorized by viscosity, which refers to the oil’s thickness. If the viscosity is too thick or thin, it won’t be able to keep the engine protected and lubricated. That’s why you should never guess as to what type of oil to use in your car. Selecting oil with the wrong viscosity can result in extensive engine damage.

Additionally, oil can be either synthetic or conventional. Synthetic oil is completely lab-made. It contains no impurities but does contain a variety of additives to help improve engine performance. Conventional oil is derived from fossil fuels and will contain small impurities. Generally, synthetic oil is the best option for modern cars. Check out our complete guide to synthetic oil for details.

When buying oil, you’ll also want to buy an engine oil filter, which should also be changed during every oil change. Finally, grab a new oil drain plug washer. You might not technically need a new one, but this is a good time to replace it (and they’re cheap).

Organize Your Tools and Materials

Before you start, make sure you have all the materials you need. You already have oil and an oil filter. Here’s what else you’ll need:

Oil Filter Wrench

This is an attachment you put on the end of a socket wrench. The size needs to match the size of the oil filter. While sometimes the filter can be unscrewed by hand, an oil filter wrench attachment is usually much easier. Plus, you can find them for around $5 or less.

Socket Wrench Set

Hopefully, you already have a set of all-purpose socket wrenches. If not, try to borrow some wrenches from a friend or neighbor. You’ll need socket wrenches to unscrew the drain plug and possibly also the oil filter.

Oil Drip Pan

Basically, you just need something sturdy and leak-proof to hold the old oil. Specialized oil drip pans fit under your car and will be the appropriate size. But, really, an old bucket or similar container will usually work fine, too.

Funnel

You’ll need a funnel to drain the oil. The bigger the funnel, the faster it can drain oil. But make sure it’s small enough to maneuver under your vehicle easily. Use a funnel designed for automotive work (kitchen funnels typically aren’t strong enough).

A Mechanic’s Creeper or Cardboard

You’ll need to be on your back to work underneath your car. A mechanic’s creeper is usually the easiest and most comfortable option. But if you don’t have one, a big piece of cardboard will keep you clean and (reasonably) comfortable, too.

Old Rags

Even if you’re an oil changing pro, oil changes can be messy business. Keep a few rags nearby to mop up any accidental spills. Also great for keeping your hands clean while you work.

How to Change Your Oil

Changing your oil isn’t a big, complicated process. Instead, it’s 10 simple actions, each of which takes only a few minutes to complete.

1. Warm Up Your Car

Drive your car around the block for about five to 10 minutes. This warms the oil up, thinning it out so that it’ll drain easier.

2. Park Your Car

Park your vehicle on a flat surface away from traffic and other hazards. Use wheel ramps (if you have them) for the front tire. Place blocks behind the read tires. Also, don’t forget to engage the parking brake.

As with any maintenance which requires you to be under the car, having a friend around for safety is usually a good idea.

3. Remove the Oil Filler Cap

Pop the hood and find the cap for the oil reservoir. This is where you normally add oil. Taking the cap off now allows air to flow in while the oil drains, which increases draining speed.

4. Remove the Oil Plug

Now it’s time to crawl under your car. You’re looking for the bottom of that same oil reservoir. The oil plug is a large bolt on the bottom of the oil pan.

Using a socket wrench of appropriate size, start unscrewing the nut. But don’t remove it completely. You want to unscrew the nut with the wrench just enough that you can then finish the job with your fingers.

5. Set up the Drip Pan

Make sure the pan is in the right place before the oil starts draining. Otherwise, you’re in for a big mess. When the pan is lined up, finish unscrewing the oil plug. Don’t let the plug drop in the oil pan (dropping the plug in the oil doesn’t hurt anything, but finding it later is a huge hassle).

6. Drain the Oil

Not much to do here except make sure the oil drains into the pan and not onto your garage floor. There’s no particular rush here, so take your time and allow the oil to drain out completely. Total drainage time is usually between two to five minutes.

7. Remove the Old Oil Filter

Finding the old oil filter is probably the most difficult aspect of changing your oil. There’s no standard spot where oil filters are located. Depending on the type of car you drive, the filter could be on the side, top, bottom or back of the engine.

Check out your new oil filter and then search the underside of your car for something similar. Depending on the location, you might be able to unscrew the filter by hand. But if it’s in a weird spot, you might need to use a filter wrench.

Before removing the filter, make sure the oil pan is ready underneath. Because when you actually pull the filter free, a stream of oil is likely to pour out. Also, make sure you also remove the filter’s rubber gasket ring, too.

8. Install the New Filter

Installing the new filter is usually pretty easy. First, smear some new oil around the gasket ring of your new filter, to help create a better seal. Then simply tighten the new oil filter by hand. Check the instructions for the specific number of turns required.

Next, you’ll replace the oil plug. Placing the washer in place, thread the drain plug into the hole. Once the new filter and plug are in place, you can crawl out from under your car and remove the drip pan.

9. Add Oil

Using your funnel, add new oil to your filter. Most cars need about four or five quarts of oil. Once full, simply screw the cap back on the filter and close the hood.

10. Run Your Car

You’re almost finished. The last step is to start up your car. Let it run for about five minutes. This helps the oil circulate through the vehicle and regain the correct oil pressure in the engine. Also, this is a good time to peek under your car for any signs of leaks.

Place the used oil in a bucket or milk jug and drop it off at a quick lube or gas station for environmentally-friendly disposal.

Congratulations! You’ve successfully changed the oil in your car. Not only did you save some money, but you learned how to perform an important aspect of car care.

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