Mastering The Basics: How To Change The Oil And Oil Filter

Not all of us can be a master mechanic and perform every service our car needs, but knowing how to perform basic services to maintain your car both saves you money and improves safety. When you know how your car works, you are better equipped to assess issues and possibly fix them without feeling helpless. One of the most commonly performed at-home maintenance services and one of the most important things you can do to keep your car in good condition is changing the motor oil and oil filter. Doing this yourself is relatively inexpensive and easy.

Don’t Ignore The Owner’s Manual

If you’ve always wanted to learn how change your car’s oil and filter, this guide can help! Just remember to always reference your car’s owner’s manual for any vehicle-specific details. The mileage intervals when they need to be changed are listed in the owner’s manual. Also in the owner’s manual is the grade and amount of motor oil you’ll need, as well as any requirements for the filter.

Necessary Equipment

Here’s what you’ll need to be an at-home mechanic, at least as far as the oil change is concerned:

  • Motor oil
  • Oil filter
  • Socket wrench
  • Oil filter wrench, in case you can’t loosen it by hand
  • Funnel
  • Oil pan
  • Mat, newspaper, or big, flat piece of cardboard to catch any oil spills under the car
  • Cleaning rags

Step-by-Step

  1. Drain the old motor oil.
    • Start your car and let it run for a minute or two, or drive it around the block so the motor oil warms up, which will allow it drain out smoothly. After the warm up, park your car in the driveway or garage, ON LEVEL GROUND.
    • If your car is too low to the ground to slide under, you’ll need to jack it up and place jack stands before you get under it (jack stands are a must!).
    • Prop up the hood and loosen the cap on the oil tank or else it won’t drain well.
    • Place your spill mat or cardboard under the vehicle and slide on under with the oil pan.
    • Locate the drain plug.
    • Place the pan on top of newspaper/cardboard below and slightly ahead of the drain plug (the stream will release farther out when you first remove the drain plug).
    • Loosen the drain plug with the socket wrench, turning it counterclockwise, and then remove the plug slowly by hand and let the motor oil drain out. Caution: Oil may be hot.
    • Once the oil slows down to a drip, reinstall the drain plug and tighten it with the socket wrench (just a quarter turn clockwise should be sufficient).
  2. Replace the oil filter.
    • Keep the oil pan under the car and find the oil filter.
    • Loosen it with the filter wrench and remove by hand.
    • Before installing the new oil filter, apply a little motor oil to the new gasket to optimize the seal and prevent the gasket from cracking or sticking.
    • Install and tighten the new oil filter BY HAND.
  3. Add the new motor oil.
    • Remove the cap of the oil tank, and, using a funnel, pour the new motor oil into the tank in the amount dictated by the owner’s manual. When finished, replace the oil cap and wipe away any spilled motor oil.
    • Start your engine and run it for a minute to allow the new motor oil to circulate thoroughly.
    • Time to check the oil level. Turn off the car and remove and wipe oil off the dipstick.
    • Insert and remove the dipstick and check that the oil level is correct. Assuming all is well, screw the cap back on and you’re done!
  4. Clean up and recycle your motor oil.
    • Pour the old motor oil from the pan into a used oil container and put the old oil filter into a plastic bag.
    • You cannot throw your old oil into the trash. Take it to a auto supply store or a lube shop to recycle.
    • Write down the date you performed the oil change and the amount of miles the car had so you know when your next change is due.

And you’re done!

Basic Oil Change Tips

From the first car I owned, until just recently, I have always changed the engine oil. My father taught me how. He was a truck mechanic in the U.S. Army and then, as a civilian, he worked in plant maintenance. I would say that my father passed on the ‘mechanic gene’ to my older brother and me.

When it comes to changing the oil in one’s car, the first thing needed is to consult the owner’s manual to find the type of filter and how many quarts of oil are needed. Other items are a good drain pan, and funnel. These can be purchased at the auto parts store. It’s a good idea to have a basic set of tools. An extra tool that makes oil changes easier, in my opinion, is an oil filter wrench (specialty tool). I use a socket and ratchet set when I change oil. I’ve also known people who would use an adjustable wrench. I don’t consider this a good idea because you can slip off of the drain plug and damage the flats.

At the auto parts store, you can look up the type of filter required for your car. I would recommend buying the oil in a five quart container so you can pour your used oil into it after the new oil is poured into your car’s engine.

Once you’ve got your supplies and tools, it’s time to get under the car. You might not fit and you’ll have to jack the car up. One other good investment would be ramps. I always save a big piece of cardboard to lay on when I’m under a car. I have a creeper too, but it sets to high for some cars I’ve worked on. Start your car and let the engine idle for about 5 minutes. That way the oil is warm and will drain much easier.

Crawl under your car and make sure the drain plug, you’ll be removing, is on the engine pan. Some new cars have a transmission drain plug. Have your tools with you when you get under the car, and select the proper socket to use. It may be metric or standard. Make sure to have your drain pan close by when you remove the plug. When the oil from the plug hole is down to a few drips, re-install the plug. Locate the engine oil filter. If you’re not sure what it looks like, take the new one out of the box. Some filters are easy to get to, to change, others are not. Use an oil filter wrench, if you have one, and turn the filter counter-clockwise to remove it. Make sure the drain pan is under the filter, if possible, to catch the oil spilling out. Next wipe some oil on the seal of the oil filter and install it, turning it clockwise until it’s tight, then turn it 3/4 of a turn more, this insures it won’t leak.

The next step is to put oil in the engine. Most engines take 5 quarts with a filter change, but consult your owner’s manual. Also, double-check you are pouring the oil into the engine and not some other service port. I know it sounds crazy but it does happen.

Once you have serviced the engine with oil start it up and check for oil leaks by getting under the car, the drain plug and filter should not be leaking. No leaks and oil pressure in the green? Congratulations on a job well done.