Changing engine oil at home is a simple way to save time and money while gaining a better understanding of a vehicle’s current condition to monitor any potential service needs before they become a larger problem.
An oil change is generally a simple DIY project if a few simple steps are followed. It is also one of the most important vehicle maintenance tasks a car owner can do to ensure the life and quality of the vehicle’s engine.
Since every vehicle make and model is a bit different, it’s important to read the owner’s manual and understand the unique location of the drain plugs, oil filters, and other items described in the steps below. Once these parts have been identified, it should be easy to change the oil in a few simple steps.
Not oil engine oil is created equal. Using the wrong type of oil or adding too much or too little will place added strain on the vehicle’s engine and could cause major damage. A quick check of the owner’s manual will confirm the type and quantity of oil needed. Special notice should be taken to match the viscosity (or “weight”) of the oil to the engine. The owner’s manual should list any additional requirements such as the use of synthetic oil.
In addition to the oil itself, a wrench, funnel, oil filter, drain pan, and gloves will be required to complete the oil change. For lower profile vehicles, it may be necessary to elevate the car to gain access to the necessary location. If so, a floor jack or sturdy ramps should always be used to raise the vehicle, instead of the tire jack that came with it. All of the necessary tools and filters are available at auto-parts stores and the auto department of department stores.
The engine and oil should be warm when changing the oil, but not too hot. Hot oil could cause serious burns if it comes in contact with skin. Now is the time to raise the car, if needed. It shouldn’t be necessary to remove the tires for most vehicles, but a quick check of the owner’s manual will confirm.
Remove any undercovers at this time for unfettered access to the drain plug and oil filter. Many cars don’t have an undercover, but for those that do, the owner’s manual will describe how to loosen any fastenings or latches.
Once access is gained to the underside of the vehicle, it is time to locate the oil filter and drain plug. Most vehicles have a screw-on filter, but some have a top-mount cartridge filter. Consult the owner’s manual for the exact location and description of the oil filter and drain plug.
Before loosening the drain plug, place the drain pan at an angle under the plug. As the oil drains, it may stream at an angle. Placing the drain pan in the proper place to catch the oil will reduce oil spillage and prevent a mess. With the pan in place, put on gloves and remove the drain plug, being careful to keep hands away from the projected flow of the oil. Take care to place the drain plug in a secure location so that it doesn’t get misplaced.
While the oil is draining, it’s a good opportunity to inspect and clean the oil drain plug to ensure a proper seal when it’s replaced. Once the oil has completely drained, replace and tighten the oil drain plug. Be careful not to overtighten the plug, as the threads may become stripped and compromise the seal.
Remove the old oil filter by using a wrench to lightly twist the filter away from the sealing gaskets. As the filter is loosened, old oil will spill around the edges. Make sure the drain pan is still in place to catch any dripping oil. Drain any excess oil from the old filter into the drain pan.
Place a small amount of the old oil on the O-ring of the new oil filter before tightening it. Be careful not to over-tighten it. In most cases, the new filter can be tightened by hand, without the use of a wrench.
After the drain plug and filter are in place and tightened properly, add the new engine oil. Hold the bottles on their sides for a smoother pour and less spillage. After adding the recommended amount of oil, replace the oil cap and start the vehicle’s engine. After circulating the oil through the running engine, a leak check should be performed before lowering the car from jacks or ramps.
Once the vehicle is on flat ground, it is a good idea to check oil levels. The level is at full capacity when it reaches the upper indentation or hash mark on the oil dipstick. If the levels do not read completely full, it may be necessary to add additional oil.
Most auto parts stores will dispose of old oil and filters without charge. In addition, local municipalities frequently offer hazardous waste drop-off locations. Keep old oil contained and out of reach of children and pets until it can be disposed of properly.
The most important part in any DIY task is to take the proper safety precautions. As a reminder: never change engine oil when the vehicle is hot, and make sure that all jacks and ramps are secure before going underneath a vehicle. Oil changes, like everything else, become easier to complete with practice. For those that are nervous about performing vehicle maintenance, home oil changes are a simple entrance to boost confidence in completing other maintenance tasks.