Step-by-Step Guide on How to Change Oil

by Marcus Pickett

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    Knowing how to change oil is a nifty money-saving tool that can boost your self-esteem. Some people even see knowing how to change the oil in your car as a rite of passage for friends and family members. It's not terribly complicated, but it's a little trickier than your handyman neighbor—the one who flippantly claims that anybody can change their own oil—gives it credit. Here's what you need to know about how to change the oil in your car.

    Step-by-Step Guide on How to Change Oil

    1. Preparation, Gather Tools: Before you get started, you should gather everything you need for the job. This includes the new oil and oil filter, wrench set or open end wrench, oil filter wrench, oil catch, funnel, a couple clean rags, and newspaper/drop cloth. Find a safe, level spot to complete the oil change. Some people recommend driving the car around to warm the old oil so it drains better, but you also need to make sure you don't touch overheated oil that can lead to severe burns.

    2. Getting Started: If you need to lift the car to gain access, use reliable jackstands and block the tires. Once you've safely secured the vehicle, take a look under the car and identify the oil drain plug. It's usually the closest thing to the ground, or it may be labeled. Be careful to avoid the transmission plug. Once you've identified the right drain plug, loosen it slightly with a wrench. Don't loosen it very far until you've covered the surrounding area with newspapers and have the oil catch in place.

    3. Drain and Catch the Oil: Once you have the oil catch in place and newspapers spread in the immediate vicinity, remove the drain plug and let the oil drain. Note that some vehicles may drain oil at an angle, so you may need to adjust the catch accordingly. Likewise, the oil filter may drip during this process, so position your newspaper/drop cloth to avoid any unnecessary mess.

    4. Replace the Oil Filter: Locate the old oil filter—it should look much like the new replacement filter—and remove it with the oil filter wrench. Be careful here as the oil filter still has old oil that can spill, continue to drip, and/or burn you. To really do a job, give it some time to let excess oil completely drain from the engine. Before you put the new filter in place, you will need to coat the rubber gasket on the bottom of the filter with oil for lubrication. Fill the new filter just over halfway with oil and, holding it upright, screw it on tightly with one hand. Screwing it on too tightly or too loosely can cause it to leak. Replace the oil drain plug; you may want to consider using a clean washer.

    5. Add New Oil: Pop the hood, unscrew the oil fill cap, and insert the funnel. Slowly pour in about 80 percent of your engine's oil capacity. If you don't know how much oil your engine takes, check the manual. Once you've done this, start checking your oil and adding the rest of the oil until you hit the proper level. Replace the oil fill cap.

    6. Clean Up/Recycle Oil: Set aside the oil catch and oil filter to take to a full-service gas station or car service vendor that will recycle the oil for you. Clean the funnel, discard the newspaper, and put away your tools. Once you've double checked to make sure everything was done properly, start the car and let it run for about 5 minutes while you check for any leaks.

    Hiring a Professional to Change your Oil
    Arguably, changing the oil in your car is something everybody should do at least once. But just because you know how to change oil doesn't mean you want to, nor does it mean you have to. First, if you make a good living, it's probably not worth your time, unless you enjoy changing oil or take an inherent pride in doing things yourself. Second, if the engine needs other service, you're unlikely to catch the problem whereas a qualified mechanic could save you a lot of time, money, and hassle by identifying the problem before you break down on the road. To this end, you may want to pay a little extra to take the vehicle to a real mechanic to change the oil. Finally, some people get the best of both worlds, by changing their own oil every other time and using the savings to treat their vehicle to a real mechanic the next time around.

    Marcus Pickett is a professional freelance writer for the home remodeling industry. He has published more than 600 articles on both regional and national topics within the home improvement industry.