Have you seen that VW commercial where the guy says something like, “Changed my own oil … think I did something wrong,” and he’s just a mess covered in used motor oil? It’s pretty sad.
Don’t be that guy. Let me also start by saying that there’s nothing wrong with paying someone to change your own oil. If your time is worth more than the money you’d pay to get the job done for you, by all means get it done. I’m guessing Phil Jackson doesn’t change his own oil.
But for the vast majority of us, we have the time to change our own oil … and we should at least know how to do it. Especially since it’s a couple of bucks we can save during the stressful economic times. Believe it or not, it’s actually one of the easiest things to do that many men don’t know how to do.
STEP ONE: First off, it’s best to do with a warm engine. That way, the oil isn’t as thick, and drains from the engine better. You probably don’t want to change your oil after an hours-long drive down the highway. But driving to the store to get your new oil and back should probably be enough. Find a nice flat spot on your driveway for the work. If you have them (and I recommend them), pull up on ramps. Many auto supply stores sell ramps specifically made for do-it-yourself oil changes. They have a low incline, and offer just enough room to get underneath your car, especially if you have a vehicle with a low clearance. If you drive an SUV or truck, you probably don’t need ramps. As a safety note, you should never use your car’s jack to lift the vehicle — you know, the one that comes with most cars for changing a tire. While fine for changing a tire, it’s just not stable enough to risk going underneath a car.
STEP TWO: Once you’ve got your car on the ramps (or not), secure the vehicle by using the parking break. For extra safety, use blocks, rocks or bricks to wedge underneath the back tires. Lay out newspaper (does anyone still read those?) underneath where you’ll be working. If you’re going to make a habit of it, it’s probably good to invest in a drain pan made for oil changes. Most even come with a spout for pouring the used oil into containers for easy transport to a recycling center. You’ll also need a socket wrench set. A common size for oil drain plugs is 3/8 inch, but also common are 5/8 and 3/4. Once you find the oil drain plug — it’s usually one of the lowest things on the engine and usually pretty obvious, sometimes even labeled — test your socket to make sure you have the right size. With your wrench, turn the plug to the left to loosen it. Once it’s loose enough to turn with your fingers, put away the wrench. Make sure your drain pan is in position to catch the oil. Remove the plug. Now that the oil is draining, locate the oil filter. It should be a little higher up on the engine, and is about the diameter of a coffee mug. It’s usually covered in a gripable rubber. Grab it with your hand and give it a firm turn to the left. Also available are special wrenches made to loosening oil filters. Most of the time, though, a good grip is all you need. Be careful when you remove the filter, as it’s filled with oil. Let the filter drain into the pan, and then place it opening up on the newspaper. On the way out from under the car, reach under the hood and remove the oil cap. Now you’re ready for a break.
STEP THREE: About 15 to 20 minutes is all you need to make sure the oil drained out. However, the longer you wait the more of the old, dirty oil will drip out. If you want to take a break for a cold one or a rerun or two of The Three Stooges, give it an hour. After the oil is all dripped out, replace the oil plug. Tighten it by turning it to the right, and make sure it’s sung but not too snug. You want to be able to remove it next time. After your plug is in place, take out your new oil filter. If you’ve been careful, this will be the only time you’ll get even a little dirty. Dip your finger into the used oil and rub it around the edge of the opening in the new filter. This will help create a better seal to the engine. Take a rag and wipe off the area where the filter goes, and then screw on the new filter. Now you’re done with the underside of the car. Your vehicle user manual should tell you how much oil your engine holds. This part’s easy, pour that much in. Use a funnel if you want, but most oil bottles are shaped in a way that you don’t need one. Hold the bottle so that when you’re about to pour it, the angled side is down. Holding the bottle over the opening, tip it slowly until the oil is just about to drip out. In a quick, decisive motion, pour the oil and in the same motion put the opening of the bottle into the oil filler hole. Repeat this step as needed per your vehicle’s specs. After you’ve poured in all the oil, take a second to bend down and check for any leaks in either the drain plug or filter. Check the level of engine oil with your dip stick — it will be labeled with a safe fill zone. Replace the oil cap. Start the car, and let it idle for three to five minutes. Once you’re done, get in the car (after removing any blocks, rocks or bricks from the back tire area) and back the car off the ramps. You’re almost done.
STEP FOUR, CLEANUP: If you have one of the drain pans with the spouts, pour the used oil into the now-empty oil bottles. If easier, you can use a funnel and a milk jug. Put the bottles of used oil in a box or something so that you can drive with them and not have them tip over. Take the oil to your nearest oil recycling center. Some auto parts retailers will take used oil, as will most big-name quick lube places. After that, you’re done. When you use your car tomorrow, take a quick peek at the driveway just for one last chance to see if there’s any leaks.
LIST OF SUPPLIES: There are several things you will need to perform your own oil chance. Mandatory: wrenches to remove the oil plug; new oil (buy it by the case, and you’ll spend less per ounce); new filter (check your user manual, or just give your vehicles make/model/year at a supply store); drain pan; rag (I guess this could be optional, you could use your shirt). Optional: Newspaper; funnel; ramps; zip-lock bag (if you want to use it to hold the old oil filter); gloves (maybe you don’t want to get your hands dirty).