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How to Change Your Oil

mechanic pouring oil into a car

One of the most important preventative maintenance services you can perform on your car is the oil change, yet many vehicles suffer major engine failures due to a lack of timely oil change services. It’s a good idea to be knowledgeable about this service, even if you decide to leave it to a professional mechanic.

Part 1 of 2: Collecting supplies

Materials Needed

  • Box end wrench (or socket or ratchet)
  • Disposable gloves
  • Empty cardboard box
  • Flashlight
  • Funnel
  • Hydraulic jack and jack stands (if necessary)
  • Oil
  • Oil drain pan
  • Oil filter
  • Oil filter wrench
  • Rags or paper towels

The oil change may seem straightforward but it’s important to follow each step carefully. The entire process, including shopping for supplies, takes about 2 hours.

oil filter being changed from the top

Step 1: Research location and size of the oil drain and filter. Go online and research the location and size of the oil drain plug and oil filter for the make and model of your vehicle so you know if you need to jack up the car to gain access. ALLDATA is a great knowledge center with most manufacturer’s repair manuals. Some filters are changed from the top (engine bay) and some from the bottom. Jacks are dangerous if used incorrectly so be sure to educate yourself on their proper use or leave it to a professional mechanic.

Step 2: Get the right oil. Make sure you get the exact type of oil recommended by the manufacturer. Many current vehicles use synthetic oil to help meet the stringent fuel economy standards and for better engine lubrication.

Part 2 of 2: Changing the oil

Materials Needed

  • All supplies gathered in Part 1
  • Old clothes

Step 1: Prepare to get dirty: Put on some old clothes as you will get a bit dirty.

car warming up in a driveway

Step 2: Warm up your vehicle. Start your vehicle and let it warm up almost to operating temperature. Do not attempt an oil change after a long drive because the oil and the filter will be too hot.

Running the vehicle for 4 minutes should be sufficient. The goal here is to warm the oil so it will drain easier. When the oil is at operating temperature it will hold dirty particles and debris in suspension within the oil so they will be drained with the oil, not left behind on the cylinder walls in the oil pan.

parking brake lever pulled to upright position

Step 3: Park in a safe location. Park in a safe spot like your driveway or garage. Shut the vehicle off, make sure the car’s in park, roll down the window, pop the hood release, and put the emergency brake on very tightly.

Step 4: Prepare your work area. Place your supplies within arm’s reach of your working area.

Step 5: Locate oil cap. Open the hood and locate the oil fill cap. The cap may even say the recommended oil viscosity for your engine (e.g., 5w20 or 5w30).

oil fill cap being removed

Step 6: Insert funnel. Remove the fill cap and put your funnel in the oil fill hole.

Step 7: Prepare to drain oil. Get your wrench and oil drain pan and place the cardboard box under the front of the vehicle.

oil drain plug being removed

Step 8: Loosen drain plug. Remove the oil drain plug which is located in the bottom of the oil pan. It will take some effort to loosen the drain plug but it shouldn’t be too tight. A longer wrench will also make it easier to loosen and tighten.

drain pan under the oil drain plug

Step 9: Remove plug and let oil drain. Once you’ve cracked the drain plug loose, position the drain pan under the oil drain plug before you completely remove the plug. As you loosen the oil drain plug and the oil starts to drip, make sure you get a grip on the plug as you unthread it so it doesn’t fall into the oil drain pan (if it does, you will have to reach in there later and fish it out). Once all the oil is drained out, it will reduce to a slow drip. Don’t wait for the drip to stop because that could take days - a slow drip is fine.

oil drain plug gasket being wiped off

Step 10: Examine gasket. Wipe off the oil drain plug and mating surface with a rag and examine the oil drain plug gasket. This is a rubber or metal sealing washer at the base of the drain plug.

Step 11: Change the gasket. It’s always a good idea to change the oil gasket. Be sure to discard the old oil gasket as double gasketing will case an oil leak.

Step 12: Remove oil filter. Locate the oil filter and reposition your drain pan under this location. Remove the oil filter. The oil will most likely run off and miss the pan initially and you will have to adjust the position of the pan. (At this point, it may be helpful to put on fresh rubber gloves to get a better grip on the oil filter). If you can’t get the filter loose by hand, use the oil filter wrench. The filter will have oil in it, so be prepared. The oil filter never completely drains so just put it upright back in the box.

finger being run around rubber oil filter gasket

Step 13: Install new oil filter. Prior to installation of the new oil filter, put your finger in the new oil and then run your finger around the rubber oil filter gasket. This will help create a nice leak-proof seal.

Now take a clean rag and wipe the surface where the filter gasket will live in the engine. Make sure the old oil filter gasket did not get stuck to the engine when you removed the filter (if you accidentally install the new filter with double gaskets you will have an oil leak). It’s important that the filter/engine mating surface is free of old oil and dirt.

Screw on the new oil filter making sure that it goes on nice and smooth, being careful not to cross thread it. When it gets snug, tighten it an additional quarter turn (remember not to over tighten, as you or someone else will have to be able to remove it at the next oil change).

  • Note: These directions apply to a spin on oil filter. If your vehicle uses a cartridge type oil filter which sits inside a plastic or metal housing with a threaded cap, then follow manufacturers specifications for the torque value of the oil filter housing cap. Over tightening can easily damage the filter housing.

Step 14: Double check your work. Make sure the oil drain plug and oil filter are on and sufficiently tight.

adding oil through a funnel

Step 15: Add your new oil. Slowly pour it into the funnel in the oil fill hole. If the car’s oil capacity is 5 quarts, for example, stop at 4 1/2 quarts.

Step 16: Run engine. Put the oil fill cap on, start the engine, let it run for 10 seconds and turn it off. This is done to circulate the oil and put a thin layer of oil on the engine.

dipstick being checked

Step 17: Check your oil level. Make sure the vehicle is off while you check. Insert and remove the oil dip stick and add more oil as necessary to get the level to the “full” mark.

Step 18: Tidy up your area. Be careful to not leave any tools in the engine bay or driveway. You’ll need to recycle the old oil and filter at your local repair shop or auto supply center as it is illegal to dump petroleum-based fluids.

Step 19: Check your work. Let the car run for about 10 minutes while you look under the car at the drain plug and oil filter area. Double check that your oil fill cap is on, look for any leaks and, after 10 minutes, shut the vehicle off and let it sit for 2 minutes. Then re-check the oil level.

maintenance reminder light being set

Step 20: Reset your Maintenance Reminder light (if your vehicle is equipped with one). Use a dry erase marker to write your next oil change reminder mileage and date on the upper left driver’s side of the windshield. Typically, most cars recommend oil changes every 3,000 to 5,000 miles but check your owner’s manual.

You’re done! The oil change has many steps and it’s important to follow each one carefully. If you have a newer, more complicated vehicle or are unsure of any of the steps, one of our top-rated mobile mechanics can perform an oil change for you.

The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details

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