In this edition of Car Help 101, we’re going to learn how to do that simplest of car maintenance services: the oil change.  Changing your car’s oil is a very simple process that does not require much mechanical know-how.  It does require a bit of time and getting underneath your car and getting dirty, so if that doesn’t sound like something you’re interested in then bring it into the auto shop instead.  For all of you that don’t mind getting a little dirty and saving a little bit of cash, read on for a few simple steps to doing your own oil change.

Disclaimer: This guide only covers the basics of the oil change, I recommend consulting your vehicle’s owner’s manual for model-specific instructions and looking up other guides and/or talking to your local auto technician before proceeding.  Have fun!

What you’ll need:

  • oil
  • oil filter
  • oil filter removal wrench
  • funnel
  • drain pan
  • gloves
  • old rag
All of these items can be purchased at your auto shop (where they can also perform an oil change for you as well as any other car maintenance service if you would prefer not to get down on all fours and get your hands dirty.)  Still going for it?  Okay, here’s how it goes.
Oil Change
Oil changes are relatively simple. Save some money and ‘do it yourself’. (photo by B Rosen)
  1. Start the car engine briefly to warm up the engine and oil so that is less viscous than when cool.  Shut off the engine and take off the oil cap in the engine to let air in and make the oil drain out more quickly.
  2.  Jack the car up (or drive it onto a set of ramps, your call) and put some newspaper under the engine so that any stray oil doesn’t stain your driveway.  Then put the oil drain pan under the oil pan and loosen the plug by turning it counter-clockwise with the wrench.
  3. Locate the oil filter and remove it.  This can be a bit tricky because the location of the oil filter is different on different vehicles.  If you are unable to locate the oil filter, consult your car’s manual (which maybe smart to do initially since it could have model-specific instructions for regular car maintenance service like an oil change, along with any quirks for that particular vehicle that may make the process different).  Remove the old filter (be careful it will be full of oil!) and take a bit of the new oil, daub it on your finger and run your finger around the top of the new oil filter to help the seal.
  4. After all the oil has drained out of the oil pan, replace the drain plug.  Carefully screw on the new oil filter (with 0-rings to ensure tight seal).  Be sure not to screw it on too tight.
  5. Add new oil to the car through the oil fill hole on top of the engine (this is where the funnel comes in handy).  Ensure that you have the correct type of oil for your vehicle (consult the vehicle’s manual if you are not sure what type you should use).  Periodically, check the oil level with the dipstick (wipe off with a rag between measurements).  The measurement will likely not be exact at this time, so make sure to check it the next day when it is cold and has been on a level surface for some hours and top off if necessary.
  6. Replace the oil cap, turn on the car and run the engine for a minute to ensure that the oil pressure light goes off.  It would also be a good idea to check under the vehicle for any leaks or drips.
  7. Pat yourself on the back for a job well done!  You just saved yourself some money from going to the auto shop and have now learned a valuable new skill!