How to Change Oil for DIY Vehicle Maintenance

Instead of stopping by the garage, save some money by learning how to change your own oil.

By Timothy Dale | Published Dec 9, 2021 11:00 AM

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One of the best DIY automotive repairs that you can learn is how to change oil, though it’s also important to know that you should complete an oil and filter change at the same time. When preparing for an engine oil change, check the owner’s manual to determine the recommended type of oil for your vehicle. The most common options are SAE 5W-30 and SAE 10W-30. However, you also need to decide between conventional, high-mileage, synthetic blend, or full synthetic oil before you can perform a car oil change.

Conventional motor oil is the cheapest option, but also the least beneficial for your vehicle. High-mileage oil is intended for vehicles with more than 75,000 miles because it’s designed to help reduce oil leaks and burning in older engines by causing the internal and external O-rings and gaskets to swell.

Synthetic-blend oil is a mixture of synthetic and conventional oils that has a lower cost than full synthetics and lasts longer than conventional oil. Full synthetic oil is the best option for newer vehicles, though it isn’t a great choice for older vehicles that are designed for use with conventional oil.

Before learning how to do an oil change or how to change your own oil, it’s necessary to understand the differences among oil types so that you can select the right product for your vehicle. Once you have the correct oil ready to go, follow these simple steps to learn how to change the oil in a car.

BEFORE YOU BEGIN

Automotive garages will often give you a sticker that indicates the mileage and time that you have until your next oil change is due, but these numbers are an estimate. Figuring out how often to change oil in your vehicle depends on the vehicle. Different vehicles have different maintenance needs, so you should always refer to the owner’s manual for the vehicle.

Recent advances in automotive technology have made it possible for newer vehicles to have longer oil-change intervals, with some car models capable of running on one oil change for 7,500 to 10,000 miles, or once every 6 to 12 months. In general, it’s best to get the oil changed based on the recommendation of your automaker’s factory maintenance schedule.

STEP 1: Park and elevate the vehicle.

Learning how to change your oil all starts with pulling the vehicle into a safe parking space like a garage or a level driveway. Put the vehicle in park, take out the keys, and apply the parking brake. Use a jack to elevate the vehicle off of the ground, then place wheel chocks behind the rear tires to prevent the vehicle from moving or shifting while you work.

If you don’t want to use a jack, you can also elevate the vehicle by driving the front wheels onto steel wheel ramps. The wheels should sink into depressions on the top of each ramp to prevent it from moving. Make sure to allow the vehicle about 5 to 10 minutes to cool down after turning it off. Otherwise, the oil might be too hot to drain without risk of injury.

Related: How to Change Windshield Wipers Yourself. 

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STEP 2: Drain the existing oil.

Use an oil pan that is large enough to hold about twice as much oil as the engine takes to ensure that it doesn’t spill over the sides of the pan. Position the oil pan under the engine drain plug, which is usually located about 1 to 2 feet from the front of the vehicle, directly underneath the engine. Open the hood on the vehicle and locate the oil cap. It should have the oil symbol or the word oil written on the top. Remove this cap and set it in a safe location.

Use a socket wrench or crescent wrench to loosen the oil plug, then use your fingers to fully loosen and remove the oil plug. Keep in mind that as soon as the plug is removed, oil will start flowing out of the car, so be sure to wear personal protective equipment like gloves, safety glasses, long pants, and a long-sleeve shirt.

Allow the oil to drain into the oil pan for about 2 to 3 minutes to make sure that it’s fully drained, then reinstall the drain plug. Tighten the plug with a socket wrench or crescent wrench to avoid leaks. Also, make sure that you don’t misplace the metal washer from the drain plug because this part is necessary to prevent the oil from leaking.

Related: How to Change a Tire Like a Pro.

STEP 3: Remove the old oil filter.

Look underneath the vehicle to locate the oil filter. Unfortunately, oil filters do not have a standard position in most vehicles, so you will need to look for a 4- to 6-inch cylinder that has a diameter of about 3 inches. They are typically white, blue, or black. Once you locate the filter, twist it counterclockwise to remove it.

If you cannot loosen the filter by hand, then you will need an oil filter wrench to do this. Note that the oil filter will have oil remaining in it, so be prepared to catch any oil with the oil pan. After you remove the old oil filter, you can put it in the oil pan or in a different container to allow it to drain without creating a mess.

how to change oil filter

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STEP 4: Install the new oil filter.

Before installing the new oil filter, you need to lubricate the gasket with new engine oil to create a good seal for the new filter and make it easier to remove the filter during the next oil filter change. To reduce the amount of time it takes for the car to return to the right oil pressure, pour about 20 to 30 drops of new oil into the filter before installing it.

Screw the new filter into place, making sure not to spill any of the oil that you just added. Tighten the filter until the gasket touches, then go about a quarter-turn further. While replacing the oil filter, ensure that the filter threads in correctly. Overlapping or crossed threads can cause engine oil leaks. With the filter reinstalled properly, you are ready to add the new oil.

STEP 5: Pour new oil into the vehicle.

Look at the vehicle owner’s manual to double check the oil type and to determine the amount of oil you need to add to your vehicle. Then pour this amount into the oil fill hole. You can attempt to turn the bottle over quickly, positioning the tip of the bottle in the fill hole, or you can put a funnel into the fill hole and pour the oil in with this method. Both options work, though not using a funnel comes with a much higher risk of spilling oil.

After adding the appropriate amount, replace the oil cap, then check inside the hood, around the vehicle, and under the vehicle for any loose tools or spills. Wipe up spills as best as you can with a cloth or rag, then check under the car for any leaks. This is also the right time to pull the oil pan out from under the vehicle so that you can transfer the oil to a different container and properly dispose of it.

How to change oil

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STEP 6: Test the vehicle and check for leaks.

Turn the vehicle on and check the oil pressure light. If the oil pressure light is on, then you might not have put in enough oil or there may be a leak. Leave the vehicle in neutral and keep the parking brake applied. Allow the car to run while you look underneath for any signs of leaks or drips. If you spot a leak, then turn the vehicle off and allow it to cool for about 10 minutes before crawling back under to tighten the filter or the oil drain plug.

Check the owner’s manual to determine how to reset the change oil light, then turn off the vehicle and give it 10 minutes to cool before opening the hood and pulling out the dipstick to verify that the amount of oil is correct. Close the hood and clean up.

Related: How to Change a Car Battery. 

Dispose of the old oil properly when the job is done.

Engine oil is a harmful substance that can seep into the ground or water drains where it can affect the local vegetation, wildlife, and water sources like rivers, ponds, and lakes. To avoid causing harm to the environment and the community, dispose of the old oil properly.

Pour the old oil from the oil pan into a clean polyethylene or metal container with a tightly sealed lid. Make sure that the container does not contain any residual automotive fluids or chemicals, like antifreeze, paint, or solvents. To recycle the old oil properly, take it to an oil change facility that accepts oil containers or to a local household waste recycling facility.