Changing your own oil

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Changing your engine oil yourself is a great way to get a higher quality blend of oil at a lower price. The only trade-off is that you have to do the work yourself, but based on wait times at dealerships or lube shops, doing it yourself might actually save time. Follow these directions and you can have the whole process done start to clean-up in under an hour. (If you’re not jacking the car it can take about 30 minutes once you get practiced up).

If you’re using synthetic oil you don’t have to change your oil every 3,000 miles. That figure was created by auto repair shops in a campaign to get people into the shop more. Since the repair shops benefit from increased visits, they recommend more frequent oil changes. Also, the recommendation was created when conventional oil was still the standard. Since it breaks down faster, the 3,000 mile figure was closer to accurate than now.

If you use full synthetic, you can probably go about 5,000 miles or so between changes. Change the filter every other time you change the oil.

Here’s what you need:

Oil. Look in your owner’s manual to determine how much. Small cars probably need about four quarts; larger vehicles might need as many as seven or eight.

A filter. Your owner’s manual will tell you which kind to get, or auto parts stores often have a book to look up make and model of your car to find the appropriate parts.

An oil filter wrench. This is an optional item. Oil filters are designed to be removed an installed by hand, but overtightened filters require a little more leverage.

Oil pan. This goes under the vehicle to catch the old oil.

A funnel.

Wrenches/spanners the size of the oil drain plug.

Paper towels.

A jack and jackstands. These are optional items. You need to be able to get to the drain plug and oil filter with room to slide the oil pan in. Small cars often don’t have enough clearance without being lifted a little.

Let’s get to work!

Before you start, drive the car and then let it sit for about 20 minutes so that the oil is warm but not scalding hot. Locate the drain plug. It will be on the engine, at the lowest point. If you need to jack the car, first set the emergency brake and chock the rear wheels. Don’t jack the car too high since it needs to be level so that the oil drains out properly.

Once the jackstands are set, slide the oil pan into place and remove the drain plug.

Once the oil has stopped dripping, clean the drain plug with paper towels, and replace it.

Move the pan under the filter and remove it. It will twist off like removing a jar lid. Try to keep the end that attaches to the engine up so that it doesn’t make a mess. Apply a little new oil to the gasket on the new oil filter and install it. Do not use the wrench to tighten the new filter.

Find the oil fill cap on top of the engine. Use the funnel to add oil. When you get almost to the recommended capacity, stop and let the oil settle into the engine.

Use this time to pour the old oil back into the bottles from the new oil you’ve just used up. You will probably have slightly less old oil than new, because most engines burn or leak at least a little oil. If it’s significantly less, your engine might need some maintenance. Keep track of how much oil your engine typically uses.

Check the oil level on the dipstick and add until full.

Replace the oil fill cap.

Lower the car off the jackstands.

Recycle the old oil at your local auto parts store.

Done.

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