How to Change Your Motor Oil – and Save Money

When I was in high school and college I had cars that gave me grief.  On one hand, I was very grateful to even have wheels, but they also came with significant headaches.  My parents had money and they definitely assisted me in those days (which I’m grateful for), but they definitely did not spring for new cars!

I’m grateful they gave me cars that were headaches – because I learned a lot.  I learned how to be self sufficient and I learned how to turn a wrench.  There are still things that I can not (and should not) attempt to repair on my car, but I have done an awful lot over the years on my own.

I think one of the greatest reasons to work on your own car is to be in control of what happens to it.  Not every mechanic is sheisty, but unfortunately they are out there more often than we’d like.  I, for one, have had experiences where my car was worse off after visiting a shop than before…  local mechanics, dealers, “chain” shops.

When you spend some time under your own car’s hood, you get to know it.  You can track how things are holding up and prevent issues before they happen.

So here’s a little instruction on how to perform one of the most basic tasks of car maintenance – how to change your oil and filter.

Gather the required tools

Honestly, you don’t need that much in the way of tools.  There is a little bit of start up cost, I suppose, but the savings in the long term is well worth it.  Here’s what you’re going to need.

Drain the Oil

Ideally, you’ll do this with a cold engine.  If the car has been running and the motor is hot, you run the risk of burning yourself on hot oil.  Also, the oil drain plug and even the oil filler cap are difficult to remove when they’re hot.

  • First up, you’ll need to raise the car off the ground so you can have access underneath.  Place the ramps in front of each front wheel and then carefully drive up to the top.  Be sure you set your parking brake to ensure the car can not move while it is supported by the ramps (safety first!).  After your car is secure, pop your hood and then get back out of the car.
  • Grab your drain pan, socket wrench, and slide underneath your car.  The center figure up above is the oil pan underneath my Nissan Altima.  You can see there’s a bit of oil stain around the plug.  Place your drain pan underneath the drain plug and use your wrench to remove the plug.  When you first remove the plug, the weight of the oil will make it drain vigorously, so be sure to expect it to drain fast.  Leave the pan under the car – it will take some time to drain all the oil.  When it comes to a drip, you can replace the drain plug.  Make sure it’s on securely – you wouldn’t want your car to drip on your garage floor or for the oil level to drop.
  • Next step is to remove the oil filter.  You may need to hunt a little to find yours (depending on your vehicle).  There will be oil inside the filter, so when you remove it, expect a fair amount to drain out.  Use your drain pan to catch the oil.  I find that removing the oil filter slowly helps prevent any spillage.  After it’s done draining you may move onto the next step!

Next, replace the filter and refill the oil

  • Before you just screw on your new filter, be sure and take some oil (new is recommended, used works too) and lightly lubricate the rubber O-ring.  This will help create a secure seal between the filter and your car.  No leaks!
  • Turning clockwise, hand tighten the filter.  Some guys really tighten it on super hard – I don’t think that’s really necessary.  Plus, it makes it more difficult to remove during the next service.
  • Referencing your car’s manual, identify how much oil it will take to fill back up.  My car is right around 4 1/14 quarts, but yours might be very different!!!
  • **DO NOT START YOUR CAR UNTIL YOU HAVE REPLACED THE OIL**
  • On the top of your engine, you’ll find the oil filler cap.  It should have a picture of a magic genie style oil lamp (itty bitty living space!).  Use your funnel and fill ‘er back up.  Replace the cap, hand tighten.

After you’re all finished…

After you’ve refilled the oil, it’s a good idea to look under your car and make sure the oil drain plug and the oil filter are not leaking any of the new oil you put into your engine.  Once you verified this, you can get back into your car and back it off the ramps.

You’ll need to drain the used oil out of the drain pan into a sealed container that you can return to an auto parts store (think Autozone).  They’ll recycle your used oil for no charge.  Absolutely, positively DO NOT POUR IN YOUR YARD, STORM DRAINS, TOILETS, or TRASH CAN.  This is terrible for the environment and super illegal.  Don’t do it.

Clean up the rest of your tools and you’re all set!  Happy driving!!