Mar 25, 2010

Changing Motor Oil

Here's a tutorial on how to change your motor oil. It should be done routinely, every 3,000-5,000 miles (check your owner's manual). It's the best thing you can do for your vehicle and a great way to save some mula. I also find it kinda fun.

First, gather your supplies:
  1. New motor oil (my car takes just over 4 quarts, so I find 1 big 5 quart jug is perfect - again check your manual)
  2. New oil filter (go to Pepboys or Auto Zone and there will be something hanging at eye level that resembles a phone book, use it to find your car's make, model and year to determine which oil filter to use)
  3. Disposable gloves (this is optional, but used motor oil is thick stuff so this makes clean up much easier)
  4. Oil drain pan (this technically is optional as well, you just need something with the capacity to catch the old oil, but I recommend investing in this they are about $10. If you plan on future self oil changes, it's a much cleaner process when you are pouring out the old oil - I have done it both ways and this is best)
  5. Oil filter socket with corresponding wrench in correct size (after you find your oil filter, open it and test it on different oil filter sockets to see which fits best)
  6. Socket and corresponding wrench to the size of the drain plug on your car (mine is 17 mm)
You should have plenty of rags on hand as well. This can be a messy project.

Now that you have your supplies ready, make sure your engine is not hot. Pop open your hood and locate the oil filler cap. When you are ready to drain the oil, removing this will allow air flow to help draining go a lot faster.

Here is a view from underneath my car, where you'll see the oil drain plug and the oil filter. If you don't know where it is located on your car, check the manual.

Loosen the drain plug with your socket wrench and have your drain pan close and ready to slide under once you remove the drain plug.

When it is loosened, make sure you hang onto the bolt. If you drop it in the pan it will be a giant pain to get out. If you drop it on the floor, it will be an annoying mess that will leave permanent stains. Once you remove the drain plug, also make sure you catch the gasket as well (it looks just like a metal washer).

It should drain out rather slowly into your drain pan. Make sure the little air cap on top of the drain pan is open to allow air flow so it can keep up with the oil draining so it won't bubble out.

Now slide out from underneath the car and remove that oil filler cap to speed things up. Hopefully your aim into the drain pan is better than mine...

Here is the drain plug. It will get covered in oil, just give it a wipe down. Same goes for the gasket (not pictured). Inspect both and see if they need to be replaced. Then put the gasket and drain plug back in once the old oil is completely drained.

Next, use your filter socket and place over the oil filter to remove. Have drain pan ready.

Next, open new oil filter. Lubricate the rubber gasket with new oil using your finger (I prematurely tossed my gloves). This will help form a tight seal. Then place new filter back where you removed the old filter. Hand tightened is great, don't need to over tighten with the wrench or else you'll have a hard time getting it off next time you do this.

I didn't mention a funnel in the list of materials but it will make this next step go faster. If you don't want to buy one or don't have one, just cut an old milk jug in half like I did. The spout happens to be the perfect size, and you can use the bottom half of the jug as a holder for the top half so you won't drip motor oil everywhere. If you are not using a funnel of any kind, just pour straight from the bottle. It will just take a steadier hand and a little bit more time.

It's easier to pour less than you think and check the level and add more, than it is to drain out the excess. Look at the the nice light color of fresh new oil...

How do you check? Well once you're done pouring, give it a second to settle in the crankcase. And pull out the oil level stick (also known as dip stick) and wipe the tip with a clean rag. Then reinsert the dip stick, wait a second, and pull out and see where the oil level is. It should be between the 2 notches. You can see from my photo above, that mine is on the high end but still falls between the notches (I have an old car that burns oil more than newer cars).

Put the oil lever check back. Close the hood. Take the car for a spin around the block and then check the level again, it should go down a tiny bit.

  • Do not attempt this unless you have the supplies. You don't want to be stuck without your supplies and a car with no oil. A good way to permanently kill your engine. Motor oil = car's lifeblood.
  • I chose not to jack up my car because I'm small enough to slide under the car. Plus it's quicker that way. And less work. But from now on, I may just start jacking up the car. The visibility will be so much better. Remember to use stands and engage your emergency hand brake if you do this.
  • Put a cardboard box down (or tarp) to catch any little drips and dribbles. I failed to do this.
  • I prefer rubber or plastic oil filter wrenches to metal ones. I have a metal one because that's all that I could find at my auto parts store. If your metal filter wrench can't get a good grip on the filter, place a piece of sandpaper (grit side out) inside and insert over the filter for a better 'bite'
  • Pour old oil back into empty oil containers.
  • Old motor oil and old oil filters can be recycled. Check your local waste facilities for household hazardous waste collections (my city does it once a month) or check with local auto shops to see if they accept.
  • Most oil grades are 5W/30 or 10W/30 depending on your climate. Since I live in a climate where it doesn't ever get really cold either will work. Ask your auto parts store guy about your climate.
  • You can use regular or synthetic motor oil but do NOT mix the 2 types. And if use synthetic, use that for the remainder of that car's life. 
You're done! Now go wash your hands and pat yourself on the back!

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