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The 2014 Farmers Almanac
Farmers' Almanac

Ask Handy Andi: How to Change Your Oil

Ask Handy Andi: How to Change Your Oil

Dear Handy Andi,
My late husband always changed the oil in our vehicles himself. Now that he’s gone, I hate having to pay someone to do it every few months. Is it hard to do?

Peggy, Georgia

Once you know what you’re doing, changing the oil in your automobile is one of the simplest maintenance tasks you can perform, and you can save yourself hundreds of dollars per year in labor costs. The first time you do it is always the hardest. Expect to spend about an hour on your first oil change, just trying to figure out where your drain plug and filter are and how to remove them. After that, though, it will become easier, and the time you spend will decrease accordingly. After you’ve gotten a little experience, the entire task should only take about half an hour.

The first thing you’ll need to do is gather some basic tools and materials. You’ll need something sturdy to prop your car up, such as a heavy floor jack or a set of ramps. The small jack that comes with your spare tire isn’t stable enough for this job. You’ll also need a drain pan or oil recycling container, oil filter wrench, a set of socket wrenches (or just the one that fits your drain plug, if you know what size it is), and a funnel. Disposable rubber gloves to keep your hands clean and a large piece of cardboard to keep your garage floor or driveway clean are also a good idea. Be sure to also wear some old, dirty clothes, as this is a messy job! Finally, you’ll need a new oil filter and enough oil of the right variety to fill your engine . You can find out what type of oil to buy, and how much, in your car’s manual. If you can’t find this information, just ask the staff at your local auto parts store. They should be able to look your car’s make and model up for you. Most auto parts stores sell oil by the case, and this can be a very economical option if you plan to continue performing your own oil changes.

Once you’ve gathered all of you materials, it’s time to jack your car up, or drive it up onto your ramps. If you’re using ramps, be sure to have someone else there to steady them and ensure they are properly spaced. The best time to change your oil is when the engine is warm, but not hot. A good rule of thumb is to do it about 15-20 minutes after driving it. Lay down some cardboard and set your drain pan down under your engine. Remove the drain plug, which looks like a large bolt. You may need to adjust the position of the drain pan once the oil actually starts coming out. Now, just wait. Let all of the oil run out. Be sure to tightly replace the drain plug once all of the old oil is out.

Now, remove your old oil filter. Using a filter wrench, turn it counterclockwise until it is completely free. Be careful to keep it upright, because it still contains oil. Transfer all of the oil, from both the engine and filter, into an appropriate recycling container. If you used an oil recycling container as your drain pan, you’re a step ahead of the game. Simply seal up the container to take to your local garage. Many will recycle it for you for free, though some may charge a small fee.

Once you’ve removed the old oil and filter, it’s time to put on the new filter. First, prep it by filling it about 2/3 of the way to the top with fresh oil. Then, take a dab of clean oil and rub it onto the rubber gasket at the top of the filter, coating the entire gasket with a thin film of oil. Now you can screw the new filter into place. You won’t need the wrench for this part. Just line it up and screw it in by hand, clockwise. You want it to be in tightly – as tight as you can get it by hand – but not too tight.

Now you can add the new oil. Open the hood of your car and find the oil cap on the top of your engine. Using a funnel, pour in about 3/4 of the amount specified in your owner’s manual. Occasionally, a small amount of the oil gets left behind, and you don’t want to overfill it. Once you’ve added the new oil, check your oil level using the dipstick. Pull the stick out, wipe it off with a rag or paper towel, reinsert it, and pull it out again. This will tell you whether or not to add the rest of the oil. Once you’ve topped off the oil level, you can replace the cap, close the hood, and hit the road!

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1 Bill Hoffman { 09.26.12 at 4:53 pm }

i.e., see my comments in regard to spark plugs and wires. Comments by the preceeding 5 are well taken. Few oil filters today are vertically mounted. Trying to fill a horizontally mounted filter can only lead to a big mess. Oil filters should be mounted by hand SNUGLY, not tightly. Doing so can compress the gasket and cause a disastrous leak. OEM oil viscosity is for NEW engines only. The more odometer miles, the more the wear and the greater need for higher (thicker oil) viscosity. 10W-30 usually ain’t going to get it for a Chevy or a NIssan with 270,000 miles. We’re talking 20W-50 folks. (10W-40 is so inadequate, GM almost moved to revoke their warranty if they caught anyone using it) Avoid tightening your drain plug more than “snug”, especially on today’s cars with aluminum oil pans. It’s too easy to “strip” the threaded orifice and force the replacement of the entire oil pan. Big bucks ! None of the 3 topics I have commented on are beyond the means of any friendly individual of the feminine persuasion. A friend of mine (44-24-34) did ALL her own work on her Corvette to include underneath. It’s simply attitude girls, don’t be afraid. Lastly, add only the quantity of oil as specified by the manufacturer. Once you start your engine, it can hold as much as a quart in the topside of the engine for as much as 4 hours. Always try to check your engine oil cold and on a level surface.

2 Bert { 03.01.12 at 9:23 pm }

I can’t believe you need to explain such a basic process

3 steve { 03.01.12 at 10:35 am }

Even with a heavy floor jack, you need to use support stands. Never get under a car using a jack only.

4 LFinTexas { 02.29.12 at 7:17 pm }

Something no one mentioned. When putting on the new filter, be very careful that it’s matching up with the threads correctly! My late husband (a mechanic) always said the filters were fairly easy to cross-thread if you’re not careful.

5 cord { 02.29.12 at 10:30 am }

Very important piece of information left out. Your car must be parked on a level surface.

6 Dale { 02.28.12 at 5:14 pm }

I would also add, after you get the new oil in and it is reasonable on the stick, start the engine and let it run for a couple minutes. The oil light will come on while the oil filter is filling up, usually a few seconds. If the oil light stays on, turn off the engine and make sure you put the oil filter on tight. Check the level on the stick again as well. Of all the vehicles I have ever changed oil in, I have never seen one stay on longer than 5 or 6 seconds.

After the engine runs a couple minutes, cut it off and let it sit a couple minutes. Check the oil again. Mine usually drops about a half quart since that is what is in the oil filter now. Larger filters can hold more, smaller ones hold less.

Also, don’t overfill and allow for the car not being level if needed. I love when the stick is located about the middle of the engine. It just works.

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