How to Change Oil in a Car

February 21, 2012

Of all DIY automotive skills, learning how to change oil in a car is one of the simplest. Learn the basics of oil changes and oil change cleanup.

Changing Oil in a Car

Knowing how to change oil in a car can save you some money. The savings can range from a few bucks or close to $100 per 3000 miles.

For best results, you'll need to gather some information before getting started:

  • The Oil pan drain plug size
  • Your oil filter model number
  • Whether you need a special wrench to access the filter
  • The location of your oil filter and oil pan
  • The suggested oil grade (e.g. 10W-40), type (e.g. synthetic), and amount (e.g. 5.5 liters)

Another quick warning: Under no circumstances should you get under your vehicle without utilizing appropriately placed jack stands or ramps and wheel chocks.

These instructions will differ slightly for most vehicles, but the main process will remain the same. Always check your owner's manual first for any specific warnings or special requirements before attempting any sort of maintenance.

Required Tools and Materials

  • Rags
  • Something to catch the used oil in
  • Oil
  • An oil Filter
  • A ½-inch ratchet and appropriate socket for your oil pan drain plug
  • A strap wrench or other appropriate wrench for removing an oil filter
  • A torque wrench (optional)

Set up Everything
Once you have the necessary supplies and tools, park the vehicle on a hard flat surface that is free of oncoming traffic. A garage or private driveway is preferred. Be sure that the vehicle has had time to cool if you were driving for an extended period of time. If the vehicle has cooled down completely, allow the engine to run for a few minutes to warm the oil a little.

Jack up the Car
Utilizing proper jack points (see owner's manual) raise the vehicle high enough to place its weight onto jack stands or pull the vehicle onto ramps and place wheel chocks behind the rear tires.

Open the Fill Cap and Drain Plug
Once the vehicle is properly raised and stable, open the hood and loosen the oil filler cap, but leave it in place to avoid getting contaminants in the engine.

Place the catch pan underneath the oil pan and remove the plug. Be careful, as the oil might still be warm, and it will come out fast.

Change the Filter
When the oil is finished draining, or has reduced to a light drip, remove the oil filter and place it to the side. Lubricate the plastic ring on the new filter with clean oil and install the new oil filter.

Replace the Plug and Add Oil
By this time, the oil should be completely drained. Replace the plug in the oil pan. If possible, torque the bolt the manufacturer's suggested tightness. Add the engine oil, one quart at a time, checking the see if there is an adequate amount between quarts. This is a good time to check for leaks under the vehicle as well.

Once the dipstick indicates an appropriate level of engine oil, tighten the oil filler cap on the top of the engine.

Lower the Car and Check Oil Level
Lower the vehicle to the ground and check the oil level. Start your engine, let it run for a few minutes and check the dipstick again. Add oil if necessary.

That's it. You just successfully changed your oil and saved a few dollars at the same time. Again every vehicle is different, so consult your owner's manual or call your dealership for additional information.

Oil Change Cleanup Basics

After a successful home oil change, it's important to think about how to correctly clean up the area and dispose of all old motor oil. Motor oil is hazardous waste, because just a little of it can contaminate a lot of ground water. Here are some basic steps for avoiding a lot of spillage and cleaning the area up to make it look good after an oil change.

Wipe off Engine Surfaces
If you have spilled oil on the engine or around the cap, go over these areas with a rag.

Take Care of Any Ground Spills
Again, there shouldn't be any ground spillage of motor oil, but it sometimes happens. When motor oil spills on the ground, quickly cover it with a clean up car litter compound that can soak up some of the oil. When the compound has absorbed the oil, brush it all into a container and find a safe place to put it (that doesn't leach into your groundwater). For oil spills that happen over time, like oil leaks from older vehicles, brush the area with hot, soapy water and use the car clean up compound to soak up the residue.

Pour Old Motor Oil into Containers
Here is where it comes in handy to have a few basic objects on hand. One is a long, shallow drain pan that you can use to make sure the oil flows into a safe container when you open the oil nut on the bottom of the vehicle's tank. When the oil is safely in the drain pan, another item can come in really handy: a funnel. It may help to have a helper handy: one person can hold the funnel and the receiving container upright while the other person pours in the old oil. You can actually use the old oil containers for storing the used oil, with a funnel to get the oil back into them without a lot of spills.

Dispose of the Old Oil and Filter
With today's emphasis on keeping the environment healthy, a lot of local oil recycling centers have sprung up around the country. Use resources like the American Petroleum Institute to find collection centers for your used motor oil. Never dump out the used oil. it is dangerous to the environment, and against many local ordinances as well. You could get fined for pouring away the used oil into the local groundwater.