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DIY Auto: Changing Your Car's Oil

by Matthew Young


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Recurring preventative maintenance is required to keep an automobile in good condition and to optimize fuel economy. Although some preventative tasks require expensive shop equipment and advanced knowledge, others, like a basic oil change are simple for even a beginning do-it-yourself hobbyist. Considering the cost of labor, completing a basic oil change in your garage can be not only satisfying but also cost effective. Outlined below are the basics of a do-it-yourself oil change.

Time Required: 1 hour

Materials Needed: Oil and Filter

Read your owner's manual carefully and select a grade of oil (5w-20 or 10w-30 for example) that is appropriate based on manufacturer's recommendations and season. Likewise, buy the manufacturer's recommended oil filter.

Equipment Required: Wrench or socket set/ratchet handle to fit 1/2" or 14mm bolts or slightly larger, oil pan, rag, and ramps/jack stands (optional).

When you are ready, drive your car around the block a couple of times to warm the oil up. If the engine is hot, you should wait as the oil you drain can be very hot. You want it to be warm but not hazardous. When the engine is warm to the touch, crawl under the car and identify the oil plug. Find the wrench or socket that fits the plug and loosen it slightly. Grab your oil pan and position it so that when you back the plug all the way out, the oil will drain into the pan. Drain all the oil into the pan.

Now is the time to replace the filter if needed. Find the filter on the engine and unscrew it. Don't worry if you can't catch all of the oil that drains out of it, that's what the rag is for. Wipe some oil on the gasket of the new filter and screw it in place with as much force as you can generate by hand. This is enough torque.

By now, all the oil has drained out. Put the plug back in the bottom of the engine. Torque it down snug. Gather up all the tools and climb out from under the car.

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Using your funnel, pour about half of the specified oil quantity in the engine. Stop and make sure no oil is running out the bottom. Continue to fill the engine until about half of the last quart remains. Making sure all tools and equipment are clear of the engine, start the motor. Immediately check to see that no oil is running out the bottom of the car. Assuming there isn't a leak, back the car off the ramps. Shut it down and check the oil level using the dipstick. Add the last half of the quart as needed. 

Once accustomed to the process, a basic oil change can be completed in about 30 minutes. A savings between $25 and $75 is expected over taking the car to a shop. The basic oil change is a perfect job for the cost-conscious car owner with an interest in performing preventative maintenance tasks at home.

Reviewed May 2017


Matthew Young is an automotive reporter from Boston. As a freelance journalist with a passion for vehicles, Matthew writes about everything on 4 wheels, be it racecars, SUVs, vintage cars, you name it. When he is not at his desk writing, he can usually be found helping his dad in the garage. You can reach Matthew @mattbeardyoung.

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