DIY Car Maintenance - How to Change Your Car Oil Yourself

A DIY oil change can be quick, tidy and you’ll save big.

One of the most critical maintenance chores for cars is changing the oil regularly. Learn how to change your own oil quickly and without getting too dirty. You'll save money and extend the life of your car by thousands of miles.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Overview

Changing the oil in your car is something that any DIYer can do. Although changing the oil might appear rather “duh,” there are still a lot of folks doing it wrong, making it an ugly chore or overpaying for oil changes they could do themselves. Plus, it’s the single most important task you can do to make your engine last.

Changing your own oil isn’t brain surgery—you probably did it yourself years ago. But with oil change shops charging more and more, it’s time to get back under the car and start saving big bucks. Plus, you won’t be pressured into buying overpriced add-ons (like wiper blades and PCV valves) every time you go in for a change. We’ll show you how to change your oil fast and painlessly. And we’ll show you some tips you may not know about.

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Buy the right oil and filter

Before you head off to the auto parts store, consult your owner’s manual for the type and weight of oil specific to your vehicle. It’s especially important to follow the carmaker’s recommendations for oil viscosity. That’s a big change from the old DIY days. Late-model engines rely on oil pressure to regulate valve timing and apply the proper tension to the timing belt or chain. Substituting your personal preference for the manufacturer’s recommendations can result in engine damage, poor performance and even a “Check Engine” warning.

Don’t skimp on a filter
In the old days, oil filters were all pretty much the same inside. But not anymore. If your owner’s manual recommends extended oil change intervals (every 6,000 miles instead of 3,000 miles), you must buy a filter that’s rated to go the distance. In other words, don’t fill your engine with expensive synthetic oil and then spin on an economy filter—it won’t last. Check the filter box, ask the store clerk, or check the filter manufacturer’s Web site to make sure the filter you buy is rated for extended oil change intervals.  

There’s a huge difference between an economy filter and a top-of-the-line version. But there’s only a small difference in price. If you use conventional oil and diligently change it every 3,000 miles, you can get by with the economy filter. But if you regularly “forget” and go beyond that mileage or use long-mileage synthetic blends or full synthetic, spend the extra bucks on a better filter. Look at these cutaway filters and you can see why the premium filter is a better choice.

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Changing oil the fast way

If you get all your ducks in a row, you’ll be done in about 20 minutes. Start by spreading plastic sheeting on the ground. Then drive your car on top of it. That will eliminate all oil spill cleanup work since you can just toss the entire sheet when you’re done, or keep it for the next change if you’re lucky enough to go spill-free. Jack up the car, set the jack stands in place, and lower the car. If you’re on asphalt, place squares of plywood under the jack stands for support.

Place all your tools on a tray or in a box so everything you need is in one place. That means a box-end wrench for the drain plug, a rubber mallet (Photo 1), a filter wrench, a drain pan and the new filter. Before you slide it all under the car, open a new oil bottle and smear clean oil on the new filter’s gasket. Then you’re ready to start the job.

Remove the drain plug and get the old oil flowing. Then remove the oil filter and install the new one. Once the old oil is down to a trickle, install a new gasket on the plug (if required) and tighten it by tapping the box-end wrench with the rubber mallet. Wipe the drips with a rag and you’re done under the car.

Oil Changing Tips From the Experts

  • If the engine is cold, start it and let it run for five minutes to warm the oil. If it’s hot, wait at least 30 minutes to avoid getting burned.
  • Never use an adjustable wrench or socket on the drain plug. Use the properly sized box-end wrench, usually metric, for the plug.
  • Always use jack stands. Never work under a car that’s supported by a jack only.
  • Use new oil to coat the oil filter gasket before spinning it on.
  • Always hand-tighten the filter. Never use a filter wrench.
  • Find an oil/oil filter recycling center near you by visiting earth911.com or doing an internet search.
  • Line up all the oil bottles you’ll need for the fill so you don’t lose count along the way.

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Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • Rags
  • Rubber mallet
  • Safety glasses
  • Wrench set

You'll also need an oil filter wrench, a funnel and oil pan.

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

  • Engine oil
  • Oil filter
  • Oil filter gasket
  • Container for used oil