Changing your own engine oil and filter can be a great way to get started on doing some car maintenance yourself. But your first do-it-yourself car maintenance can be intimidating. While there are only a few steps to perform an engine oil and filter change, it’s vital that they are done right. So, today I am going to give you the six most important things (plus a bonus tip) you need to know when changing your own oil.
Auto maintenance and repair specialist The Humble Mechanic gives his tips for changing your own oil.
Originally published September, 2016.
Hey everybody, it’s Charles from HumbleMechanic.com and today I’m going to talk about the things you’ve got to know before tackling your very first oil change.
Changing your own oil in your car is an easy way to get into doing your own car maintenance. But if you’re not a DIYer, it’s also really important to understand the process and what it takes to change the oil. Doing maintenance on your car for the first time can be a little bit scary. Changing oil is actually pretty easy and it’s only a few steps, but it’s vital that these steps are done correctly. Not doing them correctly can result in something simple like an oil leak or even catastrophic engine failure. This is also going to be a great opportunity to check your coolant level, check your washer fluid, check your power-steering fluid, as well as your brake fluid. So here are the things that you’ve got to know before you start.
Number one is buying the right stuff. Going into the part store can be overwhelming with all of the choices. There’s tons of different oils and filters for you to pick from. When it comes to buying the right oil you need to make sure you’re getting what your vehicle requires. Best resource for that can be the owner’s book for your car. Flip to the page that talks about oil and use the recommended oil. It’s important that if your vehicle engine was designed for synthetic oil that you use that. If it doesn’t say it needs synthetic, you can go ahead and get mineral-based oil. The big takeaways: make sure you’re buying the right weight oil — so if it requires 5w30 you’re buying that — and whether or not it requires synthetic.
We also want to make sure we’re getting the correct filter for our car. The engines are designed with the OEM filter in mind, but there’s also a lot of great aftermarket filters as well. Generally, when I’m buying an aftermarket filter, I always get the best one of the series. Even from the same manufacturer, filters can be very different. Some vehicles even have a filter that requires a seal replacement, so you want to make sure that, if it does require a seal replacement, that you get a filter that comes with the new seal. And don’t forget to get a new crush washer for your drain plug.
Number two is having the right tools. Just like doing any job, having the proper tools is really important. You don’t want to be halfway through a job and realize you don’t have the right stuff and have to make a run to the store. A few of the tools that you generally need in order to do an oil change are going to be: something to remove the drain plug — either a wrench or a ratchet; a tool used to remove the oil filter; a drain pan to drain the oil into; some towels for cleanup; a funnel to make filling the engine a little bit easier; and, no job like this would be complete without plenty of safety equipment.
It’s also important to mention that many modern vehicles also have a splash shield, or some kind of shield on the bottom of the car that may need to be removed, so you’re going to want to take that into account as well.
Number three: Drain the right fluid. This is one that I have seen done wrong a lot, both by amateurs/DIYers and professionals. It can be a little bit confusing if you’ve never been underneath the vehicle to figure out which one the engine is and which one the transmission is. The best advice is open the hood, look down, find the fill cap. If it’s on the passenger side, the drain plug should be on the passenger side of the vehicle. If it’s o the driver’s side, well, that’s your engine, so it should be on the driver’s side. If you’re not 100 percent sure, consult the manual for your vehicle and be sure you drain the right fluid.
What happens when you drain the wrong fluid, is you are draining all the fluid out of the transmission and double filling the engine oil. Typically, the plug on the engine and the drain plug on the transmission look very different. Every once in a while, you’ll come across one that looks very similar, so just be sure that you’re draining the engine oil, not the transmission fluid. And when it comes to draining fluids, make sure that the drain pan that we talked about a minute ago is big enough to hold all the oil.
Number four: Proper tightening. We need to take great care to make sure that we’re tightening our drain plug, tightening our oil filter properly. Tightening it too much — over-tightening it — can cause damage to the drain plug or damage to the oil pan. We can also damage the oil filter or oil filter housing if we tighten the oil filter too tight. This can also make it really hard to get the oil filter off the next time we change the oil. We also want to make sure that we’re not leaving it too loose. Leaving it too lose can result in something as simple as an oil leak or can actually result in catastrophic engine failure.
So I have a tip; this is the tip I give to anyone talking about doing oil changes — even professional technicians: Never, ever, ever walk away from a loose drain plug. It’s either all the way installed and torqued, or completely out of the vehicle. If you half-turn it in and then walk away that’s generally the point where you get distracted and the neighbor comes over to chit-chat with you or the dog gets out, and then you forget. Now you have a best-case scenario, an oil leak; worst-case scenario, you’re replacing an engine. So, I recommend using a torque wrench to be sure you get everything tightened properly.
Number Five: Be sure to set the oil level correctly. Once you’re done and replace the oil filter and drain plug, it’s time to fill it with oil. Pouring oil slow or using a funnel is a great way to help prevent oil spills. Once you have the approximate amount of oil in it, go ahead and start the car up and let it run for a few minutes. Then, shut it off, let it sit for about a minute. That’s going to allow the oil to drain back in the oil pan. After sitting for about a minute, pull the dipstick out, clean it off, reinstall it, and pull it back out and check the oil level. Most vehicles have a min/max setting for the dipstick. You want to make sure that the oil level is in that range. You don’t want it to be too full and you don’t want it to be under filled. And if you’re not sure, go ahead and check it a second time.
And the big, most important thing here is, be sure you’re checking this on level ground. If the vehicle is at any kind of angle, it can distort the oil level reading on the dipstick and cause you to add more oil than you should, or not put enough oil in the engine.
Number Six: Cleanup and disposal. Once we’re all done with our oil change, it’s time to take that old oil, that old oil filter, and dispose of it. Now, you don’t want to just dump it in the drain. You don’t want to pour it out in the backyard or throw the oil filter in the trash. We need to make sure these items are properly recycled. One of the things I like to do is buy the big jug of oil and put my old oil back in it when I’m done. Then, I can just take this to either an auto parts store or a service station and ask them if they’ll recycle it for me. It’s also a good idea to put the filter in a plastic bag or something so you don’t wind up with oil all over your trunk. But when you go there ask them and make sure that is something that they’ll do for you. Almost all places would much rather recycle this for you than simply have you dump it down the drain. And be sure you don’t store oily rags. Having piles of oily rags can actually be a fire hazard, so make sure you have that stuff recycled as well.
And I have a bonus for you guys: Be sure you’re working very safe. Always make sure you’re lifting the vehicle properly. Having an on jack stands or on vehicle ramps is a great way to keep yourself safe. Also, make sure you’re wearing safety glasses or gloves. Hot oil in your eye is a very, very bad time.
So, it’s time to celebrate; high fives all around, guys. Great job and hey, one more thing: Don’t forget to record the mileage and date you did the oil change so you know when the next one’s due.
Alright, I’m going to wrap it up there. If you guys have any oil change-related questions, post it down in the comments section. If you want to see more of my videos, head over a HumbleMechanic.com. You can also follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and of course, on YouTube. All right guys, hey, thanks for watching and I’ll see you next time.