If you want to save money on car care, learning how to change your car’s oil is a great place to start. Not only does this relatively simple job require few parts and tools, but it’ll save you the time and hassle of waiting on a repair shop. Plus, there’s nothing like the satisfaction of doing car maintenance yourself.
However, if you’re new to DIY car care or a little rusty on the basics, changing your oil may feel like a daunting task. That’s why we’ve compiled this complete, step-by-step guide with the help of our mechanics to help you change your oil like a pro. Read on to learn how it’s done and make sure you’ve got all the materials you’ll need.
Additional tools you may need:
Step-by-Step Oil Change Instructions
Step 1: Find a flat, level surface where you can park your car.
With most trucks and SUVs you can crawl underneath without any additional equipment, but with most other cars you will need ramps or a jack and jack stands.
Pro Tip: If you have to jack up your car, make sure you engage the parking brake so it doesn’t roll anywhere!
Step 2: Find your dipstick.
Open the hood of your vehicle. The hood release is usually located in the driver’s footwell on the left side. Find your engine oil dipstick and lift it up about two inches. This will help the oil drain faster later on.
Step 3: Find your oil pan.
Get your wrench and oil catch pan together and crawl under your vehicle. Find your vehicle’s oil pan. It is usually about 2-3 feet back from the front of your car, but check your owner’s manual for the exact location.
In the oil pan, there will be a bolt called the oil drain plug bolt. It will be near the lowest point of the oil pan. Set your oil catch pan up underneath the oil drain plug.
Step 4: Loosen the drain plug using the correct wrench or socket, but don’t completely remove it.
By hand, carefully unthread and remove the drain plug, being cautious that the oil may be very hot. Sit back and let the old oil drain for several minutes.
After the old oil has drained out, wipe down the oil pan and drain plug with a clean rag.
Step 5: Reinstall the drain plug.
Reinstall the cleaned drain plug into the oil pan making sure to start it by hand to prevent cross-threading. Tighten it with the same wrench or socket used to loosen it.
Pro Tip: be careful not to overtighten, as you can accidentally strip the threads in the drain pan.
Step 6: Replace your oil filter.
First, find your vehicle’s oil filter by consulting your owner’s manual for the exact location. Next, reposition your oil catch pan, making sure not to spill any oil, so that it is right underneath the oil filter.
Remove the old oil filter. Sometimes, you may need to wipe off any oil or road grime from your filter with a shop rag. If worst comes to worst and you can’t get it off, you may need to pick up an oil filter wrench to get some leverage on it.
Pro Tip: You may need to purchase and install a whole new oil filter. Don’t worry! Oil filters are not terribly expensive, and your vehicle’s owner’s manual should give you a pretty good idea of what type of filter you will need.
Dunk your finger in a bit of new oil and rub a light coating of oil around the gasket of the new oil filter. This will ensure that it seats smoothly and provides a good seal.
Install the new oil filter by hand according to the directions in your oil filter box. Again, be careful not to over tighten.
Step 7: Fill up the oil reservoir.
Under your hood, find your oil fill cap. Before filling it up, check your owner’s manual for the correct oil amount and viscosity. Use a funnel to pour in the new oil.
Put the oil fill cap back on and seat the oil dipstick you moved in Step 3.
Step 8: Check for leaks.
Start your engine and inspect under the vehicle for any oil leaks, paying special attention to the oil drain plug and oil filter. If any leaks are visible, shut off the engine, repair the leaks, and repeat the leak inspection as necessary.
Shut off the engine and let the oil settle for a minute. Inspect underneath the vehicle for any leaks as the oil settles.
If you had to raise your vehicle, safely lower it to level ground.
Remove and clean the oil dipstick, reinsert it, and remove it again to check the oil level. See owner’s manual for recommended oil level on dipstick. FIXD wrote an article outlining exactly how to check your oil levels to make it easy for you! Reinsert oil dipstick when you are done.
Pour the used motor oil from the oil catch pan into the empty motor oil container. Take the used motor oil to your local auto parts store to be recycled.
Why Does Your Car Need Oil?
So, what does motor oil do for your engine? A lot of things. Motor oil is as important to your engine as blood is to your body. Just like blood, oil is a complex fluid that acts as a lifeline for all of your car’s most important functions.
Oil acts as a lubricant for all of those moving metal parts inside your engine. When you have a lot of metal-on-metal friction at really high speeds, it can cause a lot of wear and tear on your engine and produce a lot of heat. The reason that there is oil pumped between every moving component is to ensure that there is minimal friction between the internal parts, and to keep them moving together effortlessly.
Motor oil absorbs the heat produced by friction, and helps to cool the engine down and prevent overheating. It also picks up any dirt, grime, or foreign particles in the engine and takes them to the oil filter, which will catch those nasty particles and make sure they don’t damage your vehicle.
What Type Of Motor Oil Does My Vehicle Need?
This is a very important question, and it deserves a well researched and definite answer. However, the truth is that without knowing your exact vehicle, we can’t tell you definitively which oil is best for you. But DO NOT worry, FIXD is not leaving you at all in the dark!
When searching for the right oil, you will be confronted with a lot of confusing sciency words that probably make very little sense to you! To help you out, we have gone ahead and written specific articles that break down everything you need to know! Don’t know what viscosity means or why all of the motor oils in the stores have some weird combination of letters and numbers on their label? Don’t worry about it! Confused as to what the difference between synthetic and conventional oil is? We’ve got you covered! The important thing to remember is to not be intimidated by all of this information, and to use it as tool that will help you keep your car in tip-top shape.
How Often Should I Change My Oil?
Motor oil is a complex fluid that breaks down over time, becoming less and less effective each time you start your car. Once the oil breaks down, it will begin to thicken. Thickened oil can’t move through your car’s engine very well, which means less lubrication for any moving parts. The oil will also be less effective at absorbing the heat created by the increased friction, causing your engine to run much hotter than it should. All of this can cause your engine to function improperly, and eventually even break down! This is why it is important for you to consistently change your motor oil.
While in the past the general rule was that you needed to change your oil every 3,000 miles, because of advances in modern oil types and oil filters, that is no longer the case. Now, most mechanics say you can wait until you’ve reached around 7,500 miles before you have to change your oil. The timeline for when to change your motor oil can vary drastically depending on your specific vehicle, so the most efficient way to determine when you should change your oil is by consulting your handy owner’s manual. It should be able to give you the most accurate timeline.
Having trouble remembering when your last oil change was? FIXD can help! Use the Maintenance Timeline in the free app to get automatic alerts when it’s time for your next oil change, based on your specific make, model, and mileage.
We’re dedicated to empowering drivers to learn more about the inner workings of their vehicle, while also keeping their cars safely on the road. Knowing how to change your motor oil and feeling more knowledgeable is important, and if you as a car owner are feeling inspired, we encourage you to give changing your own oil a shot!
However, it would be wrong of us to tell you that you will save a bunch of money by doing it yourself. After doing extensive research and talking to some professional mechanics, we learned that the financial benefits of changing your own oil at home are relatively small, and in some cases nonexistent.
Nowadays, most mechanics and body shops do not charge much for an oil change, and truthfully, they more of use oil changes as a way to get customers in the door as opposed to an actual profit-making service. The benefit of having a certified mechanic change your oil is that you can be sure it was done right, and you avoid all of the tedious steps involved in doing it yourself. Changing your own oil at home can be very messy, and the cost of accidently doing something wrong could lead to serious health problems for your vehicle in the future.
This all being said, whether you decide to change your oil at home or at the shop, its always good to stay informed about the state of your vehicle, and understanding its inner workings will definitely help you save money in the long run!
Wife, mom, Content Manager & Senior Copywriter at FIXD. From the garage to the gym, I love helping people learn and grow. Dream car: ‘69 Acapulco Blue Mustang.