How to Change Your Oil at Home

Man leaning against an orange car in a driveway

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Your car depends on oil to lubricate the engine’s moving parts. Without it, your commute wouldn’t be possible. You can head to a mechanic for this service or learn how to change oil in your driveway. Fortunately, you don’t have to be an automotive expert to get the job done. 

Here’s a comprehensive guide demonstrating how to do an oil change, when to change oil and other critical tips. 

How to Change Oil by Yourself

Figuring out how to change your oil requires the right tools and a little confidence. Here are the 10 essential oil change steps for an easy DIY project. 

1. Choose Your Motor Oil and Filter

First, determine which oil is best for your engine. Your hot rod may require a specific type of oil, so checking the owner’s manual is critical to see the most appropriate selection. 

Conventional motor oil is what you’ll see in the average car because of its viscosity and quality options. Companies manufacture this oil by refining crude oil extracted from the ground. Therefore, it may contain more impurities than other options on the shelves.

Another option is synthetic oil, which requires more chemical engineering than conventional oil. Synthetic oil is worthwhile because it withstands temperatures between 0°F and 100°F and protects your engine. This blend also reduces tailpipe emissions.

2. Assemble Your Supplies

Learning how to do an oil change is an easy DIY project that usually takes less than an hour. Fortunately, you don’t need many tools to get the job done. Your hands will do most of the work, so grab the following supplies to make the day more manageable:

  • Car jack: The location of your oil drain plug is usually under the car. Thus, you may need a jack to elevate your vehicle and make this task easier. 
  • Wheel chocks: Chocks keep your car in place as you elevate it. 
  • Socket wrenches: You’ll need wrenches to unscrew the drain plug and the oil filter. 
  • Funnel: A funnel means you’ll have an easier time pouring the new oil inside the engine. 
  • Oil filter: Your old oil filter will be dirty, so get a new one and prepare to replace it. 
  • Drain pan: Removing the oil unleashes this fluid from your vehicle. Have a drain pan or a bucket ready to capture the old oil. The last thing you want is lingering smells in your clothes after an oil change. 
  • Rags: Your hands also need protection, so get some old rags, washcloths or socks to wipe. 
Pile of rags on a workbench

3. Find Your Workspace

When learning how to change oil for the first time, you want a conducive workspace. Before you turn wrenches, it’s essential to pick your ideal location. The garage is an excellent pick because it’s a man’s safe haven. The driveway will also work fine if you have plenty of space. 

Avoid changing your oil on the grass or near to the natural ground. This task is dangerous for the environment, especially when you release the old oil from your vehicle. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says oil contaminates waterways and pollutes drinking water sources. 

4. Elevate Your Vehicle

Once your workspace is ready, it’s time to start the first oil change steps. If you have a lifted truck, you might not need to elevate your vehicle. However, traditional sedans and other machines are too low to fit your body underneath. You need a car jack to elevate your vehicle.

Engage your parking brake and place chocks around the tires to keep the vehicle still. Your car should have a designated spot for your jack. Once the jack is in place, lift the automobile until you have enough room to fit your body underneath. For safety reasons, don’t let anybody under the car while using the jack.  

5. Remove Your Oil Plug

You must remove the old oil before replacing it with a fresh batch. If you haven’t already, find the location of your oil drain plug. The precise spot may vary by the make and model, but you can usually find it underneath the engine. Search for an object that looks like a plug. 

Before you unscrew the oil plug, prepare your drain pan to catch the old fluid. Oil will pour from your vehicle quickly, so it’s wise to be vigilant. If the weather is cold, your oil may have difficulty coming out, so crank up the car for a few minutes before turning it off and draining.  

6. Drain the Old Oil

When ready, unscrew the drain plug and ensure the oil pours into the correct location. The fluid should come out fairly quickly, so don’t fret if you accidentally get some onto your hands. Gloves, a long-sleeved shirt and safety glasses are optional additions to your project wardrobe. 

Be patient as the fluid pours from your vehicle. How long do you need to let the oil drain? The exact time depends on the size of your engine. Smaller motors usually have less oil and need less time to drain. Wait until there’s about a minute between drips before you call it quits. 

Car oil in a pan

7. Replace the Old Oil Filter

When is the best time to change your oil filter? Align this task with your oil change on your car maintenance schedule to make life easier. This small part is important because it removes the contaminants from your oil as you drive. Conventional oil benefits from the filter because of the impurities. 

Learning how to change the oil filter is easier when carrying a wrench. Some people can get away with their hands, but tools are the most straightforward option. Loosen the filter with a wrench and remove the old one. The object will be messy, so have your gloves and rags ready for handling.

8. Add the New Oil

Now, it’s the moment you’ve been waiting for. You can come out from underneath the vehicle and pour the new oil into your engine. Because motors have different requirements, determine the correct amount of oil you need for your engine. It will likely need 4 to 6 quarts, so check the owner’s manual. 

Place the funnel into the spot where your engine receives the oil. Slowly pour the fluid into your motor and refill to your engine’s needs. This task may take a few minutes, so be patient while pouring. Once complete, put the oil cap back and close the engine’s hood. The meat of your job is now over.  

9. Crank the Engine

Before heading out, you should test the engine and let the oil lubricate the moving parts. Crank the motor and let your car sit still for about five minutes. The running engine increases your oil pressure and supplies oil to the rest of the internal components.

Cranking the engine also lets you review your work for any potential mishaps. For example, leaks may be around the oil filter or your plug. Check each location for spillage and turn the car off if you see any. Re-screw each object to ensure they adequately protect your oil. 

10. Recycle the Old Oil

Replacing a few quarts of oil means plenty of old fluid sitting in a drain pan. What can you do with the old oil? Don’t dispose of it at home because it’s too flammable and toxic to pour down the drain. You also risk a hefty fine because throwing away oil at home is illegal. 

Recycling your motor oil is the most sustainable option. While oil is a non-renewable resource, it can have some purpose after it leaves your vehicle. The EPA says companies can refine used motor oil into new oil and prevent the fluid from contaminating the environment. Recycling also reduces the amount of oil polluting the environment. 

How to Do an Oil Change Easier 

If you learn how to change oil for the first time, getting some pro tips will make the assignment easier. Here are a few lesser-known tips to get your car back on the road. 

  • Don’t burn yourself: Warming your engine thins the oil and makes it come out faster from the drain. However, you could burn yourself if it’s too hot. Crank the engine for just a minute or two before draining. 
  • Wear old clothes: Oil changes can get messy even for seasoned mechanics, so don’t wear your finest suit under the car. Grab an old T-shirt and raggedy jeans for the task. 
  • Use your hands: While the wrench is important, you don’t need it for every task. For instance, reconnecting the oil filter requires your hands because the wrench may go overboard.  
  • Wisely tighten: You want the drain plug and oil filter to be tight, but you shouldn’t overdo it. If you tighten too much, the oil pan, bolt and threads could become damaged. 
  • Wield the dipstick: The dipstick isn’t completely necessary, but it can go a long way in your at-home oil change. This object determines your engine’s oil levels and makes refilling easier. 

When to Change Oil

Remembering to change your oil is one of the most critical tasks for car maintenance. You’ll see it in your car’s performance if you forget to change your oil. To make scheduling easier, mark down the mileage each time you do this maintenance yourself. So, when are you supposed to change your oil?

How Long Does Motor Oil Last?

The oil in your car doesn’t necessarily wear after driving a few thousand miles. However, it gets dirty because of the outside contaminants entering your vehicle. Dust, dirt, pollen and other tiny objects get past the oil filter and compromise the fluid’s performance. So, when should you consider a change? 

When to change your oil depends on your make and model, especially how old the car is. Older vehicles need an oil change every 3,000 miles to be safe. However, newer cars are more efficient and can last between 7,500 and 10,000 miles. Your owner’s manual gives the best information for this maintenance. 

How Long Does the Oil Filter Last?

The oil filter contributes to the oil’s life span. So, when do you need to change the oil filter? The timeline depends on your oil and the quality of your filter. High-quality selections for both can mean you won’t need to change it for a long time. 

A conservative approach entails changing your oil filter when refilling the car with new oil. Some car guys have enough faith in their oil and filter to wait for every other oil change. The best advice comes from your owner’s manual or a mechanic with experience working on your make and model. 

When Do You Need to Change Differential Oil? 

Your motor oil isn’t the only fluid needing a change. Another one needing attention is inside your gearbox. Differential oil lubricates the gears and minimizes wear when shifting. Whether automatic or manual, your transmission needs excellent lubrication to protect your vehicle. 

Check your owner’s manual to see how often you need to change your differential oil. This task isn’t as often as a regular oil change, so you won’t have to worry about it every month. Some auto experts refer to this fluid as your gear oil, so remember the name when you look around in stores.

What Other Changes Should You Learn?

Knowing how to change your oil is critical, but there are other DIY tasks you should know for your vehicle. Here are some more changes to add to your car maintenance list. 

1. Transmission Fluid

Don’t confuse gear oil with transmission fluid, although mixing them up is easy. This essential fluid lubricates the transmission system and protects it from outside contaminants. You typically use transmission fluid for automatic transmissions and gear oil for stick-shift cars. 

2. Coolant

Coolant is essential for regulating engine temperature, especially during hot summer days. Your motor uses coolant — a water and antifreeze mixture — to stay below the boiling point and operate smoothly. The engine also needs coolant to remain above freezing when it’s cold. 

3. Power Steering Fluid

Even the world’s strongest humans would struggle to turn a car without power steering fluid. This component connects your steering wheel to the front wheels and assists in navigation. Without it, you get an intense arm workout every time you hit the road. 

4. Transfer Case Fluid

Fluids are needed throughout your vehicle, including the axles. Four-wheel drive (4WD) and all-wheel drive (AWD) machines have a gearbox that provides power to the driven axles. You need to change your transfer case fluid if you drive off-road vehicles because they face more wear and tear.  

How to Change Oil at Home and Save a Trip

Car maintenance is crucial but can be expensive, considering the different tasks. What jobs should you do at home to save money? The first is learning how to do an oil change alone. Use about an hour of your day to change your oil and learn a new skill.  

Car driving down a coastal road

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