Step-by-Step Guide on How to Perform an Oil Change on Your Car

One of the most effective ways of saving money on car maintenance is to change the oil yourself. The engine oil has to be replaced every 3,000 to 5,000 miles, and it is a relatively simple task. Changing your own oil will also give you a chance to understand how your car works, which can be very useful in the event of minor breakdowns.

The frequency of oil change is different for every vehicle; it also depends on te type of oil you use. Some engine oil (e.g. synthetic oil) can last longer on mileage before the need of replacement.

Step 1 - Gather Materials and Tools

The first step in performing an oil change on your car is to gather the necessary materials and tools. The most important materials you will need are the correct amount of the right type of oil and the proper oil filter. You will be able to find all of this information in the owner's manual for your car, which will include sections on checking and changing the oil.

Alternately, you will be able to find the materials you need with some basic information about your car: the year, make, model and engine size. You can plug this information into an online search engine, or you can take it to an auto parts store to look it up there. The biggest difficulty you will face is finding the oil filter you need because they have no standardized part numbers. The part number for identical oil filters differs with each brand, and not every auto parts store stocks the same brands.

While you are at the store gathering your supplies, it is a good time to ensure that you have all of the tools you will need to change your oil safely:

  • Car jack and two jack stands or two ramps
  • Box-end wrench that fits your oil-drain plug
  • Oil-filter wrench
  • Large drain pan or tub
  • Oil funnel
  • Rags or old towels

Step 2 - Jack Up the Car

After you have all of the tools and materials listed above, you are ready to begin the oil-change process. The first step is to jack up the front end of your car. If you have only the small jack for changing tires that came with your car, you can do this one side at a time with the use of your jack stands, which should be placed in the jack points on the underside of the frame just behind the front wheels.

If you have a hydraulic jack like those used at automotive shops, you will be able to jack up the entire front end at once before inserting the jack stands behind each wheel. You can also use ramps, which allow you to drive up to them to raise the car. No matter how you jack up your vehicle, the most important part is that it is stable.

Before you get under your car for the dirty work, you must ensure the transmission is in park and the parking brake is activated. Then, you can test the car's stability by rocking it from side to side a few times with low-to-moderate force. If it appears stable, then you may proceed to the next step.

Important - failing to stabilize your vehicle may result in serious or fatal injuries.

Step 3 - Drain the Old Oil

Once your car is jacked up and stable, you are ready to drain the old oil out of the oil pan. Before you do so, however, you will want to start the engine and let it run for 10 to 15 minutes. This will warm the oil and increase its viscosity so that most of it drains without sticking to the cold engine parts.

After no more than 15 minutes, turn off the engine, and open the hood. Twist off the oil-fill cap from the top, and set it aside. Next, lie under the car, and locate the oil pan. It is bolted around the perimeter, but there is a single, large bolt, the drain plug, on one side. Place your drain pan or tub directly under the drain plug, and using the box-end wrench, slowly turn it counterclockwise to loosen it.

Turn the drain plug slowly and deliberately. A few drops of oil may spill out, but it should fall safely into your drain tub. As you near the end of the threads on the plug, continue turning it by hand until it comes off, releasing a fast stream of oil with it. Give your car about five minutes to ensure the oil has fully drained before securing the drain plug back onto the oil pan.

Important - your old engine oil may be extremely hot in temperature. Make sure that you wear sufficient safety and protective equipment for both your body and eyes.

Step 4 - Replace the Oil Filter

The next step in changing your oil is to replace the oil filter. Use your oil-filter wrench to turn the filter counterclockwise, which will loosen it. When the filter begins to turn easily, you may want to use your hands to remove it the rest of the way. As the filter comes off, a little oil will spill out into the drain tub.

Let the oil drain completely from the filter socket before continuing. Once it has drained, wipe the socket with a rag, and open the packaging of your new filter. For the new filter to seal properly, you will need to wipe a thin layer of new oil around the gasket with your finger. Then, all you have to do is screw the new filter into the socket, and tighten it by hand.

Important - You must use compatible oil filters.

Step 5 - Refill With New Oil

Ensure that your filter has been replaced and the drain plug is secure in the oil pan before you continue, or you will have a big mess trying to refill your car with new oil. This part is extremely simple. All you have to do is put your funnel in the oil-fill port under the hood, and slowly pour in the proper amount of oil - no less, no more. Then, all you have to do is replace the oil cap, tightening it by hand.

Once you have filled the oil, you can remove the drain tub from underneath the car, and lower the car safely back to the ground. Once the car is level, pull out the dipstick, and check that the oil level is in the zone on the dipstick labeled full.

Step 6 - Discard the Dirty Oil

Congratulations, you have successfully changed the oil in your car. Now, all you have to do is properly dispose of the old oil. Many communities will pick it up in a sealed container during garbage collection. You can also take it to a number of auto parts stores, service stations and gas stations.