How to Change Your Oil

Mia Bevacqua
Motor Oil

Changing your oil - it's an automotive rite of passage. After you've got a few under your belt, a lube job is no big deal. In the beginning, it can be a daunting task, unless you have the right instructions.

Step 1: Gather Supplies

Before you can become an oil change pro, you need the right equipment. If you're uncertain as to what filter or oil you need, your local parts store can look up that information for you.

  • Shop rags
  • Jack and jack stands
  • Drain pan and disposal container
  • Funnel
  • Oil filter wrench to be used in conjunction with a ratchet and extension
  • Wrench of the appropriate size
  • Oil filter
  • Oil
  • Torque wrench and appropriate sized socket (optional)

Pro tip: If you don't know the exact size of your drain plug, it won't hurt to invest in a set of wrenches. Buy metric wrenches as that's what is used on most modern cars.

Step 2: Prepare the Vehicle

Vehicle on jack stand

Start by prepping the vehicle for service. This will help ensure a safe, trouble-free oil change:

  1. Park the vehicle on a level surface.
  2. Jack up the vehicle and support it on jack stands.
  3. Place a drain pan under the engine oil drain plug.

Step 3: Drain the Oil

This is where things can get really messy. Consider a little grease under your fingernails as a badge of honor.

  • Oil Change
    Remove the drain plug using the correct sized wrench. The oil tends to come out very fast once the plug is removed, so be ready. It's a good idea to push on the plug with your fingers so you can tell when the treads are completely unscrewed from the oil pan. That way, you can remove the plug quickly to avoid having oil run down your arm, (which is very uncomfortable.)
  • Allow the oil to drain. Let the oil drain completely, until nothing but a couple of drops is left trickling out. This usually takes a few minutes.
  • Thread the plug into the oil pan. Make sure the plug goes in straight to avoid cross threading and damaging, both the drain plug and oil pan.
  • Tighten down the drain plug. Using your wrench, tighten down the drain plug until it's snug. Be careful - over tightening the drain plug can strip both the plug and the pan, leading to a costly repair. If you have any doubt as to how tight the plug should be, tighten it to the manufacturer's specifications using a torque wrench. Specs for doing this can be found in the vehicle repair manual or online.

Pro tip: Autozone.com offers free online repair guides for most vehicles.

Step 4: Replace the Filter

Now that the oil has been successfully drained, it's time to replace the filter. You should replace the filter during every oil change.

  1. Oil filter
    Remove the filter.
  2. Place the oil drain pan under the filter.
  3. Using a filter wrench, loosen the filter. Then, by hand, unscrew it the rest of the way off the filter housing.
  4. Install the new filter.
  5. Smear a small amount of fresh oil on the filter gasket with your fingers.
  6. Screw on the filter and tighten it approximately one-quarter of a turn after it makes contact with the filter housing.
  7. Remove the jack stands and lower the vehicle.

Step 5: Add the New Oil

  1. Adding oil
    Find out how much oil your engine takes by checking the oil capacity in the repair manual, or by asking your local auto parts store.
  2. Remove the oil fill cap on the top of the engine. Then, pour the new oil in using a funnel to prevent spills. Start by adding about a quart less than the recommended capacity.
  3. Reinstall the oil fill cap.
  4. Start the engine. Let it run for about 15 seconds, then turn it off.
  5. Check the engine oil level by removing the dipstick and wiping it off. Then, reinstall the dipstick and pull it back out. Check that the oil level is at the top of the crosshatch or upper dot on the stick. Add more oil as needed, checking the level often.

Step 6: Dispose of the Used Oil and Filter

  1. Pour the used oil into a suitable container. Put the used filter in a bag to prevent spills.
  2. Take the used oil and filter to be recycled.

Pro tip: Many auto shops and auto parts stores recycle used oil and filters free of charge.

You're Finished

Congratulations! You passed your initiation into auto repair. From now on, you no longer need to rely on the local quickie-lube shop. You can change your vehicle's oil by yourself.

How to Change Your Oil