Time Needed: 30 Minutes, Difficulty: Beginner, Cost: Less than $50
Changing your own oil is a simple, easy, and fulfilling way to do some crucial automotive maintenance. Though, on the other hand, if certain steps are missed, it could turn into a bad day because you damaged your engine. An oil change requires few tools, and once you get the hang of it, it’s a pretty quick.
An oil change requires few tools, and once you get the hang of it, it’s a pretty quick job. As you learn and get the hang of it, take your time and ensure every single step is done. You’ll need to make sure there is enough new oil in your engine and that everything is tightened down properly.
If you leave it to a shop to complete, you’re at the mercy of the garage schedule, but the actual task is also generally a quick job. The plus side here is you’re leaving it to the professionals, and you don’t have to worry about getting dirty.
We’ve assembled a guide to help you figure out your course of action, including what you’ll need to buy, how to stay safe, and how much time you’ll need. Let’s get right into it.
Oil Change Options
You have choices when it comes to changing your oil. You could do it yourself or pay somebody to do something you could have done yourself. Up to you.
Depending on the oil that your vehicle requires, an oil change could be as cheap as $40. Though, if full synthetic oil is required, or your vehicle has a large oil capacity, it could cost a bit more. Also, some shops include additional services with an oil change, such as checking coolant level, adding windshield wiper fluid, checking tire pressures, and other simple services. This, naturally, adds to cost, but it can be convenient to have someone else take care of all this in one swoop.
If you live a busy life, this could be a solid way to ensure your vehicle is well cared for. By that same token, scheduling an appointment, traveling to the shop, and waiting can also take some time. If you’re uncomfortable performing this kind of maintenance (like we said, doing something wrong could destroy the car!), then it’s definitely better left to the pros.
At Home With a Jack or Ramps
Depending on how easy it is to access everything under the vehicle and under the hood, a normal oil change could take as little as 20 minutes. If you’re able to crawl underneath the front end or drive your car onto ramps rather than jack it up and support it with jack stands, that could cut down on time. If the engine’s oil capacity is less than five quarts, that also cuts down on time. Finally, depending on how easy it is to remove and replace the oil filter determines how quickly you can get it done.
Costs can vary quite a bit, depending on the brand of oil and filter used, as well as how much oil capacity the engine has. For a conventional, everyday four-cylinder vehicle, the cost can be as little as $30 (5 quarts of oil and a filter). Quick note: Always buy at least the amount of oil that your vehicle’s engine requires. There’s no harm in having a little extra on hand.
At Home With an Oil Extractor
This method is less common on everyday vehicles, but is an option nonetheless. Some cars even make it even easier, such as the Jaguar XFR. Just hookup the extractor hose to the pipe under the oil fill plug, and suck all the old oil out. Depending on the vehicle, this is a much cleaner and easier way to change oil, as there’s no need to remove a drain plug and let oil drain into a pan, potentially causing a mess. All the old oil is sucked up into a tank.
The possible downside is that you eliminate the flushing aspect of a normal oil change in which the dirt and particles at the bottom of the pan can empty out through a drain plug. By sucking it up from the top, those particles could be left inside with the remaining oil you can’t get out.
How Long Does an Oil Change Take?
By yourself, taking your absolute sweet time, an oil change can take an hour. Once you become comfortable with changing your own oil, it could be knocked out in as little as 20 minutes, depending on the size, complexity, and oil capacity of your vehicle.
As part of a scheduled appointment at a professional shop, figure no more than 45 minutes, and that’s if they’re really taking their time.
Changing Your Oil at Home
To make the job easier, we’ve gathered all the info you need in order to change your oil at home.
The Safety Brief
Oil changes are simple, but you’re still dealing with chemicals and are often working underneath a car. Get this equipment to make sure you stay safe:
It’s also important to note that more space is always better. Having a nice and clear area ensures you’ll be able to operate a jack and jackstands, as well as move around the vehicle without any tripping hazards.
The Tools & Parts You Need
Make sure you have everything you need before you start the job, or you’ll be stuck without a ride to the shop. Use this checklist to prepare:
- Jack stands
- A wrench set
- A torque wrench
- An oil filter removal tool (usually, loosening filters by hand is tough, depending on who last tightened it on there)
- Drain pan
- The proper oil type and weight, in the correct capacity
- A quality oil filter that fits your vehicle
The Task: How To Change Your Oil at Home
The first thing to know is you should never do an oil change immediately after you’ve driven the car. The oil will still be hot, and you could burn yourself. Park your car in a shaded area away from any traffic from cars or people, and allow it to cool down before you begin.
1. Position the vehicle, and get the drain pan ready underneath.
If you need to safely jack the vehicle up and put it on jack stands or drive it up on ramps, ensure it’s safely sitting on a flat surface. Position the drain pan underneath the car where it will catch the oil coming out of the drain plug, as well as any drippage from removing the filter. If you need help jacking the car up, read our article, How To Find Your Car’s Safe Jack Points.
2. Remove the oil filter.
This could be a screw-on filter underneath the engine near the drain pan, or a cartridge that’s accessible from the top of the engine. Place the drain pan underneath it, as oil will drain out when it’s removed from underneath the car (if that’s where it is). A special oil filter removal tool might be required, as it’s common for them to be on there really tight.
3. Drain the oil.
Loosen and remove the drain plug and let all of the oil drain out into the pan. You’ll know it’s all out when the oil is down to a slow drip. When removing the plug, you have a few options. You could try to remove it while it’s still on the wrench, you could remove it with your hand and risk dripping oil all over your arm and the ground, or you could let the plug drop into the oil, but then you have to fish it out later.
4. Refit the drain plug.
This is important! Refit the drain plug. Some drain plugs require new gaskets, in which case make sure you have a new one ready to install with it. Use a torque wrench to torque the bolt to the proper spec, which can be found in your owner’s manual.
5. Install the new oil filter.
Take a dab of fresh, new oil and rub it on the rubber gasket on the rim of the oil filter if it has one, then twist it in place. Typically, filters should be slightly tighter than finger-tight, but do whatever your owner’s manual says. If there’s an oil filter cartridge housing on the top of the engine, re-torque the bolt to the required spec.
6. Pour in the new oil.
Remove the oil filler cap, position your funnel, and pour in the oil. Double and triple check periodically how much oil is going in via the dipstick. Be sure to also pay attention to how much oil is poured out of the container. If your oil capacity is 4 quarts and you’ve poured in 2 quarts, take extra care to slowly pour in the remaining quarts.
Some new cars don’t have dipsticks, in which case check and see what the proper fill procedure is in your vehicle’s factory or approved service manual.
7. Check, Re-Check, And Check Again.
Make sure your oil level is not too low, and not too high. Make sure that it is at least above the minimum level on the dipstick. Then, double check and make sure that the oil drain plug and filter are properly tight, and that the oil fill cap is screwed back on.
8. Safely lower the vehicle back onto the ground.
Now’s the time to safely get the vehicle back down onto the ground. It’s a good idea to have a friend spot you if you’re pulling the vehicle down off of some ramps. If you’re lowering the vehicle down off of a jack, ensure the wheels are attached, and also verbally communicate what you’re doing, such as, “is everything underneath the vehicle clear?” It sounds weird (especially if you’re all alone), but it’s a good way to double-check yourself. Or, heck, maybe somebody’s nearby who isn’t paying attention and could get a foot smashed by a lowering wheel.
9. Fire it up!
Once everything looks good, turn the car on and make sure there are no noises, leaks, or other issues. Then, once the car has settled and the engine is cool, re-check the oil level and add as much as necessary, if needed. Depending on the filter’s oil capacity, any oil cooler lines, etc., you might have to add a tiny bit more.
FAQs About Oil Changes
We’ve collected the most-searched questions about oil changes and provided answers to the ones that matter the most.
Q. How frequently should you change your oil?
A. The best answer lies in your owner’s manual. Typically, modern cars have a 5,000-mile or every-six-months (whichever comes first) interval, but always check and see what your manufacturer recommends/requires.
Q. What happens if I drive over the oil change recommendation?
A. Don’t fret too hard, but definitely try to change it or have it changed as quickly as possible. On-time oil changes do wonders for keeping the inside of your engine clean and efficient.
Q. Can I drive right after getting my oil changed?
A. Absolutely! In fact, you definitely should. Modern engine oil has all kinds of detergents and solutions in it to clean your engine and keep it clean. Get these wonders of modern science circulating through your engine post haste so it starts doing its job.
The Video Tutorial About Oil Changes
For those who are visual learners, this particular video gives you an idea of how the steps we discussed above come into play. Again, some stuff might be different on your own vehicle, such as the type of oil filter used, how the oil is supposed to be drained, etc.
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