How To Change Oil
in Your Car
or Light Truck
Your vehicle will run more smoothly and last longer if you take the time to change the engine oil periodically. The car's owner's manual should give a recommended oil change interval. When you change your oil you should also change the oil filter. Some people don't do this with every oil change, but as inexpensive as the filters are, it is worth the peace of mind to do it on every oil change.
Oil Change Interval
Oil in your car or light truck should normally be changed every 3 months or 3,000 miles. There are exceptions to this, but if your owner's manual doesn't say otherwise, you can start with these numbers. The type of oil you use can affect the time between oil changes too. If you use a synthetic oil it is usually recommended to be changed every 10,000 miles.
If your owner's manual or synthetic oil packaging does not specifically say how often you should change your, then the 3,000 and 10,000 mile intervals should be sufficient.
Here is a list of the items you will need to do the job. Assembling them before you start will help the job go more quickly. Most people can change the oil in their car in less than 30 minutes if the engine is cool when you start. You may want to allow an hour if this is your first time.
- Drain bucket (any short bucket that will hold at least a gallon of oil will work for most vehicles)
- New oil (owner's manual will tell you how much you need)
- New filter (owner's manual will tell you the size or you can consult a book or computer at the store which can tell you)
- Wrench or ratchet and socket (The size will vary. Take various wrenches from 14mm to 19mm or 9/16" to 3/4" to get started. Note the size for next time.)
- Rags or shop towels
- Filter wrench (may or may not be needed)
- Funnel (may or may not be needed)
- Rubber gloves (optional but makes cleanup much easier)
[This is the process for most passenger cars and trucks. There are some high-end cars that use a different filter system. These may need to be done by the car dealership anyway since there is sometimes a reset switch which can only be set by the dealer.]
Start with the engine cooled down, but not cold. Oil is very hot in a hot engine. While professionals can change the oil in a hot engine, it is not recommended that you handle hot oil.
Place your drain bucket under the car to catch the oil that will come out of the drain plug. You may need to jack your car up a little or place your car on ramps to get underneath it. If you jack the car up use jack stands to support the car. Don't trust a jack to hold the car.
Using an appropriately sized wrench, remove the oil plug from the bottom of the oil pan. Allow the oil to drain out. It really does not take long, but you may want to allow it to drain while you prepare the new oil and filter.
If you drop the plug into the drain bucket you can fish it out with a magnet or reach in with your rubber-gloved hand.
Replace the oil plug in the bottom of the oil pan.
Fill the new filter with a little oil. It depends on how the filter is oriented, you may be able to fill the new filter completely, or only half full with new oil. The more you can put in before installing the new filter (without spilling any oil) the less likely you will be to have air trapped in the filter.
Rub a little new oil on the rubber seal of the filter. This will help you get a better seal with the engine block.
Twist the new filter on until it is snug but not overly tight. You should not need to use the filter wrench to install the new filter. Don't tighten it more than hand-tight otherwise you may have trouble getting it off.
Before you fill the crankcase with oil make sure the new filter is installed and that the oil plug is back in the oil pan. It is easy to get distracted and forget to put the plug back in place.
Fill the crankcase with the proper amount of oil through the oil fill cap on top of the engine. You can find the proper amount of oil for your vehicle by reading the capacities chart in the owner's manual. Most will have two different amounts depending on whether you are changing the filter or not. You may need a funnel to put in the new oil.
Take your time putting in the oil. If you spill oil on the side of the engine it is possible to start a fire. It is not likely that your car will go up in flames from a little oil, but it will smoke terribly for a while until the spilled oil is burned off. You can avoid all that by being careful and wiping up any spills before you start your car.
Replace the oil fill cap and pat yourself on the back. You have just successfully changed your own oil and saved yourself a considerable amount of money.
Take a ride around the block for a few minutes. As soon as you start your car you should notice that the oil gauge moves up into the normal range. If it does not move, or quickly drops within a few seconds of starting the engine, you should immediately turn off the engine and try to determine what the problem is. If this happens it is probably because you forgot to put the drain plug back in and you now have a puddle of new oil in your driveway.
After you drive around the block then come home and let your engine cool so that you can check the oil level of your car. Because the oil has not settled back into the oil pan completely, your dipstick may read a little low. That is fine.
Take your old oil to a local garage. If they are not able to take it, they can tell you where you can go to dispose of it properly.
When you change your oil you should take some time to check all your other fluids: power steering, brakes, transmission and windshield wiper. Also inspect your air filter to see if it needs to be cleaned or replaced.
Consult your owner's manual for maintenance intervals on when you should change your oil and inspect other parts of your car.