Keeping your car clean and tidy is nice, but the best thing you can do for it is keep up with the oil changes. Proper maintenance can make your car last longer, run better, get more miles per gallon and even be worth more when it is time to sell it. You’ve heard that a million times, but have you heard that you could do it yourself and save a bunch of money? Well, you can.
Now before you start thinking of reasons why you can’t do it, here’s the big reason why you can…it’s not that hard to do. If it takes a professional 15 minutes to do it, why should it take you that much longer? For an extra 15 minutes, you could cut your oil change expense in half and you’ll also drive away with a real sense of accomplishment…not bad for a half an hour’s work. So, to show you how easy it is to do, I’m going to take you through the process step by step on my daily driver Chevrolet Aveo right in my own driveway with no top-secret special knowledge of any kind. Oh, and if you are worried that you need super hero strength to do this job, trust me, you don’t. If you can open a jar of pickles with a jar opener, there is no part of this job you don’t have the strength for.
The tools you will need can vary slightly depending on what kind of car you have. The oil drain plug, located on the bottom of the engine oil pan may need a six or twelve point socket or a Torx bit (like mine does). I prefer to use a socket and ratchet to remove the plug because you get more leverage with a long-handled socket wrench than you would with a shorter box wrench. That longer handle will make it easier to unscrew the drain plug which is in “pickle jar lid” tight. Not gorilla tight. Not Hercules tight. Just tight enough to seal and not vibrate loose. Over tightening the plug can cause the threads to strip and then you will be in trouble.
You’ll need a wrench to remove the oil filter as well. Again, depending upon your car, this can be a cup wrench, a strap wrench or in the case of a car like mine, just a plain old socket. When you buy your replacement oil filter, ask the counter person for the proper wrench to install it. Here again, the filter needs to be tight enough to seal and not vibrate lose, but not so tight that you’ll need three men and a boy to loosen it next time or risk damaging the filter putting it in. When putting the new filter in, make sure that the rubber gasket gets a film of oil wiped on it (use your fingertip dipped in a little bit of oil to do this) so the gasket doesn’t stick.
Another tool you’re going to need is a drain pan to drain the oil into. These come in many forms including the kind that allow you to cap them off and use them to take your oil to a recycling center. Others and just for draining the oil into and then you have to have a container to pour the use oil into so you can take it to be recycled. This is the kind I have and I use it in conjunction with a 5-gallon plastic diesel fuel gas can so that after a couple of oil changes, I can take the filled container to the recycling center to dump it. Works for me.
Getting under the car also requires a tool you may not have in your junk drawer. You can use a jack and jack stands, but I prefer using ramps. They are more stable and easier to use for this job than a jack and don’t need any special know how to get your car up in the air. Lifting your car by the wrong part with a jack can damage your car and can be potentially dangerous should the car fall off the jack or jack stands.
The last tool you need is a funnel for putting the oil back into your engine. I have a dedicated funnel that is only used for this purpose. I keep it clean and I don’t use it for any other fluids so that the engine oil is not contaminated which could lead to serious engine damage. Oh, and I wear nitrile gloves when I do this job and keep some paper towels handy just in case…and there always is a just in case situation.
Naturally, you always want to use the correct oil for your car. Consult you owners manual for the proper weight (viscosity) and type oil your car needs. The factory requires synthetic oil for my Aveo, so that is what I use. It is more expensive, but I am a firm believer in the benefits of synthetic oil and have used it in my other cars as well. Synthetic oil does not need to be changed as often as regular oil either, so the added expense of the oil is amortized over a longer change interval.
If you decide to do this job yourself, you can shop for the best price for your oil and filter. Quite often auto parts stores like Advanced Auto, Auto Zone or NAPA will have sales on oil and oil filters. Even large chain stores like Wal-Mart will have sales on these items and this is where you can save plenty of dough. In my case, a synthetic oil change at a local quick-change place runs $45 plus tax. Buying the oil and filter myself when it is on sale can get the same job done for $25-$30. That’s a big savings…enough to buy a replacement air filter or a two-year supply of car air fresheners.
So there you have it. An easy job that saves you money and makes you feel good doing it. Too bad your day job isn’t like that.
Car on ramps
The safest way to get the car up high enough to work on, in my opinion, is with ramps. Here is my Aveo up on the ramps and ready for its oil change.
Car ramp detail
Here you can see that the ramp is solidly on the ground and the tire is up on the flat of the ramp and up against the stop. The transmission is in park and the parking brake is set.
Oil change tools and supplies
These are the tools and supplies I used to change the oil in my car. A T-45 Torx bit for the oil drain plug, a long-handled ratchet wrench and a 24-millimeter flex socket and a socket extension to remove the oil filter are the tools I used. The supplies are a new oil filter and a container of synthetic oil in the proper viscosity for my car.
Oil drain pan
This is the oil drain pan I use. Once I am done draining the oil, I pour the contents of the pan into a 5-gallon container that I then take to the recycling center at my local auto parts store.
Oil drain plug removal
With the Torx bit on the ratchet wrench, the drain plug is loosened. As you loosen the plug, it is best to use your fingers for the last few threads so that when the plug is free, you can pull it out of the way of the draining oil without having it drop into the drain pan.
Warm oil drains faster and more completely than cold oil. You don't want it to be hot, as hot oil can cause severe burns, even through gloves. If the oil pan is too hot to touch, the oil is too hot to drain.
When the oil drains to just a drop or two, you can replace the plug with your fingers and tighten it "finger tight." Using a towel, wipe up any oil drops from around the plug or anyplace else oil may have dripped onto. Using the Torx bit and the ratchet, I tightened the drain plug properly.
Oil filter removal
My oil filter is located on the side of the engine and I remove it with a socket, an extension and the ratchet wrench. Different cars will need different kinds of tools to remove the filters. Make sure your drain pan is under the oil filter when you are removing it.
Old oil filter
As you can see, the old oil filter is dirty and took a little damage upon removal. When you compare it to the new filter, you will see a big difference.
Oil filter boss
This is the place the oil filter goes on my car. It is a good idea to wipe any oil off of this area so that it doesn't run down the side of the engine and drip on the hot exhaust.
Old and new oil filters
The difference between the old filter and the new one is night and day. The new filter is clean and bright and ready for work. Some filters come like this one, where it is just the filter element while others are a metal canister.
Oil filter gasket
The new oil filter comes with a new oil filter gasket in this case. Canister-type oil filters have the gasket on the mounting surface of the filter so you can skip the step where I had to replace the gasket with the new one.
New oil filter ready to go
The new oil filter element is installed into the oil filter cap and the new oil filter gasket is lubricated with a few drops of engine oil and your finger so that it seals properly and does not stick when you go to remove it with the next oil change.
Installing the new oil filter
With the new filter installed in the cap, the filter is tightened by hand until you can no longer turn it. Using the wrench, the filter is then tightened further to prevent leaks. Canister-type filters are tightened a quarter turn after the gasket touches the sealing surface.
Fill with oil
I use a dedicated funnel to put the new oil in my engine. This prevents the new oil from becoming contaminated with other fluids or dirt that could potentially damage the engine.
Checking your work
After you put the right amount of oil into your engine, start the engine and let it run for a minute. Shut it off, wait a minute and then check the oil level with the dipstick. If the oil level is low, add more until the level is to the full mark. If it is already at the full mark, your work is done.