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DIY Car Maintenance: How to Change Oil

A DIY oil change can be quick, tidy and you'll save big. Learn how to change oil.

how-to-change-oil-how-to-change-your-oilFamily Handyman
One of the most critical maintenance chores for cars is changing the oil regularly. Learn how to change your own oil quickly and without getting too dirty. You'll save money and extend the life of your car by thousands of miles.

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Overview for How to Change Oil

Changing the oil in your car is something that any DIYer can do. Although changing the oil might appear rather “duh,” there are still a lot of folks doing it wrong, making it an ugly chore or overpaying for oil changes they could do themselves. Plus, an oil change is the most important task you can do to make your engine last. We’ll teach you how to change oil and how to extend oil life.

Changing oil isn’t brain surgery—you probably did it yourself years ago. But with oil change shops charging more and more, it’s time to get back under the car and start saving big bucks. Plus, you won’t be pressured into buying overpriced add-ons (like wiper blades and PCV valves) every time you go in for a oil change. We’ll show you how to change oil fast and painlessly. And we’ll show you some tips you may not know about.

Watch this video to see just how easy this project is to do yourself:

Buy the right oil and oil filter

Economy oil filter

This type of oil filter is only good for 3,000 miles.

High quality oil filter

Use better quality oil filters if you go more than 3,000 miles between oil changes to extend oil life.

Before you head off to the auto parts store, consult your owner’s manual for the type and weight of oil specific to your vehicle. It’s especially important to follow the carmaker’s recommendations for oil viscosity. That’s a big change from the old DIY days. Late-model engines rely on oil pressure to regulate valve timing and apply the proper tension to the timing belt or chain. Substituting your personal preference for the manufacturer’s recommendations can result in engine damage, poor performance and even a “Check Engine” warning.

Don’t skimp on an oil filter & when to change oil in car

In the old days, oil filters were all pretty much the same inside. But not anymore. If your owner’s manual recommends extended oil change intervals (every 6,000 miles instead of 3,000 miles), you must buy a filter that’s rated to go the distance. In other words, don’t fill your engine with expensive synthetic oil and then spin on an economy filter—it won’t last and will decrease your oil life. Check the filter box, ask the store clerk, or check the filter manufacturer’s website to make sure the filter you buy is rated for extended oil change intervals.

There’s a huge difference between an economy oil filter and a top-of-the-line version. But there’s only a small difference in price. If you use conventional oil and diligently change it every 3,000 miles, you can get by with the economy filter. But if you regularly “forget” and go beyond that mileage or use long-mileage synthetic blends or full synthetic, spend the extra bucks on a better filter. Look at these cutaway filters and you can see why the premium filter is a better choice.

Keeping up with car maintenance can help extend the life of your car. Because have you ever searched: How much does it cost to replace an engine? It’s not pretty.

How to change your oil the fast way

Step 1: Pull the oil plug

Unscrew the plug and quickly pull it out and away from the oil stream. Clean the drain plug and install a new gasket (if required).

Step 2: Remove the oil filter

Crank off the old oil filter and make sure the rubber gasket comes with it. If not, peel it from the engine.

Oil filter wrenches

Different oil filter wrenches work best for different cars. Select the one that gives you the most room to maneuver.

Step 3: Add fresh oil

Refill the engine using a funnel and recap the bottle (to prevent spills) before you toss it into the recycling bin.

Step 4: Recycle the old oil

Pour the used oil into a large jug. Fill the engine and run it until the dashboard oil light goes out. Wait a few minutes. Then check the dipstick and add oil if needed.

If you get all your ducks in a row, you’ll be done changing oil in about 20 minutes. Start by spreading plastic sheeting on the ground. Then drive your car on top of it. That will eliminate all oil spill cleanup work since you can just toss the entire sheet when you’re done, or keep it for the next change if you’re lucky enough to go spill-free. Jack up the car, set the jack stands in place, and lower the car. If you’re on asphalt, place squares of plywood under the jack stands for support.

Place all your tools on a tray or in a box so everything you need is in one place. That means a box-end wrench for the drain plug, a rubber mallet (Step 1), a filter wrench, a drain pan and the new filter. Before you slide it all under the car, open a new oil bottle and smear clean oil on the new filter’s gasket. Then you’re ready to start the job.

Remove the drain plug and get the old oil flowing. Then remove the oil filter and install the new one. Once the old oil is down to a trickle, install a new gasket on the plug (if required) and tighten it by tapping the box-end wrench with the rubber mallet. Wipe the drips with a rag and you’re done under the car.

Oil Changing Tips From the Experts

  • If the engine is cold, start it and let it run for five minutes to warm the oil. If it’s hot, wait at least 30 minutes to avoid getting burned.
  • Never use an adjustable wrench or socket on the drain plug. Use the properly sized box-end wrench, usually metric, for the plug.
  • Always use jack stands. Never work under a car that’s supported by a jack only.
  • Use new oil to coat the oil filter gasket before spinning it on.
  • Always hand-tighten the filter. Never use a filter wrench.
  • Find an oil/oil filter recycling center near you by visiting or doing an internet search.
  • Line up all the oil bottles you’ll need for the fill so you don’t lose count along the way.

Required Tools for this Oil Change Project

Have the necessary tools for this how to change your oil project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • Rags
  • Rubber mallet
  • Safety glasses
  • Wrench set
You’ll also need an oil filter wrench, a funnel and oil pan.

Required Materials for this Oil Change Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time for this how to change oil project. Here’s a list.

  • Container for used oil
  • Engine oil
  • Oil filter
  • Oil filter gasket