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An Essential Guide for How To Change Your Oil

Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid
Porsche Cayenne Image used with permission by copyright holder

As the economy hobbles back to life, it’s still quite difficult to get back on track and do a lot of the things we once did habitually. Some things must be done, like grocery shopping, and we’re adjusting to the new ways. But what of less essential but still important tasks? Changing the oil in your car certainly falls in that category.

Changing the oil in your car is far from do-or-die but it is a useful and relatively easy way to keep your automobile working at max efficiency. Fortunately, you can do it on your own, in a short amount of time with little in the way of mechanical gizmos. Moreover, the method by which it’s done is pretty much the same across the board, whether your ride is a Honda Civic or a Porsche Cayenne.

What Do You Need to Change The Oil in Your Car?

For starters, you’ll need a bit of gear in the form of rubber gloves, a funnel, a pan (or five-gallon bucket), and an oil filter wrench. You’ll also need an oil filter from your area auto body shop or online. Of course, you’ll also need some oil and there are more than several options out there. Your owner’s manual or the web can help you in this regard. Lastly, you may need a few hand tools, which you or your neighbor almost certainly already have, to remove the protective covering over the oil tank and engine.

How to Change The Oil In Your Car

Man prepaparing to change the oil of his vehicle.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

If your car has been idle for a while, run the engine for a few minutes. That will soften the oil some and allow it to exit your engine more easily, when the time comes. To get started, the car needs to be raised. Since you’re likely not an at-home mechanic with a sizable lift in your garage, you’ll have to be more crafty. Jacking the car up works just fine, so long as you’re careful. Obviously, do this on a flat surface. Make sure the car is high enough so that you can work beneath safely and keep in mind that you’ll be working next to your vessel which will be collecting the old oil.

Steps to Change the Oil in Your Car

  1. Remove any protective cover and position your bucket or pan beneath the drain plug, and loosen with a wrench until the oil starts running. Be prepared for a lot of liquid, as most cars spit out about a gallon or so during a typical oil change. And hold on to that drain plug or put it in a safe place, you’ll need it later.
  2. Next, locate the oil filter (cylindrical shaped and often labeled) and remove it with your special wrench (or some grippy equivalent). Some more oil will come out so make sure your receptacle is ready to catch. Keep track of the rubber gasket as you swap in the new filter. This is a good chance to wipe things down so you can detect any leaks when you fill it back up.
  3. Now, tighten the drain plug back up. Tight is fine, but don’t overdo it as you can cause some damage. With most cars, you can simply do so by hand. Apply a bit of oil around the filter gasket to help with the seal and put the new filter in place. Again, just tight is fine. Don’t overdo it. Put the protective cover back in place and lower your car back to the ground.
  4. Pop the hood, find the cap with the oil symbol on it, open it up, and fill it with the new stuff. Use a funnel, as it’s pretty nasty stuff and you’re not as good of a pourer as you think you are. As for how much, again, refer to your manual or a quick make and model Google search. Allow the new liquid to adjust to its new home for a few minutes and ready your dipstick. Check to make sure the level is appropriate and you’re just about done. To be safe, scan beneath the car for leaks.
Close-up of an adult man changing the oil of his vehicle.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

If you’re more of a visual person, Car and Driver has a nice outline with GIFs that are easy to follow. Keep in mind the major mistakes people make when changing their oil at home, like:

  • Changing too often or too infrequently (most cars need a change in intervals of about every 8,000 miles)
  • Over-tightening the drain plug, lousing up the threading, and making it hard to release next time
  • Using the wrong weight of motor oil (again, consult the all-knowing owner’s manual)
  • Not documenting the change (making note of the mileage), leading to the first point on this list.

An oil change often coincides with a lot of other basic maintenance, like rotating tires and replacing wiper blades, so keep that in mind as you look to be more vehicular-ly self-sufficient. You don’t have to do it all, that’s why there are good mechanics out there. But you can change your oil on your own with relative ease.

And recycle the old oil! It’s gross stuff, for certain, but it’s all the grosser in a landfill or slathered upon some ocean beach. Many municipalities recycle the stuff in some form or another. You can also inquire with your local mechanic or auto body shop. Either way, old oil can be re-refined anew and help power marine craft, diesel engines, industrial equipment, and much more.

Mark Stock
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon. He fell into wine during the Recession and has been fixated on the stuff since…
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