Manufacturers engineer vehicles to operate at peak efficiency using certain oils. Using only the oil weight recommended in the owner's manual will maximize efficiency and the oil's lubricating properties.
Other than oil, what supplies will you need for your oil change?
When changing the oil, you will also need an oil filter to eliminate as much of the debris from the old oil as possible. You'll also want rags to wipe up small spills, a drain plug gasket if it is available and an oil-spill clean-up kit in case you have a larger oil spill.
What are the basic tools you will need for your oil change?
The box wrench set is the best bet for removing the drain plug, and the oil filter wrench is a must have to correctly remove and install the oil filter. The oil also needs to drain somewhere, and the torque wrench ensures you do not overtighten the drain plug.
Should you change your oil with the engine warm or cold?
Hot oil flows better, and you will get more of the old oil out if the engine is hot when you drain it. Use special care not to burn yourself.
Before changing the oil, what should you do?
Removing the oil filler cap and dipstick may seem silly, but there is a reason for it. The oil system is sealed, and no air can make it in. If you remove the cap and flip it upside down, the soda glugs out of the bottle and splashes everywhere -- hot oil will do the same thing. Opening the filler hole and dipstick allows air in so the oil drain out smoothly.
When jacking up your vehicle, what should you do secure it and protect yourself?
Chocking the rear wheels prevents the vehicle from rolling back. Lowering the vehicle onto the jack stands eliminates the potential for the jack to hydraulically fail and drop the vehicle on you. You can leave the jack in place and contacting the underside of the vehicle, but leave the weight on the stands.
Where is the oil drain plug?
The oil drain plug is on the oil pan on the bottom of the engine. It is typically at the lowest point of the pan for maximum draining. It looks like a large bolt.
How do you remove the oil drain plug and drain the oil?
The oil takes some time to drain -- plan on waiting about five minutes until it slows to just a drip. You'll never get all the old oil out, so no need to let it drip for hours in hopes of removing as much old oil as possible.
While the oil is draining, what should you do?
The oil will drain for a while, so keep your hands and mind busy by wiping the drain plug off, installing a new gasket (if applicable) and finding the oil filter under the engine. If possible, you can even loosen the oil filter, but make sure the drain pan is in a position to catch any oil that flows from it.
How do you remove a screw-on oil filter?
The auto parts store will have several types of oil filter wrenches available. Some are simple band wrenches that work on multiple types of filters, and others are sized to fit only certain filters. Grab a filter for your car off the shelf and test fit it in a few of these wrenches.
How do you drain a screw-on oil filter the right way after removing it?
The oil filter always has about a half quart of oil inside it, and you want to drain as much of it from the filter as possible. Setting it open-side down in the drain pan while completing the oil change will get most of the oil out.
Before installing the new screw-on oil filter, what should you do?
Cleaning the oil filter mount on the engine with a cloth will remove any debris and allows you to see if the old O-ring from the old oil filter stuck to the mount. Applying the thin coat of oil allows the new O-ring to slide into place without bunching while you tighten the filter.
How do you install the new screw-on oil filter?
Oil filters do not need much tightening to seal thanks to their large O-rings. Simply hand-tighten the filter and then tighten it another quarter turn with the filter wrench to seat it.
How do you remove a cartridge-style oil filter?
A cartridge filter is contained inside a plastic or metal housing with a screw-on cap. Simply remove this cap with a box wrench and pull the filter out. Some filters click into place, so you may need to pull upward with light force to remove it.
How do you install a new cartridge-style oil filter?
The cartridge filter is essentially a screw-on filter without its metal housing, so it still has the same components as a screw-on filter, like an O-ring. The difference is its metal housing just happens to be part of the vehicle.
What should you do before installing the oil drain plug?
Leftover oil on the oil pan can get hot and start smoking. You also want to clean and check the threads on the oil pan, as any debris can cause a poor seal and a leak.
How do you seat the oil drain plug?
The drain plug is one of the most sensitive pieces in your vehicle. Not only does it hold the most important fluid in place, but it also screws into an easy-to-strip drain pan. Seating the plug by hand-tightening it ensures a good seal.
How tight should the oil drain plug be?
The final tightening spec on the drain plug is typically available in the owner's manual or via an internet search. Tightening it to this specification keeps oil from leaking without risk of stripping out the oil pan.
How do you lower the vehicle after draining the oil?
Lifting the vehicle off the jack stands, removing the stands and slowly lowering the car to the ground prevents unintended damage. Any other method can cause damage to you or the vehicle.
Where do you refill the oil?
Every vehicle has a large oil-filler hole on top of its engine. You can refill the oil by pouring it into this hole.
What is the right way to prevent spilling oil all over your engine while filling it?
A large funnel will give you the room you need to safely pour the engine oil without spilling it on the engine. While spilling oil on the engine typically harms nothing, it can cause temporary smoking.
How much oil should you put in the engine before starting it?
Always start by filling the engine with the amount of oil the manufacturer recommends in the owner's manual. Allow the oil to settle for a minute, then check the level on the dipstick. Continue adding oil, if needed, until it reaches or is near the "Full" line on the dipstick.
How do you check the oil before starting the engine?
Checking that the oil is at the "Full" line on the dipstick ensures there is plenty of oil to lubricate the engine. You want to hit the "Full" line because the oil filter will draw in up to a half quart of oil and lower the overall level once you start the engine.
Your initial oil check shows there is plenty of oil, how do you perform the final oil check? What do you need to do to ensure the oil level is correct?
Allowing the engine to idle flows the engine oil through the filter and the rest of the engine. This ensures you get an accurate reading on the dipstick. Failure to do so could result in a low-oil condition after the oil cycles into the filter.
What is the correct final oil level?
Putting the oil in the upper third of the range ensures there is plenty of oil without the risk of overfilling it. This also compensates for any additional oil that may flow into the filter or remain in the engine at shutdown.
Once the final oil level check is complete, what should you do?
Allowing the engine to idle maintains pressure on the fuel system and can expose any leaks. It is best to do this while the vehicle is still in the garage so you can rectify any issues immediately.
While you are under the hood, what else should you check during your oil change?
While you're changing the oil, it is a great time to check other under-hood maintenance items. Things like belts, hoses and fluids are easy to check at this time. Catching a problem now can save you an expensive breakdown later.
What should you do with the used engine oil?
Recycling engine oil ensures this contaminated fluid has goes through a safe disposal process. Oftentimes these old oils go into oil burners that provide heat. Dumping it in the ground can cause serious environmental issues.
What should you do with the used oil filter?
The oil filter is just as contaminated as used oil. You want to dispose of this properly by recycling it.
How do you clean up any major oil spills?
Spill response kits have large, absorbent pads designed to absorb and hold oil. These kits offer the most thorough and the safest way to clean up oil spills.
Where can you take old oil and filters for recycling?
Most local landfills have a free used-oil and oil filter disposal area. You can also take old oil and oil filters to the parts store, and its staff will dispose of it.
I accidentally mixed conventional and synthetic oil. Now what?
There is an old myth that mixing synthetic and conventional oil will kill an engine. Well, it will not. In fact, companies sell premixed synthetic and conventional oil on the shelves -- it's called synthetic blend.
How often should I change my oil?
The manufacturers know their cars best, and they know how long their engine can run on the same oil. Don't fall for the quick-lube industry's 3,000-mile myth. Stick to what the manufacturer says, and you are fine.
I changed my oil, but my “Change Oil” light is still on. Now what?
Oil-change reminders rarely use any special sensors to actually know when the oil has broken down on a chemical level. Instead they use the miles you drive, environmental conditions and more to gauge when you should change the oil. This means they also need a manual reset. You can find the reset procedure in your owner's manual or through an online search.
There were fine metal shavings on my drain plug. Is this a problem?
Engines have a lot of moving metal parts, and they rub against each other at high speeds. This can cause mild metal shavings to appear in the oil. This is perfectly normal, so long as there are no large chunks of metal.
Image: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/DigitalVision/Getty Images
About This Quiz
Cars require more than just fuel to keep them moving -- they also require frequent maintenance to keep them in great shape for years to come. The oil change is the one maintenance item virtually every car owner has heard of before. They know their car needs fresh oil and filter every so many miles, but many do not know exactly how to do an oil change. As a car owner, you should be familiar with all aspects of your vehicle, and changing your own oil is a great way to learn more about how it all works.
Knowing how to do your own oil change can not only save you money in the long run, but it will also build your confidence and show you things about your vehicle you may never have known before. You may also find out you have a knack for this mechanic thing and get the confidence to try other money-saving maintenance or repair processes yourself. But you have to crawl before you walk, so get started with a simple oil change and move up from there.
Think you have the automotive know-how to do a complete oil change the right way? Take this quiz to find out just how much you know about this basic car service!
About HowStuffWorks Play
How much do you know about dinosaurs? What is an octane rating? And how do you use a proper noun? Lucky for you, HowStuffWorks Play is here to help. Our award-winning website offers reliable, easy-to-understand explanations about how the world works. From fun quizzes that bring joy to your day, to compelling photography and fascinating lists, HowStuffWorks Play offers something for everyone. Sometimes we explain how stuff works, other times, we ask you, but we’re always exploring in the name of fun! Because learning is fun, so stick with us!