Changing your own Oil
IMAGES of my old car (unfortunately this car was stolen...)
. . .
Here is my new car, a 1993 Saturn SL (Dual Cam) (click thumbnail for full-size)
As far as modern cars go, changing oil is one of the few things that a car enthusiast can still do without fear of problems. I searched for a little info on the WWWeb about this topic only to find nothing, so I thought I would put in my two cents.
- Oil should be changed every 3,000 car miles. Manuals will recommend 7,500 miles between oil changes, but most people drive their car in extreme conditions, i.e. start-stop traffic and a good amount of mileage per day.
- If the car is not driven often or far, then 6 months should be the longest between oil changes. (3,000 miles or 6 months, whichever comes first.)
- Synthetic Motor Oils are about $3.50 a quart, where normal oil is $1.50 or less per quart. If you end up putting many miles on your car (more than 18,000 yearly), synthetic may be the choice for you. Or if you are like me and completely baby your vehicle. It ends up costing less to do a synthetic oil change (with new filter) by hand ($16.50 4qt) than the cheapest drive-in (conventional) oil change ($19.95). Synthetics can usually last longer between changes, up to 12,000 miles or so...
- Ramps - some cars will need ramps, other will not. Any sport-utility vehicle (Cherokee, land cruiser, etc.) should not need ramps, but normal cars (sedans, etc.) will need just a little more room under for you to move around. Ramps can be purchased at a auto center (approx. $30), but ramps can easily be made by hand from several 2 x 8's or 1 x 8's and a couple nails.
- Ratchet / Wrench - for removal of the drainage bolt. This was a metric size on my Chrysler LeBaron, but see what your car will need. (Actually, metric is pretty standard as far as automotive bolts go...) The oil pan should be the only part of the car which is fat with ridges and has a bolt at the corner or on the rear side. This is the drainage bolt.
- Oil collection pan - there are specially designed ones which can be purchased at an auto store, which have a grating to catch the drainage bolt if you drop it. Most then also have a small cap on the side for pouring out the oil into a container for recycling.
- Filter Wrench - designed specifically for the problem at hand - removing a slightly over-tightened oil filter. This is simply a large loop of metal which tightens in one direction only.
- Rag - self explanatory, but good to have.
- up to 6 quarts of new oil - for refilling.
- Oil Filter - make sure this is the correct size for your vehicle, ask someone at the auto store to assist you.
- Drive the car up onto the ramps. The easiest way to accomplish this is the following; park the car with a foot or two left in front. Place the ramps in front of the two front tires, making sure that tires are straight. Gently apply pressure to the gas pedal and ease the car onto the top of the ramps. It is good to have someone assist you with positioning. When the car is on the ramps, correctly placed and none of either tire is hanging off, you can place the car in park and engage the hill / parking brake. A good safety precaution is to toss a 2 x 4 behind the rear wheel in order to keep the car where it is if the brake(s) were to disengage.
- Turn off engine. (duh, right??) You may need to wait a while so that the engine (and the oil itself!!) cools before proceeding. Open the hood of the car.
- Place the oil collection pan beneath the drainage bolt, but allow for the oil to squirt in the direction the bolt hole faces. My LeBaron creates a stream which lands (horizontally) about 8" from the hole itself (as some stains on the floor attest). This stream will quickly drop off and drip more vertically.
- Using the Ratchet / Wrench, loosen the drainage bolt. The oil will not begin to flow until the bolt is 99% out of the way, so don't worry. As the threads start to feel looser, position your hand above the bolt, so you can take it out with out all sorts of dirty oil getting all over your hands. Be careful not to drop the bolt into the collection pan, or else you may have to fish for it later in dirty oil.
- Position the oil collection pan to catch most of the oil.
- Get out from underneath the vehicle and loosen the oil fill cap (in the engine compartment, through the hood.) This allows all of the oil to flow without resistance (quicker). Leave the cap loosely on the hole to avoid major dust, etc.
- When all (most) of the oil has come out into the collection pan, the drainage bolt can be placed back into its hole and tightened. I am not sure of the torque here, I usually try to imitate the resistance it took to get off. Do you know a torque number??
- Remove the used oil filter. It will have quite a bit of oil still in it, so keep the collection pan handy. You may be able to remove this by hand, or it may be a little too tight. In the latter case, use the filter wrench to just loosen it enough for hand loosening. Remove completely. It will drip a little.
- Place a new oil filter in place of the missing filter. Before placing the filter, take a small finger-tip-full of fresh oil to wet the rubber gasket. This will help to achieve a nice, even seal. Hand tighten the filter into place. From the moment resistance is met, turn one more 3/4 turn. In other words, tighten until you feel it initially press against the mount, then turn another 75% of a full turn.
- New oil can now be added using a funnel or pouring directly from the bottle. Check your owner's manual for your vehicle to see the capacity for engine oil. Pour the containers beginning with the cap up when the bottle is horizontal. This prevents glugging and lets you pour all the oil into not onto the engine.
- Tighten the oil filler cap back onto the engine.
- Back the car off the ramps before starting the engine. To do this, disengage the brake(s) and remove the 2 x 4 from behind the rear wheel. You may need to give the car a slight push with your foot while in the driver's seat.
- Start the engine and make sure no oil leaks from beneath the vehicle.
- Check all the major fluids to makes sure they are OK as well. Transmission fluid must be checked with the engine running !!
- Write down the mileage and date at which you have just completed your oil change.
- Check oil level immediately after engine is off. Fill as needed.
- In the next several weeks, check oil pressure (dashboard) and oil level (dipstick) to make sure nothing is leaking.
- Recycle your used oil at the nearest center. Ask your auto store or local firehouse.
Congratulations!! Your first oil change... you must be proud!!
Send E-Mail to the Greek!!
( Craig.Lampe@UTSouthwestern.edu )
by Craig A. Lampe
as of November 28, 1996
revised: November 29, 1997