How to Change Your Own Oil

After one too many expensive and shoddily done oil changes,  I learned to do it myself. The process is simple and although it’s a little intimidating at first you can do it too! You will need to invest in a few items up front but in the long run you will save money and keep your car running longer. On average, my oil changes run me about $30.00 a pop (because I use high quality – thus more expensive – oil) in comparison to the $45.00 or $50.00 I used to pay at the Jiffy-Lube’s of the world. You can easily change your own oil for about $20.00, but I recommend spending the few extra dollars to use the best materials possible. Be good to your car and it will be good to you!

Getting Started

As I mentioned, you are going to need to purchase a few items up front to be able to make oil changes possible.  If you are like me and you have a car (not a truck or other vehicle that is high off the ground) you will need to buy a set of ramps to make it easier to get under your car. The set that I bought was from a company called Rhino Ramps. On average these ramps sell for between $40.00 and $75.00 dollars. My suggestion would be to start looking early and jump on a pair once you spot a good sale. That is what I did and I managed to snag mine for about $35.00! You are also going to need to purchase an oil drain pan. They generally run about $15.00 each and you can find them (and the ramps) available at most auto supply stores. We also invested in a pair of cinderblocks to put behind my back tires for when the car is up on the ramps JUST INCASE the parking brake should ever fail. The last thing you want is a car crashing down on you! You will also need to have a funnel and socket wrenches on hand. You may already own these items but if not, they would be a good investment.

The items listed above will be used for every oil change that you do and should only be a one time expense. For each individual oil change you do you will need two main things… an oil filter and oil. Now, before I go any further I want to point out that YOU NEED TO READ YOUR CAR’S MANUAL before you attempt this for the first time. I am giving basic instructions but it is entirely possible that for some cars there are extra steps involved that should only be done by your dealer or a mechanic. I’m not an expert nor am I a car junkie. I’m just cheap and capable and that’s why I do mine myself. Your manual is also an important place to look as it will tell you how big your oil tank is which indicates how much oil you need to buy and it will tell you what grade (5W-20, 5W-30, 10W-30, etc.) of oil to purchase.

As much as I loathe Walmart, I have to admit that I go there to get my oil change supplies almost every time I do it. They definitely have the best prices on oil (unless the auto supply stores are running sales – that’s something to look for). When you head to the store to purchase your oil and filter ask the sales people to direct you to that area. Near the oil filters you will see little screens that look like handheld gaming devices. Go through the prompts on the screen (it will ask for your car’s make, model and year) and it will populate the model number of the oil filter that you need to purchase for your particular vehicle. As far as oil is concerned, I usually purchase the Mobil1 brand as it has a reputation for being some of the best oil available on the market. You would easily pay $60.00+ for someone else to change your oil using this brand. When I had my old car I made it a point to use the oil recommended for high mileage vehicles (it will indicate this right on the front of the bottle) so that is something to consider as well. As my oil tank holds 4.23 quarts, I only purchase one 5 quart bottle of oil. And again, your manual will indicate what grade of oil you need to purchase.

Now that you have your supplies, let’s get going!

Step 1: Get Your Car in Position

Drive your car onto your ramps. It is sometimes helpful to have a friend outside of your car give your directions on how far to pull up. You want to make sure that you are squarely parked on the flat part of your ramps. If you are at all uneven or hanging off of the edges back up and DO IT AGAIN. Your safety is the first priority so you need to be parked right! Once the vehicle is in place make sure to engage your parking brake. As I mentioned, I also stick big concrete blocks behind my rear tires to help keep the car in place.

Step 2: Drain the Oil

Take your oil drain pan and remove any plugs that may be in the top of the pan. These are the holes that the oil will drain into. Get under your car and locate your oil tank and your oil filter. Place your drain pan under your oil tank and if at all possible, position it so that it covers the area beneath both the filter and the nut and bolt that plug the oil tank. Use your socket wrench to remove the plug. BE CAREFUL as the oil that comes out may be hot. I usually loosen the plug with my socket wrench and then finish removing it by hand since I am able to get my hand in above it and keep the oil from spilling on me.

Once the plug is removed the oil will start to pour out of the tank into the pan you have placed below. Let it drain until most of the oil seems to have come out and then unscrew your oil filter. BE WARNED – if you have had your car serviced by some quick lube place this part may prove more difficult than you would think. A lot of these places severely over tighten when they install new filters. In my case, neither myself nor my husband were able to get my last garage installed filter off (even after we purchased a special tool to aid us). My husband finally ended up destroying the old filter with a hammer and prying it off with a screw driver. DO NOT DO THIS. What we should have done was have it towed to our mechanic to remove it but you know, in the heat of the moment rage makes you do crazy things! Anyways, assuming you have better luck and can easily unscrew your filter you should expect to see some oil come out of this area. Move your drain pan accordingly to catch any falling oil. You will also probably want to leave your old filter laying on your drain pan for a while as it will have oil in it as well.

Step 3: Plug it Up!

Once you have let all of the oil completely drain out of your car’s tank you are ready to reinstall the nut and bolt that plug the tank and put on your new oil filter. Get out from under your car and bring the drain pan with you so that you have more room to maneuver. Open up your new oil, and your new filter. Get a little bit of the clean oil on your finger and rub it along the rubber gasket on the filter.

I suppose I should also mention that it is a good idea to have paper towels at your disposal throughout this whole process as it gets pretty messy. I recommend using blue shop towels, and using them often. Anytime you see excess oil on the tank, the plug, or yourself, wipe it off! Anyways, at this point you can get back under your vehicle. Screw the new filter into place. Make sure it is seated properly, and tight, but you don’t have to manhandle the poor thing.

Also, use your socket wrench to reinstall your oil tank plug. Same rules apply. You want it to be tight but you do not have to go overboard with it.

Step 4: Put in New Oil

Pop the hood to your car if you haven’t already and locate your oil fill hole.

Now this is where referencing your car’s manual earlier becomes so important. You need to know how much oil your tank holds (as I mentioned, mine holds 4.23 quarts of oil). Unscrew the cap, place your funnel in the hole (we just use an old 2liter coke bottle that has been cut up) and begin to refill your tank.

Your bottle of oil will have little tick marks on the side so you can see how much oil is remaining in the container. Use this to help you estimate how much you have poured in. It is better to under fill and then have to add more than it is to overfill your tank. Once you think you have an adequate amount of oil poured in pull out your dipstick to check your levels.

Your dipstick usually has a brightly colored top to make it easy to identify but if yours does not and you can not locate it, consult your manual. When you pull out your stick wipe it clean, reinsert it, and then remove it again. At this point you can look to see if your tank is full. It is somewhat more difficult to read the levels when your oil is new and fresh as it is much clearer than it is after you have been driving with it for a while. You may need to move the stick around a bit until the light catches it and you can see the oil level.

You want your stick to have oil just up to the “full” line. Once the tank is full screw your cap back on to the oil fill area, wipe up any oil that may have spilled and close your car’s hood. Congratulations, you just changed your own oil!

Step 5: Dispose of Used Oil

In the state of Tennessee there are strict laws regarding the disposal of used oil. The best and easiest thing to do is to empty your used oil from the drain pan into a plastic container that contains no other materials and that you are able to close tightly. We use empty milk jugs from our recycling bin.

You can then take your containers of used oil to your local automotive supply store where they will direct you to the oil recycling area. In my experience, this has always been a free service. I do not know if it differs state to state.

So, I hope this has been helpful should you decide to give it a go yourself! If I have left anything out or if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to leave me a comment. I will try to get back to you quickly 🙂


2 thoughts on “How to Change Your Own Oil

  1. Hello, This was a very good post. Especialy with the pictures included. A lot of people don’t realize they can change the oil as easy as this but youve spelled it out nicely.
    The first time I ever changed oil by myself, I knocked on some random guys door to ask if he could show me where my oil plug was. I found the filter by myself but not the other part. 🙂

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