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Learning How to Change Oil: Your Step By Step Guide

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Replacing your car’s oil is the most basic of vehicular maintenance tasks. And yet half of Americans don’t think they can do it on their own. That spells disaster for the life expectancy of most vehicles since many car owners don’t keep up with the recommended maintenance guidelines.

But maybe they would if they realized just how easy it is to perform an oil change. It’s a great starting point for those who want to learn more about their vehicles or simply have a bad history with local mechanics.

Spend some personal time with your car. Here’s how to change oil step by step.

DIY vs. Mechanic Oil Change

Bringing your vehicle to the mechanic may seem convenient until you think about how long it truly takes. Between the drive there, back, and the wait in line, getting your oil changed by a mechanic can take upwards of an hour. And many of these oil change services don’t have a reputation for employing the most competent workers.

In comparison, changing your own oil takes about half an hour once you know what you’re doing. You’ll also save money by buying your own product and doing the labor yourself. Savings vary depending on several factors, but you could keep as much as $100 in your pocket.

How Often Should You Change Your Oil?

Knowing when to change your oil can seem confusing in and of itself. Nowadays, you’ll find most pundits suggest an oil change between every 5,000 to 8,000 miles. For cars that use synthetic oils, the interval may extend beyond 10,000 miles.

For the most accurate guidelines, take a look at your car’s owner manual.

But let’s say you don’t drive very often. If you’ve been driving on the same oil for six months without reaching the mileage interval, you should perform an oil change anyway. Automotive oil breaks down over time, so it’s still becoming less effective even if you aren’t using it.

Changing intervals are always up for debate. Still not sure if you need your oil change? Discover more.

Four Steps for How to Change Oil

Now that we’ve covered the conditional factors surrounding an oil change, let’s look at the process itself. First, you’ll want to research your local area’s oil change laws. For those who live near sensitive bodies of water, it’s often illegal to change your own oil.

Next, prepare for the oil change by getting your supplies. Refer to your owner’s manual to find the type of oil and filter right for your vehicle. And if it’s your first time, double-check and make sure the oil’s type, weight, and viscosity all match.

All set? Great. Let’s look at the step-by-step process of an oil change.

1. Lift the Vehicle

The oil drain plug is accessible without the help of a jack on some vehicles. But only some.

For the rest, you’ll need to use your car jack. Lift your vehicle off the ground on one side, set up a jack stand, then do the same for the other. If you don’t want to deal with a jack, which can sometimes be dangerous or damaging when used incorrectly, get yourself a set of steel ramps instead.

And remember: Never, for any reason, get under a vehicle supported only by a jack.

2. Remove the Oil

When the vehicle is secure, slide under your car and find the oil pan. Your owner’s manual will point you in the right direction. On the oil pan, you should see a metal bolt known as the oil plug.

Slide a tray or container under the plug. Now you’re ready for the dirty work.

With a wrench that fits your oil plug, slowly loosen it. The oil will begin to dribble from the hole. Since you may get some oil on yourself in the process, don’t attempt an oil change until your vehicle has cooled down.

Sometimes the oil drain plug will require a new gasket — but sometimes that’s not necessary. Refer to your car owner’s manual and change out the washer if required.

It’s going to take a few minutes for the oil to drain completely, so be patient. Once everything’s been drained, screw the drain plug back in place.

3. Replace the Oil Filter

With guidance from your owner’s manual, find your oil filter under the vehicle. Set up your oil pan under the filter and unscrew it with your hand. The remaining oil will spill out.

Now is a good time to compare the old and new filters to ensure they look identical.  Then take the gasket of your new filter and smear it with fresh oil. This will guarantee your vehicle regains the correct oil pressure.

To finish the installation, screw the new filter (with its lubricated gasket!) in place with your hand. No special tools are necessary. 

4. Add Engine Oil

The hard part is already done.

Pop open the hood and look for the engine oil fill cap. It should be labeled. Double-check how much oil your engine needs, unscrew the cap, and fill your engine accordingly.

Once you’re done, make sure you screw the oil cap back in place. It’s about as complicated as adding new washer fluid.

Performing an Oil Change Is Easy

The only bad part about changing your own oil? You have to dispose of the old stuff yourself. Pour it in a container such as an old milk jug and bring it with you to a collection site, which you can usually find at auto parts stores and service stations.

Now that you know how to change oil, you’re probably wondering why you ever paid a mechanic the big bucks to do it for you. Just hide the fact that you changed your own oil. You don’t want your friends and family to catch wind of your newfound skill, do you?

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Learning How to Change Oil: Your Step By Step Guide