How to Change the Oil in a Car

How to Change the Oil in a Car

Changing a car's oil is a dirty job, but it's not hard. In fact, even the first time you change the oil, it should take you only an hour or so—half an hour once you've done it a couple of times. Consider that an oil change at the auto shop typically costs around $40. And that's only the direct savings. Consider also the role of oil: to make less friction inside your engine, which translates to less wear and tear and increased gas mileage with lower emissions. Here's how it's done.


• Jacks

• Safety stands or ramp

• Socket wrench

• Oil pan

• Work gloves

• Filter wrench or ratchet


• Motor oil

• Oil filter

1 Buy new oil. Consult your owner's manual to learn the type and amount of oil (typically five quarts) needed for your car. The Society of Automotive Engineers standardizes the oil labeling system (e.g., 10W-30). The first number (in the example, "10") describes the oil's viscosity at 0 degrees Fahrenheit, and the second number ("30") describes the oil's viscosity at 212 degrees Fahrenheit, or approximately an engine's operating temperature. Motor oils need to be less viscous when cold to avoid being gummy in the winter and more viscous when hot to avoid becoming thin in a hot engine. Generally, the higher the second number—meaning it's more viscous at a high temperature—the better for your engine, because the oil forms better seals and a stronger friction-reducing film. That said, engines are optimized for oil of a certain viscosity. Again, consult your owner's manual and then go to an auto-supply store or gas station to buy the right kind and amount. Note that high-performance engines may require synthetic oil.

How to Change the Oil in a Car

2 If needed, lift the car. To change the oil, you'll need to access the oil drain plug underneath the car. If your car doesn't naturally have enough clearance to offer access, either jack it up (see How to Change a Flat Tire) and put the car on safety stands or drive the car onto steel ramps. In either case, follow the appropriate safety precautions any time you lift a car (also see How to Change a Flat Tire). In this case, safety is doubly important, as you'll be sliding underneath the car to change the oil, and for that reason, instead of leaving the car on the jack, you will need to use safety stands. When changing oil, it's best to work with a warm but not hot car. Before you jack up the car, drive about a mile to loosen the oil and then let the car cool to a reasonable temperature while you prepare the rest of your tools. Keep in mind that driving the car will make the oil HOT.

How to Change the Oil in a Car

3 Position the oil pan. Consider putting cardboard under the car, because spilled oil will stain the driveway or garage floor. Place a pan to catch the oil underneath the drain plug. A task-specific oil pan with a spout and screwtight lid makes transporting and disposing of the used oil much easier. Notice that the plug points out at an angle and place your oil pan appropriately. Slide underneath the car in clothes that you don't mind staining (bring your work gloves).

4 Many newer cars include an aerodynamic under-panel that covers the drain plug and oil filter. Before you remove it, look for a small access hatch in the panel. If an under-panel exists with no easy-access hatch, you'll have to remove the panel entirely (at this point, you might want to have your oil changed professionally). You can remove the oil filter cap at the top of the engine to vent the drain so oil flows smoothly instead of "glugging" out. Use the correct size socket wrench to loosen the drain plug. Wearing gloves, slowly unscrew the last bit by hand. Oil will start to flow. Take this opportunity to check the oil plug washer—the O-shaped gasket that helps the plug form a strong seal. Some plugs have built-in rubber washers that may be ripped or mangled and need replacing. Once all of the oil has drained out, replace the drain plug and tighten with the socket wrench. Do not overtighten or you risk stripping the threads. And don't pour old oil down the drain! Many oil change centers will accept old oil and can properly dispose of it.

How to Change the Oil in a Car

5 Locate the oil filter (if needed, check your owner's manual—it may be under the hood). Place an oil pan beneath the filter, as you will almost certainly drip. Loosen the filter with a filter wrench. Once possible, continue to work the filter loose by hand. Eventually, oil will start pouring out around the edges. Hold tight to avoid dropping the filter as you remove it. Use a rag to wipe clean any excess oil or grime and then hand-tighten a new filter in place, likely over an O-ring washer. Once the filter pulls the O-ring in contact with the sealing surface, use muscle power to turn it between three-quarters and one more full rotation. Don't overtighten.

How to Change the Oil in a Car

6 Add the new oil. Double-check that the drain plug and filter are secure before you start to pour. Start by adding one quart less than the recommended amount. Then start the car, let it run for a minute, turn off the engine, wait a few minutes for the oil to cool, and check the oil with the dipstick. Pull out the dipstick, clean it, reinsert the stick, pull it back out and check the bottom of the stick to see how high the oil reaches. The dipstick should have two holes to indicate low and high oil levels. Continue adding oil a bit at a time until the dipstick shows you've reached the proper amount. Continue checking your car's oil on a regular (monthly) basis using this method.

How to Change the Oil in a Car

Pro tip: When replacing an oil filter, coat it with a little bit of oil before twisting it back into place.