How to Change Your Oil: A Step by Step Guide

In this guide, I am going to show you how to change your own oil even if you have never done it before. There are several reasons why I recommend learning to change your own oil. These include:

  • It’s actually not that difficult
  • You can save money
  • You can build confidence working on your car
  • Be more in tune with how your car is running

NOTE: This guide is written for the complete novice/beginner, so bear with me for the lengthy explanations.

Most of the work in changing your own oil is in gathering the supplies. Once you have all of the items you need, performing the work should take no more than 30-60 minutes. So here’s what you need to get started:

1). Find out how much oil your car holds and what kind. This information should be in your owner’s manual or on the oil filler cap (FIG. 1). If you don’t have the owner’s manual, try searching the Internet to find out.

Most passenger cars and trucks will take between 4 to 6 US Quarts of oil – but your vehicle may vary. In this case, our 1995 Chevrolet Cavalier requires 4.0 quarts of SAE 10W-30 motor oil.

FIG.1 Your owner’s manual should specify the type and quantity of oil needed.

2). Here is a list of some materials you will need:

  • Jug of new oil
  • Oil filter
  • Oil filter wrench
  • Ratchet and socket set (to remove drain plug)
  • Drain pan
  • Jack stands and jack
  • Funnel
  • Shop rags/towels (to clean up spills)
  • Empty jug with screw-on cap (to store used oil)

FIG. 2 Gathering the necessary supplies.

You can get these supplies from your local AutoZone, O’Reilly, NAPA, Wal-Mart, or other automotive parts store. I want to take a minute to talk about two of the items on this list in depth.

First, the oil filter. If you don’t know exactly which filter you need, that’s okay. Someone behind the counter will be able to look it up for you, or you can do it yourself using a reference book which should be located somewhere near the oil filters (FIG. 3).

FIG. 3 Most auto parts stores have a reference book to look up the exact filters needed for your vehicle.

There are a wide range of oil filters available from the very cheap ($3 to $7 range) to the very expensive ($15 to $30 range). There is endless debate on the Internet about which brands work best, with no clear consensus. Just try to pick one that fits your budget.

Second, I want to talk about the oil filter wrench. These are commonly available in two styles: adjustable and a non-adjustable “cup” style. The adjustable ones have not worked well for me, I often find they are too big and bulky to maneuver around in a small engine bay. The “cup” style wrenches work well for me, they will usually accept a normal ratchet in order to loosen the filter. For my car, a 74/76mm wrench is needed, but for your car, a smaller or larger size may be needed. These oil filter wrenches are sometimes made of plastic, which I would not recommend as the plastic ones tend to “jump” over the ridges on the filter, in my experience. Definitely go for a high quality metal oil filter wrench instead.

Third, I wanted to mention the jack stands. You should NEVER work underneath a vehicle unless it is supported by jack stands. A floor jack or emergency jack alone is NOT enough. There is a real danger of the vehicle falling and crushing you, which could cause injury or death. A good pair of stands isn’t really that expensive, and it might be the best $20 you ever spent!

3). Find a good place and time to work. If this is your first time changing your own oil, don’t wait until it’s dark outside and you’ve worked a long day to start a project. Make sure your mind is relaxed and you have a shaded, uncluttered area to work in (FIG. 4).

FIG. 4 Ensure you have enough room to work.

PART II: Drain the Old Oil
1). Drive the vehicle and make sure the engine reaches its normal operating temperature (FIG. 5). A perfect time to do this is while driving to the store to pick up your supplies. You want to change the oil when it is hot because it will flow more easily. I do not recommend changing the oil from a cold engine that’s been sitting overnight.

FIG. 5 Ensure the engine has warmed up to its normal operating temperature before changing the oil.

2). Park the vehicle and turn the engine off.

3). Place your jack underneath the vehicle and start to raise one side. Place the jack stand underneath and VERY SLOWLY lower the vehicle until it is resting on the stand. If it does not look rock solid, re-position the stand and try again. remove the jack.

4). Raise and support the other side of the vehicle. I like to leave the jack in place for “extra insurance” (FIG. 6).

FIG. 6 Raise and support both sides of the vehicle using jackstands.

5). Remove the oil filler cap and set it aside (FIG. 7). This will help the oil drain out of the engine. On some vehicles, the filler cap is separate from the dipstick. On this vehicle, they are the same.

FIG. 7 Raise the hood and locate the oil filler cap. Remove the cap and set it aside.

6). Slide under the car and locate the oil pan. Make sure you are wearing an old shirt, or lay on a piece of cardboard to protect your clothing. There will be a large drain bolt on the bottom or back of the pan (FIG. 8).

FIG. 8 Locate the drain plug on the oil pan.

7). Have your oil drain pan ready to catch the stream of oil as it comes out (FIG. 9). Carefully loosen and remove the bolt and try not to let it fall in the pan if possible.

FIG. 9 Position the drain pan to catch the oil, then remove the drain plug.

8). It may take several minutes for all of the oil to drain out. While the oil is draining, let’s look for the oil filter.

PART III: Remove the Old Filter
1). Oil filters are sometimes located in inconvenient places. Look for yours on the side, back, or bottom of the engine. In our case, the oil filter is on the back of the engine and can only be reached from the bottom of the car. Be careful not to burn yourself on any hot engine or exhaust parts!

FIG. 10 Remove the oil filter using a special oil filter wrench attached to a ratchet.

2). Place the oil filter wrench on the end of the filter and gently tap it on to the filter. This will prevent the filter wrench from slipping off once you start turning.

3). Attach the ratchet and start turning. If the filter does not begin to turn, try going the other direction.

4. Unscrew the filter. Be careful when removing it, as it will be full of hot oil that may spill on the engine or on your skin/clothes. On this vehicle, a small amount of oil will inevitably drip onto the exhaust pipe.

5. Set the old filter aside and remove the oil filter wrench.

PART IV: Install the New Filter
1). Open the box for the new filter, and check that it matches the filter you just removed from the engine (FIG. 11).

FIG. 11 Remember to apply a thin coat of fresh oil around the edge of the new filter before installing!

2). Before installing the new filter, make sure to lubricate the rubber seal with a thin coat of clean oil. This step is **VERY IMPORTANT!** (FIG. 11)

3). Thread the new filter on to the engine by hand.

4). Attach the oil filter wrench and tighten the filter until it will not spin any further (FIG. 12).

FIG. 12 The new filter installed.

5). Don’t forget to remove the oil filter wrench from the new filter.

PART V: Refill with Clean Oil
1). By now, all of the old oil should be done draining from the pan. Take a rag or shop towel and clean the magnetic tip of the drain plug before reinstalling. Make sure the plug is free of any lint or debris before reinstalling.

2). Reinstall and tighten the drain plug (FIG. 13). Be careful not to cross-thread or over-tighten the plug!

FIG. 13 Reinstall the drain plug and tighten securely. Be careful not to cross-thread or over-tighten!

3). Now it is time to add the new oil. Position a funnel in the oil filler spot on the engine (FIG. 14). On this vehicle it is the same place where you check the oil, but on some vehicles it may be different.

FIG. 14 Adding the new oil. Be careful not to overfill!

4). Begin pouring in the new oil, stopping periodically to check the level (FIG. 15). Be careful not to overfill!

FIG. 15 Check the level while adding the new oil to ensure you do not overfill.

5). When completed, start the car and check underneath for any leaks. Turn the engine off and check the oil level again. If it is low, add until the right amount is shown on the dipstick.

6). Discard your old oil filter in the trash. Pour your used waste oil into a jug (FIG. 16) and drop it off at your local auto parts store for recycling (FIG. 17). Most auto parts stores will do this free of charge.

FIG. 16 Pour your used oil into a container. I like jugs with screw-on caps the best.

FIG. 17 Most auto parts stores will accept your used oil for free.

7). One last thing…don’t forget to write down the mileage of your vehicle and the date you changed the oil, so that you can remember when it’s time to do it again.

8). Clean up and give yourself a pat on the back! You’re done!

I hope you enjoyed this tech article on how to change your own oil. If you liked it, please share this article on Facebook, Twitter, or with a friend.