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Hooniverse 101 – Let’s Change Oil!

Robert Emslie February 8, 2012 Hooniverse 101 152 Comments

Many of you have long ago mastered the art of auto repair, and presently maintain a wrench-fu worthy of ASE certification. This post isn’t for you, it’s for everyone else who’s under-hood acumen is – shall we say – yet to be developed. And today we’re going to bring everyone up to speed on one of the simplest and most cost effective maintenance tasks you can undertake yourself – changing your car’s motor oil. Let’s get busy.

Doing your own oil change can not only save you money, but it will also guarantee that you know the quality of the oil going into your car or truck, and doing so helps you become more comfortable with working on your car too. It does however require the purchase of some tools that may make your first change more expensive than the Lube shop’s, but consider them an investment.

We’re going to be changing the oil on a transverse-engine front driver, and all of the required elements are in plain view, something not always the case on many cars. First thing we’re going to do is jack up the nose, and then rest the car on a pair of jackstands. You don’t need a roller jack to do this, but a pair of stands are pretty mandatory if your car’s ground clearance isn’t enough to afford doing the caterpillar beneath. Again, a roller jack and stands are an excellent investment and tools that you will use again and again, and potentially pass on to your progeny.

Check your owner’s manual for jacking points – it will be there under tire changes. Typically there will be strengthened sections under the rockers where the manufacturer has installed jacking points. We’re not going to jack there, but we will be supporting the car on those. Also, make sure you’ve applied the parking brake, and ideally have chocked the rear tires with chocking wedges. We will be jacking the car by placing the jack beneath the subframe crossmember in front assuring that it is centered and really on the frame and not an engine part, exhaust manifold or is crimping any hoses or wires.

Once the car is at a reasonable height, position the jackstands under each of the jacking points you found in the owner’s manual and then SLOWLY lower the car onto them, keeping in mind that it will be sliding backwards as it goes down as a function of the jack. Check and make sure that the car is securely resting on both stands by rocking it from above. Then you can pull the roller jack out and may make your first trip under the car. Um, but before you do, put on a pair of shatter-risistent glasses or plastic protective goggles. yeah, you’ll look like a dork, but under the car, who’ll know?

There are two items we are looking for here underneath the engine; the oil filter, and the oil drain. In the picture above, the filter is the white cylinder on the left, while the drain plug is barely visible, facing backwards next to that exhaust pipe junction. We’ll get to that.

This is also a good point to bring up that before you start draining things out of, and taking things off of your car, you should have already purchased a sufficient quantity of replacement motor oil of the proper weight, as well as the right filter. Both may be procured at your friendly neighborhood parts store, or even at the Walmarts, and finding the right filter is easy because there’ll be a dog-eared and greasy book with every car you’ve eve heard off, and a few you haven’t, plus their corresponding filter number. Check your owner’s manual for your car’s proper oil weight and capacity before making your purchase.

Up on top you’ll want to find both your oil fill and dipstick – and no impromptu sword fighting with that dipstick, you could put an eye out. Nicely here, both are noted by bright yellow markings and sit right next to one another. I like to pop the oil fill cap off and then rest it over the fill hole, in order to let air in as the oil drains out below, but keeping leaves, bugs out and nosy neighbors from poking their fingers in there. Okay, ready to change that oil? Not quite yet we aren’t, first lets make sure we have all the tools ready to go.

This is what we’ll need, clockwise from the top – oil drain pan, anti-seize compound, box-end wrench of proper size (15MM in this case) and an oil filter wrench. Now, your filter wrench may look different, and it all is determined by how nice a guy the engineer who designed your engine bay was. In the case of the Toyota Sienna with its V6 engine, the filter sits mid-block on the front, with no possible leverage space on the sides due to the exhaust and radiator hoses. That requires an end-on cap-style wrench, which is then levered with a 3/8 drive jimmie bar. On this Ford the filter sits conveniently next to the pan and it’s an easy job getting the strap wrench (like the one above) around it. The important thing to remember in loosening both the filter and drain plug is rightie-tighty, lefty loosie. Since you will most likely be upside down, it’s easy to get turned around down there and attempt to turn either of them the wrong way. DON’T DO THAT. Okay, now lets drain!

Black gold, Texas tea, something that’s going to have to go to the recycler. Oh well. The oil drain is the first to be opened, making sure that you have already positioned the pan beneath and a little aft of the drain plug so as to catch the stream at both full force and once it slows to a dribble. Make sure that you are careful in spinning the drain plug out thte last few turns by hand so you don’t lose it into the slimy pool of blackness quickly filling your pan. You might want to also spread newspapers around under there to catch any drips, let’s see an iPad do that!

While you are waiting for the oil to finish draining, you might take a moment to enjoy a cup of joe, and reflect on the fact that you need to work on your own spare tire.

Okay, hopefully this won’t be the last time your car’s oil gets changed, so lets make it a little easier on the next guy, after all that might just be you. Here we’re going to put a dab of anti-seize compound on the upper threads of the drain plug. Not too much, just enough to coat the threads all the way around when you run your finger around it. Hey, I didn’t say you weren’t going to get dirty!

Next up is torquing the drain plug back in place with a torque wrench. Now, this is sort of the really anal way to do this, and is probably where so many Lube & Tune shops let their customers down by either under or over tightening the plug causing problems down the road.

I torque it to 20 ft-lbs and am done with it. Also, I should note that this car has a steel plug and an aluminum pan, which doesn’t require an intermediary washer. Should you pull the plug out and find a copper or other material washer in there, make sure it’s in good enough shape to reuse, or get a new one from the parts store.

Okay, we’ve drained most of the oil out, and we’ve re-sealed the pan, we’ll next turn our attention to the filter. Oil filters come in a variety of forms, from canister inserts like on my old MGB, and remote cartridge style. But the most common type is the spin-on filter, and that’s what we’re going to focus on here. If your car was built in that last 30 years or so, and is reasonably common, that’s what it’ll have, pretty assuredly.

The filter here is the white canister that’s about the size of a small can of coffee. It’s held in place by the pressure of its rubber gasket, and is threaded onto the center fill pipe.

Once again, it’s important here to remember which way you need to twist the filter off as lying on your back you can get turned around, and the last thing you want to do is tighten the filter even further onto the filter mount. You might be able to twist the filter off if you’re reasonable strong, or, should you be Dakota Fanning, you might want to use a band wrench.

There is a chance that the filter has been ‘cooked’ in place, where the rubber gasket has possibly hardened or is otherwise stuck onto its bearing surface making removal with a wrench really tough. If that has happened you may need to employ a strap wrench and breaker bar, or – god help you – a large screwdriver driven through the filter and pried upon until it breaks free. Most likely, it will come undone with a good steady bit of pressure applied to the wrench.

Make sure you’ve positioned your drain pan under the filter to catch the oil that is presently sitting in the filter, and begin to loosen it by twisting counterclockwise. Once it’s loose, continue to spin it by hand but be really careful as it will start leaking oil as soon as the gasket seal is broken, and should you spin it all the way off without having a good grip on it, it will drop into the pan of nasty old oil, splashing you like this is a slapstick comedy, which it isn’t.

This is what it looks like once the filter has been carefully removed. The oil comes in through that center pipe with the threads, and then is pulled back up through the hole in that outer dished portion. Or visa-versa, I can never remember. The outermost lip is the bearing surface against which the rubber filter gasket seals. Make sure this is clean and free of debris so the new filter will seal properly.

Here’s a comparison of the old filter along with the new. The model numbers are the same, but it appears that Motorcraft has decided to make the new filter a little shorter, I’m over it. Next up, we’re going to prep the new filter for installation. See that black ring on the filter, the one surrounding all the holes? That’s the gasket, and we want to ensure that it doesn’t bind when we seat it to the bearing surface on the filter mount.

Carefully slide your pan out, first making sure that the oil filter mount is no longer dripping, and then dip your finger in the Texas tea. Use that to apply a thin bead of oil to the gasket on the new filter, and then screw the filter in place on the mount, being careful not to cross-thread.

The rule of thumb is to spin the filter down until it is hand-tight, and then twist it another quarter turn. That’s always worked for me, and I’ve not had a filter walk back off on a single one of the hundreds of changes I have undertaken. Once the filter is in place, we’re pretty much done with the under-side of the car, but don’t drop it off the stands quite yet.

Turning back to the engine top, we’re ready to refill the oil, and in this case, we’ll use the entire 5-quarts that come in the jug. Your engine’s capacity may be different, and it’s vitally important that you neither under- or over-fill the crankcase. Check your owner’s manual to determine how much you need, and it doesn’t matter whether you buy individual quarts or the big bottles. You will need a funnel as, after all that coffee you drank waiting for the old oil to drain, your hands are likely to be pretty shaky.

Once it’s full, cap the oil fill – this is something I’ve seen Lube & Tune places forget to do – and save the oil jug for the old oil, which you’ll be taking, along with the filter, to the recycler. Pull the dipstick and check the oil level. It may not read correctly as all the oil hasn’t made its way to the filter or other passages yet. Now we’re going to test the system. Get cleaned up, or better, have someone else get in the car and start it up. Look underneath (but don’t get underneath!) at the drain plug and filter to ensure everything is tight and leak-free. Shut the car down and then drop it from the stands. Once it’s level, and has sat for about five minutes, check the oil again, and make sure it’s in the level that the manufacturer set for proper operation.

If there are no leaks and the level looks good, you’re done. Look underneath and around the car to make sure you haven’t left a jack stand or pointy tool down below that would cause problems when backing out, and remember to take your old oil and filter to the recycler – the place where you bought the new stuff will most likely take them for free.

That’s it. It’s really not that hard, and be being able to change your own oil, you open the door to other maintenance opportunities that will, over the long run, save you money and make for a better bond between you and your car.

This was a very basic, and kind of anal, how-to. Let me know your thoughts on doing other Hooniverse 101 posts. Do you think these are of value? Was this one too comprehensive, or not detailed enough? If you liked it, what other routine maintenance jobs would you like to see detailed? If you didn’t like it, well, okay. Either way, let me know your feedback in the comments below.

Now get out there are change that oil!

  • $kaycog

    Excellent 101, and I'd like to see more of them. I can do the cup of joe part and continue taking my car to my local Ford Store. They know me there.

    • SSurfer321

      As we don't have breasts, us men don't always receive the same friendly treatment from the dealer 😉

      In all seriousness, it pays to have a good relationship with the dealer.

      • $kaycog

        Haha! I don't have the equipment and tools to change oil, and I really don't want to. The guys at the Ford Store are great, and some of them are close friends.

        • pj134

          Ms. Cog, I'm not sure what "equipment" you are referring to, but I assure you women can do oil changes as well.

          • $kaycog

            Floor jack is equipment, silly. Of course, women can change oil. I just don't have the inclination to do so.

            • pj134

              OH! err, I mean, oh, right, of course, the floorjack… not genitalia… That would have been weird if I had thought that was what you were referring to.

              • $kaycog

                PJ!!!!! STOP IT!!!! Have you not learned anything? Shame on you!

                • pj134

                  What? I said I wasn't referring to that. You have a dirty mind if that's what you thought I meant. So shame on you, actually.

                  • $kaycog

                    But you said 'that'. The shame is all on you!

                    • pj134

                      I can't control what you infer. The shame is on you my dear.

                    • $kaycog

                      You're just asking for it now. I gave this to Flick in the early days of our shamefully long stormchaser thread. Now, I give it to you, unembedded…. .http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RG3JEJFl_6k

                    • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

                      [youtube RG3JEJFl_6k http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RG3JEJFl_6k youtube] Shame on you, didn't even get the link right, whoa is me.

                    • $kaycog

                      Hahaha! That's funny. Yep, shame on me, and thanks to you.

                    • pj134

                      By default, I win. Shame on you for giving me the win.

                    • jeepjeff

                      Shame is not going to work on this man. I fear he has probably never experienced it.

                    • $kaycog

                      I know what you mean, but I never give up trying.

          • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

            She can always buy a Mann filter but would have no end to the trouble of locating her dip stick.

            • pj134

              Well said.

      • What's a "dealer"?

        • pj134

          Why? Whachu need?

    • OA5599

      It still doesn't hurt to know how it's done (not that you don't).

      A woman at work decided to have her oil changed at a place around the corner. Rather than wait on it, she caught a ride to the office and another ride at lunch to pick it up. She looked underneath and saw it still had the manufacturer's filter on it (the first oil change for that car). They insisted the oil had been changed so she asked to see the box the filter came in. They said it was already in the dumpster. She asked to see any other new filter of the same brand.

      "Oops. I guess we didn't change your oil after all."

      • $kaycog

        I really do know how and have "assisted" many times. Good for that woman at your work! I've heard that type of thing before.

  • danleym

    You forgot the most important part of putting a car on jack stands- set the e-brake and chock the tires! Never go under a lifted car if the tires aren't chocked. You can buy cheapo plastic ones that work just fine, or even use a short section of an old 4×4, but put something behind those tires, because it doesn't take too much force to tip those stands over.

    Also, if you chock them before raising the car, you don't have to worry about it sliding backward when you lower it.

    • Fej

      +1 on chocking the tires. I've found that split firewood works better than scrap lumber if you don't have wheel chocks. I've had lumber slip before on boat trailers, but never with the firewood.

    • Excellent point, I always set the parking brake, but don't go as far as chocking the tires. I will update the post as soon as I can.

      • danleym

        I'm really anal about safety under a car. I've heard a few stories about guys being crushed and killed, and I have no desire to be one of them. I go so far as setting up the jack stands differently- usually their base is rectangular, which means they provide more stability in the direction of the longer side. So if possible, I will set one stand facing front to back and another facing side to side- in case that nosy neighbor happens to come over and lean his 350 pounds on the car while I'm under it. Probably unnecessary, but just in case…

        • I also make sure the jack is set to the UP position after lowering it and close to the car, just in case. If possible I will leave the jack in place, set to up, with the pressure on the jackstands, but the jack ready to go. Leaving the jack in the up position is much easier than trying to train my wife in the proper use of a floor jack with a car on top of me (worst case).

        • JayP2112

          One of my college profs had a story when his Corvette slid and pinned him under the car. Being late Saturday, he said he was planning to wait for the mail to run Monday and scream for the mailman's help. He was able to move out from the car eventually.

          Real stands, ebrake, chocks, leave the jack as a backup and a phone close by if you live in BFE.

    • Feds_II

      Will a 4×2 work? And if so, which section is preferred?

      <img src="http://www.hotrodsandclassics.com/wildimages/CanadianTireRustTruck/Dec%5B1%5D.17%202003002.JPG&quot; width="500/">

      • danleym

        Nah, 4x2s are pretty much pointless…

    • Good call.

      Never had a problem with a car while on stands, but once got bit when I put it down.

      I forget what I was doing, but it was up long enough and did enough different things on the Uberbird that I forgot it either wasn't in gear or didn't have the parking brake on or something, and it started rolling right as it hit the ground. Luckily a quick jam of something under the wheel stopped it, but that was a little dicey for a second…

  • Number_Six

    I'm confused by the omission of Walmart parking lot, mild burns, and storm drain.

    • Also, no mention of used oil as a weed killer. Just pour a little around the fence line, works as good as Roundup and it is free.

    • Feds_II

      Came to suggest dumping oil down the storm drain, am leaving satisfied.

      On a serious note, my civil engineer friends always remind me that it is better to dump it down a sink/toilet, as that water gets treated.

      On a really serious note: Always dispose of waste oil properly.

      • Indeed. Why would anyone just pour away a perfectly good combustible liquid?

      • Oil comes out of the ground. I'm just putting it back where it came from.

    • joshuman

      My brother always says dilution is the solution.

  • Fej

    Since there is no real benefit to having the wheels in the air for oil changes I seldom use a jack and jackstands. I've got a set of drive on ramps that put the car at a good height and vastly simplify the process.

    • I too have ramps, but unfortunately I lack a daily driver with a high enough front valance to use them.

      • Fej

        I've had that problem too, but at the moment most of my cars can clear the ramp fine. But if I try to drive on them with my "racecar" I just push the ramps up the driveway

        Even my moms stock height W202 will push the ramps unless I gun it for a second.

      • I just jack up my Z3 and then use the ramps in place of the jack stands. They are MUCH more stable.
        Also try putting a 1-2" thick board in front of the ramps to help with the clearance issue.

      • I have the same issue, addressed with two short lengths of 2×8 lumber set at the base of the ramps (yo dawg, we heard you like ramps). It's still marginally easier than dealing with the jack and jackstands.

      • OA5599
        • Deartháir

          I swear that wasn't there when I posted my suggestion of that a moment ago. A large obvious photo like that is kinda hard to miss. Screw you, Nibbles, making me look bad.

          • OA5599

            Actually, my suggestion is different from the one you posted. It's a home made ramp set with an extended length approach. Not nearly as portable as your way, but a lot more stable.

      • Deartháir

        A couple 2×6" planks can allow pretty much any car to climb onto those ramps. Atsamatta you, you've never owned a lowered car?

    • Good time to grab at the tires, shake the suspension and find a loose tie-rod, hub or ball joints.

      • Nah. I hate picking up the mess.

        • Deartháir

          I think 80% of the reason why you like the 'Bee so much is because of all the punchlines it gives you.

  • Kenwood

    Very nicely done. I feel inspired. I never thought of using a torque wrench on the drain plug. How did you come to decide on the 20lbs? Was it in the manual? Some rule of thumb? Would that work on all cars whether it be a domestic commuter mule or a Porsche GT3 RS 4.0?

    • That's from the Ford manual. I'm pretty sure that most common car settings will be available through a Google search.

      • My usual torque setting for the drain plug is PFT but after so many thousand of changes you get used to when you have it tightened properly by hand..

      • Fej

        When I worked for my parents mechanic (ex-Vasek Polak race mechanic) in high school he learned me to do it without a torque wrench and it has worked fine for me on many cars since.

        But for some a torque wrench is probably a good idea. I've had a couple cars that took a breaker bar and kicking to break the drain plug loose the first time I changed its oil.

    • jeepjeff

      My Jeep has a steel oil pan with a rubber gasket on the bolt, the rating is 25 ft-lbs. My old Tercel might have been as low as 15 ft-lbs (but I didn't check and it got sold seven years ago). I got my rating from the Chilton/Haynes for each vehicle (should be at the end of the first chapter). I would expect 15-25 is the range just about everything will fall into. My stepfather tends to use a grunt wrench instead of a torque wrench, and never has any problems. (I use a torque wrench, mine is convenient and keeps me from worrying about my oil pan bolt.)

    • Feds_II

      Also, if there is an aluminium/copper washer involved, you can use the "hand tight + 1/4 turn" method. Hand tight meaning snugged up, but you're not turning the wrench hard. 1/4 turn being self explanatory, unless you are a metric pedant, then use 0.25 turns.

  • Impalamino

    USED OIL on the rubber gasket!?! I usually dip from the new stuff—but usually by that time my hands are soaked in filth anyway, so it really doesn't matter. I'm not driving a vehicle with F1 engine tolerances.

    Shadetree Pro Tip: You can skimp on the jack, but never skimp on the jack stands. Put another way: buy your jack at Harbor Freight, but don't buy your jack stands there.

    • MindHacker

      Be careful with harbor freight jacks too. The front roller on mine locked up, which lead to the jacking-plate creeping back off the jack-point and punching through the radiator.

    • TurboBrick

      I'm open for recommendations for a reasonably priced set of jack stands. The cheap stuff is all Chinese and the main difference seems to be the color in which it's painted, whether it came from HF, Sears or your local auto parts chain store.

      • skitter

        I actually have a pair of Craftsman 4-ton stands from Sears. They're heavy steel, the parts are well cut, the welds are fairly nice as well as continuous. They do hit the not-so-sweet spot of nearly too tall for my car and nearly too short for my van.

        Edit: And I have an Arcan 3.5 ton jack from Northern Tool. I do pretty serious research on tools, and came to the conclusion that several of the brands are basically or literally interchangeable. Things can be built well or poorly anywhere in the world. It has the dual cylinder setup, and a really sweet action when lowering. I have no idea how either the stands or the jacks would hold up in a professional shop, but for us talentless amateurs, the only real rule is to buy something rated for more than you need.

        /at least it's first-hand anecdotal

        • TurboBrick

          I just have a set of those Craftsman 2 ton stands that come with the "jack + stands" kit and they're kind of wimpy, same as the jack itself. I had to swap out my rear shocks a while back and the limitations of that setup became really obvious, so I've been thinking of getting something better. I was thinking of getting the HF 3 ton jack, but that Arcan does look better.

  • Good write up. The only addition I'd make is to emphasize that you need to make sure the original rubber seal came off with the filter and didn't stick to the engine. There are plenty of stories out there of people who didn't check, then screwed the filter on only to discover that the seal that was stuck to the engine shifted and caused a leak.

    • Good call. I got a new top end on my fox 'stang as a result of such an oversight.

    • OA5599

      BTDT. Also, before you begin the job–even before you leave the parts store–open the box for the new filter and be sure the filter is not damaged. I once got a visibly defective filter in an uncrushed carton but didn't realize it until my oil was drained and didn't have a spare car handy.

    • I did that once back when I had my Jeep. It's a good thing I heard the hiss of oil spraying all over the place under the hood and stopped and looked. Boy, did I feel like an idiot.

  • Rubber gloves are your friend for oil changes. I like the blue nitrile ones. Also, make sure you get the old gasket off with the old oil filter. Another tip I mentioned last week, that wrench you use for the drain plug, mark it. I just wrap a band of electrical tape around it. If you are really anal you can keep a little journal with all the work you do on your car and the mileage when it was done. I just take a crayon and write the mileage at the oil change under the hood. Most cars these days have a "change oil" light. Look in your owner's manual or online to find out how to reset it.

    I hate to admit it, but unless the car is really special or I'm using synthetic oil, I don't change my own oil on 2 out of my 3 vehicles. The price difference between the oil and filter and the quick lube place is usually less than $5. I love working on cars, but it just isn't worth the hassle to save $5.

    I miss real frames on cars. The whole frame is usually suitable for a jacking point.

    • Impalamino

      I used to be able to make the economic case for changing my own (and friends/family) oil…but now I'm having a hard time finding oil for less than $4/qt, which is totally ridiculous. Oddly, though, sometimes I find oil really cheap at oddball places like KMart.

      It's more of a "pride of a job well done" thing for me these days.

    • MrHowser

      I justify it to myself by buying synthetic oil and a good filter on sale at O'Reilly or wherever. Sure, Iffy Lube will change you for $19.95, but it's regular dino-juice and a cheapo filter. Similar quality oil and filter will be significantly more expensive than doing it at home. Having heard how certain filters won't play nice with the 4.0 in my truck, it's worth the extra ten-spot and my effort to do it myself. Plus, I can double-check and make sure the drain plug is in, and I know I won't round it off with my torque wrench.

      • Synthetic oil does change the equation a good bit. I've been know to buy my own filter, take it to the quickie lube, and get them to know a couple of buck off the price. It depends on the car for me too. Any trained monkey can change the oil in my truck or the wife's Trailblazer. I change the oil on the Z3.

      • jeepjeff

        Right, what oil and filter will $19.95 buy you? Considering that Iffy Lube gets wholesale, but has to make a profit after labor, well, it evens out. The oil change you can do for that much will be roughly the same as Iffy Lube's. I find that means the cheapest store brand I can find for the oil and a Fram, which is totally not acceptable. I pay a bit more for the filter and the oil, but I figure I'm saving that in maintenance on the long haul.

        Also, you can get oil samples to send of for analysis, I have no idea if Iffy Lube will do that or what kind of ridiculous fee they'll charge you for it.

    • I refuse to let any idiot other than myself change my oil.

      There have been a few times where due to time constraints, lack of available space or whatever that I have had places do it for me, and without fail every one of them has done something horribly wrong. Even at the dealer.

      I'm talking stripping/cross threading oil plug threads, forgetting to tighten the filter on my brand new pickup (I pulled over to investigate the smoke several blocks down the street), starting up my Polara to check for leaks, before realizing he forgot to put oil back in it (with me screaming to shut it down) tearing off the exhaust on my MGBs by driving them on a lift or over a pit with high guards (after being warned not to because it will tear off my exhaust), using the wrong grade of oil, even when I bring my own Castrol GTX 20-50, and of course not changing the filter while trying to charge me for a new one.

      It's more aggravation than I care to put up with.

      The only thing they CAN do consistently is grab a greasy rag and smear the insides of my previously spotless windows, even when I leave a big conspicuous note that says DO NOT CLEAN MY @#$% WINDOWS!!!

      (smear) "oops…"

      Every @#$% time. I attract idiots like a magnet.

  • Doing this for a living and reading it on here I'd say it was very well done. Informative, detailed, not preachy or to short or to long. Well done!

  • jeepjeff

    Looks great. The only tip I'd add is if you do splash or spill used oil everywhere, you'll want to clean it up. The hardware store and the car parts store will be happy to sell you very expensive absorbent clay pellets for a hefty premium. Skip it. Go to the grocery store and buy the cheapest bag of clay kitty litter you can find, that will perform nearly as well for a fraction of the price.

  • MrHowser

    Absolutely, keep these up. There may be some groans from expert wrenches, but for those of us who are still learning, these sorts of tips are invaluable.

    May I suggest a post on all fluid changes, as well as brake jobs (especially drums), tire rotation, lighting replacement, and basic tune-up routines? Heck, I'll write up the plug/wire/coil replacement I did on the wife's MPV if anyone's interested. I took lots of pics.

  • Corvette_Poncho

    Doesn't look like you could do it on this car, but always fill the new filter with fresh oil before screwing it on. It cuts the time that the motor will be running without oil flow while the new filter is filled with oil.

    I also knock a small hole in the old filter with a phillips screw driver before unscrewing it. The hole drains the filter and usually prevents oil from pouring down your arm while you unscrew it.

  • C³-Cool Cadillac Cat

    Nicely done.

    I've made it habit, since the first change on my first four-wheeled vehicle, to not only lube the filter gasket with fresh oil, doesn't stain my fingers, but also to verify THE OLD GASKET IS ON THE OLD FILTER.

    Yes, I'm yelling. Like I was after my first change on my own car, freshly-rebuilt engine, and the filter they put on had the gasket stick to the block. To say I was miffed is putting it mildly. It was a nice Dallas summer day, 105F, strolling down the LBJ shoulder in the afternoon.

    'Bout 15 miles after the change, I was walkin'. No damage, but still. I still look for leaks, too. It's good to have gearheads in the family.

    I've never used anti-seize on the pan plug, figuring the threads are plenty oily. Torque wrench? Bah! "Yeah, that's about right." Though I have a calibrated arm. 🙂

    One other thing… Vertically-oriented, mounted end 'up', filters rock the casbah!

    I'd like to strangle the designer of the RX300's engine for putting the filter in such a spot that even if I don't burn myself on the exhaust manifold, or get cut up by the plastic radiator shroud, I get to clean up drips for a day thanks to boneheaded filter placement/access. At least I can drain the pan without lifting the car, so that's nice.

    The final-gen Northstar, however, bonus points for making it easy to access and perfectly vertical. Additional bonus points for the 8 quart sump!

  • I find it's much easier to let the oil change itself. (British car joke)

    Also, I tend to change the engine with the filter, although it's hard to find a recycle bag large enough to leave it on the curb.

    • I do it anyway, but I've wondered at the importance of changing the oil in a vehicle that burns a quart every 500 miles.

      • I wonder the same thing about my two-strokes.

        • As much oil as it burns, the Alfa may as well be a two stroke. I must confess, I'm a bit stymied. Compression on the rebuilt motor is good, and outside of cold starts it doesn't emit smoke. Plugs stay pretty clean. I don't know where the stuff goes, but it does keep me going to Wal Mart for the finest store brand 20/50 they sell.

          • There's your problem: Multi-grade oil is the tool of the Devil! SAE 30 is the only proper engine oil for all applications, all conditions!

            …except my damned MG, which has a common sump for the engine and transmission, and therefore calls for that suspiciously fancy hyphenated stuff. But that doesn't mean I have to like it.

            • I've tried them all, including the extra virgin olive oil that my Italian language shop manual appears to recommend. I stick with the 20/50 because it doesn't boil off as fast. The trade off is a couple of miles per gallon.

              • Hey, at least olive oil is an identifiable substance. The authors [sic] of British manuals seem to delight in cryptic references to consumables along the lines of Chatham & Sons Improved and Patented No. 5 Fluid, "as available at your local motor factors, or upon application to the distributorship." Yeah, thanks, that's helpful. I've finally figured out that "paraffin" actually means kerosene, which simplifies matters considerably, I assure you.

                The French manuals keep referring to something called "l'huile" which only bolsters my suspicion that they're not actually written in English at all.

                The Swedish manuals, on the other hand, demonstrate a better grasp of English grammar and vocabulary than anything I've read from Britain or the U.S. Go figure.

                • Scandihoovians in general have great mastery of English. As a Dane once explained to me, "There are only 5 million of us in the world. We have to be able to communicate somehow." As an exchange student, I was amazed that everyone, including pensioners pushing hot dog carts, could carry on a conversation in my native tongue. That's why I'm pushing my kids to learn Chinese.

          • Deartháir

            My guess is that the shop was more familiar with rebuilding domestic cars.

            With most European cars, they have a very particular position and order for each piston ring on each cylinder. At first I thought it was just anal-retentive pickiness, but the really excellent VW tech from my former dealership looked at me in horror when I said that about the high-boosted engine in the Corrado. He informed me that most of those little Euro engines with relatively high power, or high compression, absolutely require each piston ring to sit in exactly the right position when being rebuilt.

            Easy way to tell, find a long hill, and let the engine hold you back as you descend it, riding in a lower gear and resting on backpressure. Then, just as you get to the bottom, stomp on it hard. You'll probably get a little puff of blue, and that's the ONLY time you'll be able to track it down through smoke. It's burning so little you'll probably never see it, but it's enough to keep dragging your dipstick down!

            (I'm guessing you've already checked and eliminated that, but after years of rebuilding engines, it's something I hadn't known about until I talked to a real expert.)

    • Froggmann_

      Reminds me of an old Ford I had. Damned thing leaked so badly that I would just replace filters every so often. When that engine came out I was vindicated. Freaking thing was clean on the inside.

    • Van_Sarockin

      I'd agree wholeheartedly with your second point, if it was an old VW engine. The oil filter was fussy with lots of little parts and you had to manually clean the screen. Whereas, 4 bolts and the engine's loose.

      • My '59 Baja bug really was as easy as that. There was no rear apron to mess with, so it was one wire, the throttle linkage spring and the fuel line, then 4 nuts, only one of which was a little fussy (above the starter I believe). Then I'd squat & yank it onto my thighs and waddle over to the nearest bench/stump/curb. It took longer to find the right page in "How to Keep Your VW Alive" than to actually do.

        One of my favorite books ever BTW.

  • Not specific to the job of DIY oil changes, but a regular oil change allows an excuse to just give the underside of your car a once-over.

    While you're under there and the oil's draining, take a look around for leaks, give the suspension a shake, look for dead birds stuck in your air dam, etc. It's good bonding time with your car.

  • SSurfer321

    Most excellent and thorough How-To.

    I have that same jack/stands (provided its the 3 ton) but don't require them for oil changes. I lifted the truck and can now just roll right under it 🙂

  • Nice and tight, just the way I like it. I think it is well written, not too technical and quick enough read.

    I would like to see a 101 on brakes. I have only done brakes on the F150 once, and didn't really pay too much attention.

    Spark plugs would also be a good one. Not only do they help with performance, but also fuel economy, something lots of people are concerned about.

  • A nicely compiled little guide. I think an oil change should be made a mandatory part of the driving license test.

    For a follow-up article, can I suggest "How To Trace And Repair A Power Steering Fluid Leak On A 1997 Rover 825Si?" I'm really not looking forward to it, but needs must when you're diametrically opposed to paying other people hard currency to wrench on your car.

    Shame mine came with the optional Lucas Eject All Fluids Simultaneously And At Random pack.

  • Slow_Joe_Crow

    Two useful tips, first, wear some nitrile rubber gloves to protect your hands from the hot carcinogenic used oil, and second, consider using wheel ramps instead of a jack. When I changed my own oil I preferred the wheel ramps because it was much quicker to roll up on the ramps and chock the rear wheels instead of messing with jack stands.

  • Stu_Rock

    I advise against the anti-seize lubricant. There's no need to introduce aluminum powder to your engine oil. Since you're not gorilla-torquing the drain plug, it will be easy to loosen next time anyway.

    The FL-820S is an excellent filter choice, by the way. That's a great filter for cars that take that application.

    • toyotadiesel

      +1 on the not using anti-seize, not need to add a metal impregnated grease to your oil. Also on the subject of ant-seize, the manufactures of spark plugs say that its not a good idea to use it when installing them. That being said, feel free to use anti-seize on anything else that is not inside the motor.

    • dukeisduke

      I used to run an FL-400S when I had Toyota Previas. The can was longer than the Toyota filter, with more media.

      • Stu_Rock

        Previas rock. Supercharged RWD minivan with unusual egg-like styling? Yes please. Where do I sign?

      • I don't remember the part numbers, but I used to run a big block oil filter on my Chevy small block engines. It was twice as long and gave you an extra 1/2 quart capacity. It still didn't stick below the oil pan.

  • TurboBrick

    Great summary! Few of my own pointers…

    1) Plug torque – I just use the two finger method: Pull it as tight as you can with a 1/2" ratchet using two fingers only.

    2) Fill the filter – I like to put some oil in the filter instead of just installing it dry. This is easier with cars that have the filter pointing straight up, instead of sideways.

    3) Filter tightening and removal – I tried those strap wrench things once, and the quickilube installed filter can just tore up to pieces. So now I just either oil filter pliers, huge channel locks or I just twist it off with my hand. See, I wear nitrile gloves when doing this, and it gives quite a bit of extra grip, which makes it easy to mount the filter as well.

    4) Need to find a place to get rid of your oil, filters, brake fluid and other toxic chemicals? Go to http://earth911.org , plug in your zip code and what is it that you're trying to get rid of.

    5) Use newspaper or cardboard! You will spill something during this process. Cut up cardboard box also makes a super-low-profile creeper.

    6) Nitrile gloves! I already meantioned these but I'll mention them again. The $6 for a 100 pack blue gloves from HF are great. If you insist on going 'bareback', then I suggest locating a bottle of some cheap hand lotion etc. and rubbing that on your hands before you get started, this will make cleanup much easier.

    It's not that you save all that much money changing your own oil, for me it's more about keeping an eye on other things while I'm down there (oh hey, steering boot has a tear in it). And it's a more efficient use of time for me in the end, because I'll use that "drip time" to clean up the garage usually.

  • DemonXanth

    Instructions I plundered from the internet:

    1. Pull up to Jiffy Lube 3000 miles after the last oil change.

    2. Drink a cup of coffee.

    3. Fifteen minutes later, write a check and leave with a properly maintained vehicle.


    1. Go to O'Reilly auto parts and write a check for 50 dollars for oil, filter, kitty litter, hand cleaner and scented tree.

    2. Discover that the used oil container is full. Instead of taking it back to O'Reilly to recycle, dump in hole in back yard.

    3. Open a beer and drink it.

    4. Jack car up. Spend 30 minutes looking for jack stands.

    5. Find jack stands under kid's pedal car.

    6. In frustration, open another beer and drink it.

    7. Place drain pan under engine.

    8. Look for 13mm box end wrench.

    9. Give up and use crescent wrench.

    10. Unscrew drain plug.

    11. Drop drain plug in pan of hot oil; get hot oil on hand in the process.

    12. Clean up.

    13. Have another beer while oil is draining.

    14. Look for oil filter wrench.

    15. Give up; poke oil filter with Phillips head screwdriver and twist it off.

    16. Beer.

    17. Buddy shows up. Finish case with him. Finish oil change tomorrow.

    18. Next day, drag pan full of old oil out from underneath car, dump in hole in back yard.

    19. Throw kitty litter on oil spilled during steps 11, 15, & 18.

    20. Beer. No, drank it all yesterday.

    21. Walk to 7-11 and buy beer.

    22. Install new oil filter making sure to apply thin coat of clean oil to gasket first.

    23. Dump first quart of fresh oil into engine.

    24. Remember drain plug from step 11.

    25. Hurry to find drain plug in drain pan. Pan is empty. Find drain plug in back yard hole.

    26. Hurry to replace drain plug as last drop of fresh oil drains onto floor.

    27. Slip with wrench and bang knuckles on frame.

    28. Bang head on bumper in reaction.

    29. Begin cussing fit.

    30. Throw wrench.

    31. Cuss for additional 10 minutes because wrench hit picture of Miss December (1982).

    32. Clean up. Apply Band-Aid to knuckle.

    33. Beer.

    34. Beer.

    35. Dump in additional 4 quarts of oil.

    36. Beer.

    37. Lower car from jack stands.

    38. Accidentally crush one of the jack stands.

    39. Move car back to apply more kitty litter to fresh oil spilled during step 26.

    40. Drive car a quart low for 7000 miles when it'll be time for another oil change.

  • OA5599

    One thing I might add: trying to put used oil into quart containers for recycling is a PITA. Either get a drain pan that also serves as a sealable container, or buy the oil for your first oil change in a 5 quart container. After you've refilled the car, pour the old oil into the container, take it to the recycler, dump the oil into the recycle tank, and take the continer home for next time.

    • dukeisduke

      I have one that was made by Rubbermaid, and it's about 20 years old now. It holds 12 quarts (so it's good for two vehicles), and the entire top unscrews, so you don't have any oil on the top, like some do. It also has a peg molded in one corner, so you can put the filter on it (in the center hole) to let the filter drain. Wish they still made 'em.

  • Van_Sarockin

    Nice writeup, and most of the finer point other folks have already picked up on above. But here's a few more things you might want to do:

    Make sure you have all your supplies before you drain the oil. Make sure your car won't block the reserve vehicle in the drive, in case you're a doofuss and forgot to get something critical, or you have to make a run for something you break.

    Always run the engine for a while before changing the oil, that way it will drain faster and less sludge will remain in the pan.

    Notice where the exhaust pipe and header are. Don't burn yourself on them.

    Check where the fill plug is facing. Best if it winds up on the downhillmost side of things, so ALL the oil can drain out.

    When removing the drain plug, put a little pressure on it to push it into the hole as you're removing it. That'll help keep the oil in the pan until the drain plug is free. The pull it away and up, rapidly. With luck and practice, you won't have oil drooling all the way down your arm or drop the plug in the pan, where you'll have to fish it out. Then clean the plug off with a fairly clean cloth and put it where it won't collect any dirt.

    Put a little clean oil on the drain plug threads before you run it back into the pan. It doesn't need to be torqued super tight – just enough not to leak or vibrate loose when driving. Visually confirm the plug is back in before starting to add new oil. Ask me how I know to do this.

    Position the drain pan strategically beneath the oil filter: Oil will likely want to run down and off the side and end of the filter, not just at the fitting. Oil might also run onto suspension or frame pieces and drip elsewhere, so scope it out ahead of time, and be ready to move the pan or stick a rag under a drip.

    Confirm that the oil filter gasket came off with the old filter. If not, pry it off with a scraper. make sure no little bits of old gasket remain on the engine, they'll prevent proper sealing. (I didn't do that once, and when I fire up the engine, I gave the engine bay a lovely new undercoating in the five seconds it took to shut the engine off.)

    When the new filter is installed hand tight (NEVER wrench tighten an oil filter. Again, ask me how I know.), write the date and mileage onto the filter with a Sharpie, or scratch it in with your can opener. Make sure it's in the spot that easiest to see when you car is back down on the ground. The write the next oil change date into your calendar, or set your iPhone alarm, or your sundial to remind you. This is especially helpful if you have your oil changed at a shop that might not be too particular about putting a new filter on, and just shines up the old one.

    As your waiting for the oil to drain or fill fully, this is the perfect time to climb back under the car with your grease gun. Clean off your Zerk fittings with a clean cloth, and give all those joints a little shot of encouragement. Watch to make sure the grease isn't just blowing right past the seals. Clean up the squeeze out. Pour in another quart of oil and grease the other side. Repeat. Don't forget the fittings on your universal joints.

    Take a rag and wipe up all the stray runs or drips of oil that might have gotten onto the engine, frame or suspension as you were draining and filling. That way, there's nothing to cook off and smell, or run down and drip and make you think you have a leak, and you can keep stuff a bit cleaner and not gunked up. It's a good way to do an inventory on things, and keep an eye on what else might need maintenance and repair. It'll make working on the car a much more enjoyable activity in the future, too.

    Change your oil more frequently if you're using the engine hard, you Hoon, or driving in dusty or gritty conditions. As a friend once said, an oil change is the simplest cheapest thing you can ever do to extend the life of your engine.

    • C³-Cool Cadillac Cat

      Wow, I'd almost totally forgotten about Zerk fittings.

      I wish cars still had them, OEM.

      The '99 Freightliner-chassied diesel-pusher motorhome we have does, and that machine can suck down about 1.3 tubes of lube.

      Good tip on pushing the drain plug in while unscrewing it. You can feel the threads 'clunk' when it's completely out. One of those things I don't even think about, but do, and it took me a few changes to figure it out.

      Also, a Futomo drain valve is neat…no tools needed, if you didn't over-tighten the filter. I think the last filter wrench I have is from four cars ago…

  • dukeisduke

    The "S" in the Motorcraft filter part number means it has a silicone anti-drainback valve.

  • JayP2112

    Super-Awesome tips and tricks!!!
    I've been changing oil going on 25 years… and some of these are great, especially using my iphone to record mileage/date of the oil change.

  • I have changed my own oil in the truck whenever I had a driveway to do so. When we lived at an apartment, I usually took it to an Austin institution: Groovy Lube.

    Recently, I tried to change the oil in my wife's Forrester. The previous oil change from Iffy Lube resulted in the plug being way, way too tight, and I worked on it for 10 minutes, and ended up having arm spasms and back pain the next day. God, I wanted to punch someone in overalls. She ended up taking the oil and filter to a lube place down the street. Since we already had the synthetic oil and filter, it was a pretty cheap lube job. Hopefully next time I will be able to do it. I have been working out a lot.

    • jeepjeff

      Get a longer moment arm. Breaker bar not enough? Stick a pipe on it.

      /git-r-dun! Listening to my advice on the internet will likely land you with four figure repair bills at your local reputable mechanic.

    • SSurfer321

      Boxer motor oil changes are messy. The oil filter is trapped between the exhaust manifolds on the bottom of the motor. I can't get an oil change in our Subie without oil dripping on the manifolds. Takes a day to burn it all off.

  • Van_Sarockin

    Some folks suggested a drum brakes repair guide, so here's mine:

    Replace your drum brakes with disc brakes.

    • SSurfer321

      My truck has rear discs with drum inlay for emergency brake duty. I still need to know how to do drum brakes 🙁

      • jeepjeff

        Just apply his advice recursively. Replace the drums in your discs with discs. It will make things much easier in the long run, I'm sure.

        • Yo dawg, we heard you liked discs…

    • Oh, and I suppose you want them all to be hydraulic, too. No, thanks. I'll stick with the tried and true.

      • Van_Sarockin

        Well, in your case, feel free to continue to use the block of wood that levers against the driveshaft.

        • You're not far off in describing my Plymouth's emergency brake, which is, in fact, a contracting band wrapped around the driveshaft.

          • Van_Sarockin

            Plymouth? All well and good. I was trying to remember what they used on the Cugnot, besides assembled masses of peasants. As you note, the old ways endure.

            • They do. After all, my 1980 French car has cable-actuated drum brakes at all four corners. They haven't leaked yet. Just as well, as it's probably harder to assemble a mass of peasants these days.

              • You still can, you just have to call the throng "Overrun Broadway" or some such thing.

  • pj134

    Oh dear, a pun thread and a shame thread all in one. Rather than be crude, I'll just say that this must be her dream.

    • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

      Shame one you PJ for recycling a pun like that so early in the game, I guess it's fitting though for you to SAE that in this shame/pun-fest.

      • pj134

        Sir, your comments are without merit or weight.

        • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

          What grade would yours produce? Shell you tell me next that you are an internet expert in the field of pun-ology?

          • pj134

            This conversation is a bit to viscous for me to take. Go pound oil sands.

            (Really, shell over shale?)

            • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

              Sweat, so I can recycle puns I've used just like you rather than drill around for new ones until… oh wait… shame on me. It was a Mobil cause at first, but I'm out of gas now it seems.

              • pj134

                It was synthetic from the very beginning.

  • Vavon

    You're so slick!

    • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

      Really I think of myself more a thick tool. Dear god what did I just write? This is going to be a slippery situation, I shale never hear the end of it I bet now.

      • Vavon

        Hahahaha!!! You made me laugh so hard my eyes just lubed themselves!!!

  • I think that each editor should be responsible for one 101 class.

  • anonymic

    Another Protip: Don't put your oil filler cap back on the engine, put it in the hood latch. If you forget to put the cap back on, you can't put the hood down properly. If you're a hood slammer, this will cure that bad habit as well.

    When you start the engine for the first time you should be paying attention to one thing only. Your eyes should be glued to the oil light, find it before you crank. If it doesn't go out 5 to 10 seconds after the engine catches, shut it down and call an expert.

    On passenger cars, the space between low oil and full oil on the dipstick is exactly one quart, this makes gauging how much to add much easier than guessing.

    • anonymic

      Also, if your drain plug uses an aluminum or copper washer — as long as its reasonably intact — it can be annealed with a propane torch. Put the plug on a brick or other non-flammable surface or hold it with old pliers and hit it with the torch. Copper washers will be annealed when the metal begins to glow a deep red, aluminum doesn't glow but will become noticably softer after heating. Annealing reverses work-hardening that occurs as the metal washer is compressed and formed by tightening the plug. Washers can be reused if they still have a relatively well-defined 90 degree profile between the surface and the edge on both the inside and outside diameters. Washers that have been reused to the point that they are concave or thin and sharp should be replaced.

      • anonymic

        I said to put the plug on a brick, I meant the washer. Though if the washer doesn't come off of the plug or if you have to unscrew the washer to remove it from the plug, the washer should be replaced.

  • What is that Kamm-tailed beauty in the garage?

  • I like the sound of a smaller FL-820S. That's the one my T-bird takes, and the hole the filter has to go through in its progress away from or toward the engine block is about the same size as the filter.

    FWIW, some of the newest cars have gone back to the cartridge-type filter (my mom's '10 CTS AWD for example). It's supposed to be green since you're only replacing the filter media and not also the surrounding can.

    • BMW used cartridge type filters on the S50 and S52 M3 engines in the 1990s.

  • Joe Dunlap

    RE: The infamous drain plug. I noticed no one brought up the point of replacing the seal ring. Granted, some now come with an O-ring embedded in the head of the plug, but a good thing to do is replace it if its and aluminum or copper O-ring. Ive seen them reused so many times they are 3 times their original diameter and thinner than a razor blade. That they leak when they get that thin is a given. Also, if your vehicle has a drop in filter, they usually come with some tiny o-rings for the center post as well as a drain plug seal. Use em!
    As for torque values, here is a suggestion chart. http://www.mgtd.ca/Screw%20Torque.htm Obviously, keep in mind if you're threading a steel drain plug into an aluminum pan, it doesnt take much extra torque to suck the threads right out of the pan!

    • The problem I have is the squish washer on the Alfa is a massive 23mm thing, unavailable from my local O'Shucksvancenapaboys. I can mail order them, but never think about it on those rare instances when I could bundle the order with something more substantial.

    • Van_Sarockin

      Thanks, that chart is an incredibly valuable resource.

  • atomic8778

    Very nice write up and I appreciate that note about the Toyota Sienna V6's oil filter placement. I'm sure you can imagine how much it sucks to have the exhaust manifold over the filter and that the filter not reachable from underneath. That exhaust manifold burns as I'm sure everyone has learned the hard way. I usually run my engine a bit before changing the oil, which is why the manifold would be still hot.

    If you guys are going to do another 101, and if it's spark plugs, I'd appreciate another special mention to the transverse mounted V6's. For the Sienna, I cannot, for the like of me, reach the rear bank of plugs. If there's an easier way of getting to them, without removing the intake manifold, I'm all ears.

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