Changing your own oil

Does anyone remember what happened to the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz when he didn't change his oil? In case you don't, he basically broke down and became immobile. The Tin Man's lack of oil was not very exaggerated, as the same thing will happen to your car without proper maintenance.

The engine in any automobile has many moving parts that rub against each other, like the pistons, for example, which move up and down in the engine's cylinders to make the car work. With all this metal on metal, motor oil is the crucial lubricant that reduces friction, allowing the parts to work together smoothly. Oil also absorbs heat so that the metal parts don't end up melting, which would ruin your engine completely.

Not only is it important to have enough oil in your car, but it must be clean as well. Your car has a filter which removes dirt from the oil, but it only removes so much before becoming saturated. The oil itself also deteriorates making it less effective at cooling and lubricating. Even chemicals added to motor oil (rust fighters, detergents, etc…) break down over time. So unless you want to spend thousands of dollars to repair your engine, just stick with regular oil changes.

Changing oil is not a difficult process, yet many people prefer to have a professional do it for them. First of all, it can get messy very easily. If you don't like rolling your sleeves up and getting your hands dirty, it's not for you. And although the task itself is simple, you do need a few supplies to complete it which not everyone has. You will need a pan for the oil, a funnel, ramps or a jack so you can get under the car, a new oil filter, all the proper wrenches, and of course the right type of oil. And yes, there are all different motor oils so make sure you get the correct kind for your car, and the right amount!

If you want to change your own oil, first check out the current state of the oil that's already in your car. If it is a golden color and runny, it's fine for now. If there is not enough or no oil, your car either doesn't run or it will basically self destruct next time you turn it on. If the oil is dark brown or black and a thick, gritty texture, it's time to get to work.

Before you do anything, warm your engine up for a couple minutes. You don't want the engine and oil to be too hot, just warm enough to thin it out and make sure it all comes out when you empty it.

Then you need to lift your car up. You can use a jack but I would only recommend this if you already know how to use it, as a poorly placed jack can do a lot of damage to your car. Place lifts in front of your front wheels and drive up them. You may want to have someone spot you so you don't drive off the other end of the ramps. And always remember to put blocks behind both rear tires for added safety.

Next you want to empty out your old oil. Pop the hood, locate, and remove the oil cap on top of the engine. This is where you'll add oil after you're done draining the old oil. Doing this can help the oil drain faster as it allows air to flow into the engine as the oil drains out.

Then get under your car and locate the oil plug. It's a fairly large bolt easily located on the bottom of the oil pan. (Note: if you can't distinguish the oil pan from the transmission pan, let the car run for five or ten minutes. The oil plug should get warm to the touch by that time, while the transmission won't.) Grab the correct sized socket or wrench and start unscrewing the nut just enough so that you can finish unscrewing it with your fingers, but don't remove it completely yet or you will get oil all over the place.

Now place your oil pan and some newspapers on the ground under the hole. You want to move your body out of the way as much as possible, and then unscrew the plug the rest of the way releasing the old oil. Be careful not to let the plug fall into the pan! Let the oil drain out completely which takes about two minutes for most cars.

The next step is removing your old oil filter. One of the hardest parts of this step is simply finding where it is located since there is no standard position for where oil filters go. The easiest way is just to look at your new oil filter and start looking underneath your car for something that looks similar. Typically, they're white, blue, or black cylinders about 4-6 inches long and 3 inches wide.

You can usually remove the filter by hand but if it's too tight you will need a filter wrench. Once again, loosen it just enough without removing it and make sure your drip pan in underneath it as another stream of oil will be coming out once removed. Make sure the rubber gasket ring comes off with it or the new filter won't have an adequate seal on the engine.

Now that all the old stuff is out of the way, you can replace it. Dip your finger in the new oil bottle and use it to moisten the gasket on the top of the new oil filter which helps it seat better against the engine. Then put the filter in the same spot you just took the old one out of, and tighten it with your fingers until it stops turning, then give it one more strong half turn. Some filters come with instructions on how many turns you need to give it.

The next step is replacing the oil plug using an adjustable wrench. Put the washer in place and thread the drain plug back into its hole. When it's nice and tight get out from under your car and remove the drip pan.

Finally, it's time to refill the engine with oil. Place your funnel in the oil filler hole on the top of your engine and slowly pour the proper amount of oil in. Once the oil is all in, screw on the oil cap and close the hood.

After you're finished, start the car and let it run for about 5 minutes. This allows your engine to regain proper oil pressure and gives you a chance to see if you have any leaks near your oil plug or filter. If you see any leaks, stop the car and tighten the plug and filter as needed.

Dispose of your old oil properly unless you want to pay a hefty fine. Rather than throwing it in the trash or a sewer, take it to an auto parts store of other oil-recycling center.
If this is a task you aren't up for, simply bring your car to a professional for regular oil changes or you'll end like the Tin Man, broken down and dried out in the middle of the yellow brick road.