How to Change Your Motor Oil (and Filter)

motor oil container - How to Change Your Oil and Filter

How much do you pay for a motor oil change? $95? $45? Even if you have a Groupon to Jiffy Lube, it’s cheaper to change the oil yourself. But if frugality doesn’t convince you, perhaps a rejuvenated sense of pride and self-confidence will. Besides, everyone thinks working on a car is sexy.

When should I change my motor oil? 

Although you’ve probably heard the recommendation to change your oil every 3,000 or 5,000 miles, newer cars and oils can handle longer distances. Changing your motor oil too frequently is bad for the environment and your wallet. For the most accurate advice, always check your owner’s manual for the mileage intervals between oil changes.

Neglecting regular oil changes can permanently damage your engine.

How to Change Your Motor Oil (and Filter)

Time:

If you have all the materials on hand, you can change your motor oil and oil filter in under 30 minutes.

Materials:

  1. Motor Oil

First, you need to make sure you have the proper oil for your engine. Unfortunately, as in many cases, we have a case of choice overload—synthetic, synthetic-blend, conventional, premium conventional, high-mileage, heavy duty—you see what I mean!

As with mileage intervals between oil changes, consult your owner’s manual for the correct weight/viscosity of the oil and how many quarts you need, sometimes listed under the heading, “capacities.” Usually, it is around 4–6 liters (1.1–1.6 gallons).

No matter what type of oil you choose, always follow manufacturer instructions.

  1. Oil Filter

Whenever you change the oil, you’ll also want to change the filter. Different cars require different oil filters, so again, consult your user’s manual.

You can also show up to the auto parts store with the year, make, and model of your car, and they should be able to look it up for you.

  1. Socket Wrench

You will need a 6 point socket wrench to loosen the drain plug. If you have a socket wrench kit, you should already have the right-sized wrench for the job (Japanese and European cars usually require a metric set). If not, you can find the right-sized attachment for under $5.

  1. Oil Filter Wrench or Pliers 

You might need an oil filter wrench or oil filter pliers to remove the old oil filter, which will set you back around $5-$10. Make sure you buy the right size. If you’re lucky, however, you might be able to remove the filter by hand.

  1. Car Jack or Car Ramp

Use a car jack (with jack stands) or a car ramp to get your car off the ground.

  1. Drain Pan, Funnel, and Plastic Jug

You need three things to properly dispose of the old oil: a pan or bucket to catch the oil, and a funnel and old plastic milk jug to transport it. Improper disposal of motor oil is illegal.

  1. Old Rags, Disposable Gloves, and Safety Glasses

Motor oil has toxic contaminants that you want to keep away from your skin, eyes, and mouth. Wear safety glasses and use disposable nitrile gloves and rags to wipe off any excess oil.

Step-by-Step Instructions

1. Drain Motor Oil:

  • Warm up the car

In order to facilitate oil flow, make sure the engine is warm by taking the vehicle for a spin around the block or by letting it idle for 5-10 minutes. Once the engine is warm, find yourself a flat surface to work on.

WARNING: To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, never let your car idle in a garage or other enclosed area.

  • Park on flat surface and jack up vehicle

hydraulic car jack and jack stand - added car safety

Source: Howard Klaaste/Bigstock.com

Make sure the car is on a flat surface, put the car in park, apply the parking break, and remove the keys. Look up your car’s jacking points in the owner’s manual and jack up the engine side of the vehicle.

If you are using a jack, support the vehicle with jack stands! We also recommend restraining rear tires with wheel blocks to prevent the back wheels from rolling.

If you are using a ramp, drive up it front wheels first, but be careful not to overshoot. Once safely on the ramp, engage the parking break and turn the engine off.

WARNING: Always follow safety instructions for the proper use of ramps and car jacks.

  • Remove the oil dipstick

cleaning motor oil dipstick - how to change motor oil

Source: vladacanon/Bigstock.com

Now that the car is securely lifted, put on your gloves and pop the hood. Remove the oil dipstick, which will allow the oil to drain smoother and faster. If you can’t find your oil dipstick, consult the owner’s manual.

  • Locate the oil pan and oil plug

Next, you’ll need to get underneath your car to find the oil pan, which looks like a flat metal pan underneath to the engine, further away from the transmission.

The oil plug looks like a large bolt on the bottom of the oil pan. If you are having difficulty locating the oil pan, consult your owner’s manual.

  • Place a drain pan or large bucket underneath the oil pan

The container you choose should be large enough to hold all the old oil that will soon be draining out. Most cars hold about 4-5 quarts of oil, so make sure the container can safely catch at least that amount. We also recommend laying out some newspaper to prevent oil stains.

  • Remove the oil plug

oil draining out of motor oil drain pan - how to change oil (and filter)

Source: Dvortygirl/Wikimedia Commons

Before you drain the motor oil, make sure you have your gloves and safety glasses on. Once you find the oil plug bolt at the bottom of the pan, start loosening it with the proper sized socket wrench (some vehicles may have two drain plugs).

When the bolt head is loose, use your gloved hands to remove the plug very slowly, so that the oil drips into the bucket/pan below.

Oil will flow quickly at first, but will it will take up to 30 minutes for all the oil to drain out.

WARNING: Oil may be very hot!

  • Replace the plug and add a new washer

When the oil has stopped dripping, clean up any excess oil and wipe the drain plug and plug threads with a rag.

After inspecting the condition of your drain plug and gasket, replace the plug and add a new drain plug gasket if necessary.

If your plug and washer are still in good condition, reinstall the plug and tighten it as far as you can with your hand. Then use a 6-pt. socket wrench to secure it, while being careful not to over-tighten it.

2. Replace Oil Filter:

  • Locate and remove oil filter

removing oil filter with socket wrench

Source: Dvortygirl/Wikimedia Commons

Unfortunately, there isn’t a standard location for oil filters, so you may have to spend some time locating it. This may be the hardest part! If you are having any difficulty, consult the owner’s manual.

The old oil filter will have some oil inside, so make sure a pan or bucket is underneath to catch any excess oil. You may need a socket-type oil filter wrench to remove the old filter, however, many can be removed by hand.

Once the filter is removed and the excess oil has drained, use a rag to clean the area and check for any loose gaskets or debris that may be stuck inside the mounting plate.

  • Lubricate new filter with oil and screw into place

Use your glove-covered finger to spread a little oil over the gasket of your new filter and thread it into the opening where the filter goes. You should be able to tighten it by hand.

Oil filters come with specific instructions for how many rotations you need to tighten it (located on the packaging or the filter itself). When in doubt, see owner’s manual for instructions.

3. Add Clean Oil and Recycle Oil & Filter:

  • Refill new oil

After the drain plug is replaced and the new filter installed, use a clean funnel to fill your car with new oil. Consult your owner’s manual to find out the correct viscosity and volume you should pour in, but most cars take 4–6 liters. Once you have replaced the oil, screw the oil cap back on.

For the most accurate oil level readings, check your dipstick first thing in the morning, when the car is cool and on a level surface.

  • Run the car and inspect for leaks

You’re almost done! After pouring in the correct amount of new oil, close the hood, return the dipstick, run the engine, and look under the car for any oil leaks or spills (especially near the oil pan and filter). If you see a leak, cut the engine and let it cool before repairing the leak.

Once you have checked for leaks, turn the engine off and wait one minute before lowering the vehicle to the ground.

  • Clean up and write down the date and mileage of the car.

Look around and clean up any oil, newspaper, or rags. Write down the date of your oil change and mileage of your vehicle and leave it in the car for future reference. Follow the owner’s manual for the proper mileage in between oil changes.

WARNING: Change your oil on a regular basis to avoid permanent damage to your vehicle.

  • Return oil dipstick and properly dispose of old oil and oil filter

It is a crime to throw your old oil and filter away in the sewer or trash. In order to abide by local and federal laws, you need to recycle your old oil at a local gas station, auto shop, or recycling center. Just transport your oil, using a funnel, into a couple of empty milk jugs and take them to a recycling center near you.

WARNING: Be careful not to contaminate the recycling process by using empty paint cans, bleach containers, or anything else that used to contain chemicals. Make sure you call the recycling center first for days and hours of operation.

That’s it! Now grab a cold one and congratulate yourself for saving money and learning a new skill.

Auto Simple Offers FREE Oil Changes!

Become a Preferred Customer of Auto Simple simply by signing up for recurring payments from your checking account via ACH or debit card and earn FREE oil changes every 90 days for the life of your loan!*

If you have any questions about how to change your oil or filter, don’t hesitate to give us a call at 423-584-6700.

Image Sources: Bigstock and Wikimedia Commons


Auto Simple wants you to find a car you love at a price you can afford. We carry a large selection of hand-picked, Certified Pre-Owned vehicles, all of which come with a 6 month/6,000-mile powertrain warranty.

With locations in Cleveland, Chattanooga, Dayton, and a new store in Dalton, GA, we make it easy to walk away with your dream car. We specialize in financing for all credit levels, low down payments, and affordable weekly payments. In most cases we can have you driving your new car in less than an hour.

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*Preferred Customer program and free conventional oil changes every ninety (90) days are contingent upon the customer electing to make recurring payments to via ACH or debit card. Additionally, to continue in the Preferred Customer program and receive free oil changes, the customer’s loan must remain in good standing, and the customer may not cancel the recurring payment election. See store for further details. Other restrictions may apply.