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How To Change Oil

Changing oil in a car regularly is one of the easiest ways to maintain a sound engine.

A funnel is a useful tool in changing a car's oil. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
A funnel is a useful tool in changing a car's oil.

How to Change Oil

Knowing how to change oil in one's car is one of the easiest and most basic do-it-yourself jobs that a car owner can tackle. While it requires a few specialized tools and the flexibility to get underneath the car, the payoff is a better-running engine, with a longer life, for less money than if one pays a service shop to do the job for them.

According to Mother Earth News, a car's oil should be changed every 3,000 to 5,000 miles using a standard oil, or 10,000 to 15,000 miles using synthetic oil.

Getting Prepared

Automotive experts, Edmunds.com, list the tools necessary to change oil as a 3/8-drive socket wrench set; a combination wrench set; a specialized oil filter wrench, and jack stands or ramps, available at any auto supply store; a pail, bucket or oil pan in which to catch the old oil; two empty one gallon milk or juice containers, with lids; a funnel; a plastic baggie; newspapers and dirty rags; and, of course, a sufficient quantity of oil to refill the engine, which will be specified in the owner's manual; and a new oil filter.

The first step is to determine a flat spot in which one will perform the oil change, then to take the car for a quick drive to warm up the oil. The car should be warm enough that the engine temperature gauge begins to show a warmed-up engine. The car should be parked in the designated spot, with the engine turned off and put in gear or in park, and the parking brake set. For extra safety, many experts recommend placing bricks or rocks behind the tires.

Beginning the Oil Change

The process begins by crawling underneath the car and finding the oil drain plug. In cases where there is insufficient room to crawl underneath, one can use jack stands or ramps, but never just a jack, as the car will not be stable enough. The drain plug is a large nut with a washer underneath. Using a socket set, one should locate the socket that fits the nut. Next, the nut should be turned counter-clockwise to remove it. If that does not work, one should try using the same-size closed end wrench. The nut should be loosened, but not yet removed.

At this point, it makes sense to spread out the newspapers underneath not only where the oil will drain, but where the filter will be removed. The drain pan or other pail can then be placed underneath the nut. Once the nut is loosened, one should be sure to grasp it tightly so that, when it finishes unscrewing, the force of the oil does not cause it to fall into the pail. The oil should then be allowed to drain, which will take about two or three minutes.

The Filter

Using the oil filter wrench, the next step is to set it to counter-clockwise, slip it over the oil filter and turn. Once it loosens a little bit, the rest of the turning should be done by hand, being careful not to let any of the hot oil within the filter drip on ones hand or face. Once it is removed, the oil within can be dumped into the drain pan. Then the filter should be placed next to the pan, on the newspaper.

From the top of the car, one should then remove the oil filler cap and put it in a safe place where it will not get lost.

Once all of the oil has finished dripping into the pan, one should place a little bit of the used oil on the rubber gasket of the new oil filter, which will ensure a tighter fit against the engine when it is put into place. Using a rag, one should wipe the circle on the engine onto which the filter is placed; then thread the new filter onto the post by hand, being careful not to over-tighten. It typically only requires about a half turn to three-quarters of a turn.

The New Oil

Now, the washer and drain plug can be replaced, and tightened snugly, being careful not to strip the nut. Using the funnel and milk containers, one should drain the used oil into the containers, keeping in mind that if the oil is still hot, plastic containers may melt.

Then, using the funnel, place it into the oil filler hole and pour the new oil in according to the manufacturers specifications.

Once the oil is in, one should check the level using two methods, according to Car Talk. First, start the engine and let it run until the oil pressure light goes off. Second, check with the dipstick to ensure that the oil is sufficiently filled. The oil filler cap should be firmly replaced.

Tools can be gathered and cleaned up while the car runs for a few minutes to check for any leaks. Assuming none are found, the remaining step is to take the used oil and filter (which can be placed in the plastic baggie) to an authorized recycling center.

Recycling the Oil is Critical

South Carolina's Department of Health and Environmental Control reminds do-it-yourselfers in a bulletin called "Changing Your Oil?" that the law requires used motor oil to be recycled, never dumped into a septic tank, storm drain, on the ground, into a lake, river or other waterway, or placed into the trash. A single gallon of used motor oil can pollute one million gallons of drinking water, which is enough to quench the thirst of 50 people for 12 months.

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