How to change your own oil: A step by step guide

by Jim
car in a garage

Auto maintenance can seem scary to someone who has never opened the hood of their car. A simple oil change is a good introduction to working on vehicles and a good way to build up your mechanical skills.

Additionally, changing your own oil is a good way to save money.  Paying a dealership to change the oil in your car can cost upwards of $100, whereas changing your own oil can be done for as little as $30! Manufacturers recommend changing your oil every 3-5000 miles.  If you keep  your car for 10 years, that works out to 27 oil changes.  At $100 each change that is quite a savings.

Materials Needed:

  • Jack & Jack Stands (or automotive ramps)
  • Wheel Chocks
  • Oil Catch Pan
  • Wrench
  • Oil Filter Wrench (optional)
  • Screw Driver (optional)
  • Funnel
  • Oil
  • Oil Filter

Step 1: Buy oil and filter

Before you start, you need to buy oil and a new oil filter.  Make sure you purchase the correct weight oil and size filter for your vehicle.  A quick google search should yield the amount of oil your car needs as well as which oil filter to purchase.  I recommend purchasing one quart extra from the recommended amount, that way you don’t wind up with not enough oil if you spill some, or you can use it to top off the oil level before your next oil changes if you need to.

Step 2: Lift your car

Unless you are driving a big lifted pickup truck, you probably cannot crawl underneath your car with it sitting on the ground.  If you have ramps, drive your car up onto the ramps and engage the parking brake. If you don’t have ramps, then lift up your car by placing your jack under the car at the jacking points (check your owner’s manual for locations).  Be sure to put the car on jack stands.  It is dangerous to be under a car lifted only by the car’s jack.  Be sure to chock the wheels still on the ground in place to prevent the car from rolling off the jack stands.

Step 3: Drain the old oil

Identify the oil pan on the bottom of the engine.  There will be a drain plug you can remove that will drain the oil.  Before draining the oil, place your oil catch pan under the drain plug to catch the old oil so that it does not spill onto the ground.

When the oil has stopped draining, replace the drain plug and tighten it back in place.  Do not over tighten the drain plug.  Doing so could strip the threads and lead to an oil leak.

Step 4: Remove the oil filter

Remove the old oil filter form your engine.  This may have gotten tight over time, so use an oil filter wrench if you need to.  If you don’t have an oil filter wrench, as a last resort you can hammer a screwdriver through the old filter and use it to get extra leverage to spin the old filter.  A word of caution though:  The filter will be full of oil, upwards of a quart depending on the car.  So be sure to move your drain pan underneath the oil filter to catch the old oil that drains out.

After removing the old filter, use a rag and wipe down the surface where the filter mates with the engine block.  Make sure that the old gasket is removed, since your new filter likely came with one pre-installed on the filter.

Step 5: Install the new filter

Dip your finger in some new oil and coat the gasket on the new filter in oil.  This will help ensure a good seal between the filter and the engine.  Then screw the new filter onto the engine.  Do not over tighten the filter, as that can lead to oil leaks.  An oil filter should be tightened until it stops spinning, plus a half turn extra.  You should not need to use a wrench to install the new filter.

Step 6: Add the new oil

Double check that your drain plug is re-installed, then using a funnel add the new oil.  Start by adding most of the oil you think you will need, then start your car and let it run for 10-20 seconds before shutting it off.  This will pump the oil through the system and fill your oil filter.  Check the oil level and add more oil until the dip stick reads full.

Step 7: Recycle the old oil

Using your funnel, pour the old oil into either an empty milk jug or the jug your new oil came in.  That way it can be recycled and disposed of properly.  Do not just put it out for your trash collection.

Step 8: Back on the ground

You are done!  Put your car back on the ground and go drive somewhere knowing you know how to change your oil.


For some other DIY Automative Maintenance, here is a list of suggestions for maintenance you can do in your garage / driveway. Simple Car Maintenance You Should Do Yourself


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