It’s that time—again? Perhaps many things come to mind when you hear that phrase, but it’s time (drum roll please) for an oil change! OK, so maybe it’s not the most exciting item on your to-do list, but it is important and everyone knows why. Or do they?

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Oil change 101

Regular oil changes are a key factor in keeping a vehicle running smoothly. Think of oil as a vehicle’s lifeblood. Without oil an engine stands no chance of survival. But things are not that cut and dried. Oil changes need to be done on a timely schedule or major engine damage can occur. Why? Because engine oil has a big job to do and while carrying out these duties it can break down. Oil lubricates your car engine and acts as a cushioning film between metal parts. As it carries away the heat of friction, oil cools the engine neutralizing acids and preventing corrosion. In a nutshell, routine and on-schedule oil changes reduce the risk of sludge buildup and make an engine last.

Routine oil changes don’t have to be complicated even though car technology keeps advancing. Many car owners prefer to perform oil changes themselves finding the process to be quick, simple, and cost effective. The first rule of thumb is determining how often a car’s oil needs to changed. The best and most important thing to do is check your owner’s manual. It is the vehicle maintenance rulebook. Following the rulebook is crucial in a world governed by synthetic oils, efficient vehicles, and oil light sensors. Routine oil changes are important even for low mileage vehicles because oil needs to be kept fresh.

What happens after you’ve determined it is time to change the oil? You need the right oil and right filter. Choose the oil first and the filter next. Again, refer to the car owner’s manual for guidance. Carmaker’s oil recommendations may also be stamped on the car’s oil cap. Thin oil, like 5W, pumps well when cold but thins when hot. Thicker oil, like 30W, does not thin when hot but is nearly impossible to pump when cold. Multi-viscosity oil, such as 5W-30, gives the best of both worlds. These are very general guidelines, so always follow the carmaker’s recommendations! Substituting recommended oil viscosity with personal preference could lead to engine damage, poor performance, or a “check engine” warning.

“Using the wrong oil viscosity is the single most common cause of premature engine wear.”

DIY experts of the Family Handyman Magazine

Always match the oil filter to the oil viscosity. Filters come in different quality levels comparable to good, better, and best.  Lower rated oils match up fine with a lower rated filter. Likewise, higher rated or synthetic oils require a higher quality filter.

The process

There are some guidelines to follow before beginning an oil change. A cold car engine should be run for 5 minutes or so to warm the oil. A hot car engine should be cooled for at least 30 minutes. Remember safety first when performing a DIY oil change. Drive the vehicle onto a level and protected surface. Place the car in park, apply the parking brake, and remove the keys. Using proper jacking and blocking techniques, safely support and secure the vehicle. After this crucial step is checked off the list, you are ready to begin.

  • Put the following tools in a small box: safety glasses, box-end wrench, rubber mallet, filter wrench, drain pan, new filter, and rags. You will need these when working under the car.
  • Smear clean oil on the new oil filter’s gasket.
  • Put on safety glasses and slide underneath the car.
  • Place drain pan underneath oil plug.
  • Carefully unscrew the drain plug using a box-end wrench and rubber mallet if needed. Do not use an adjustable wrench or too much force to prevent stripping!
  • Allow old oil to completely flow into drain pan.
  • Remove oil filter and rubber gasket using a filter wrench.
  • Wipe oil filter housing clean.
  • Install new oil filter and tighten snuggly by hand. Do not use a filter wrench.
  • Install new gasket on drain plug if required. Tightly reinstall drain plug using box-end wrench.
  • Clean up any oil drips with rag.
  • Refill engine using a funnel.
  • Run engine briefly.
  • After a few minutes check dipstick and add oil if needed.
  • Pour used oil into a container and recycle it.


You have now completed a do it yourself oil change. There is just one more thing. Oil is not the only fluid in your vehicle, so don’t forget to maintain the others. This is the perfect opportunity to top off washer, brake, transmission, and other fluids as well. Always check with a trusted auto technician if you have any vehicle maintenance questions.