Oil Change Do's and Don'ts

Know How Notes – Top 10 Oil Change Do’s and Don’ts

Changing your oil is a simple task for the most part, but there are a few key areas that you should always keep in mind. By following these ten tips, your oil change will go down quick and hopefully not so dirty.

1.  Cool your jets

Practice safe wrenching, use rubber gloves.

Practice safe wrenching, use rubber gloves.

Hot oil may flow freely, but it will also induce serious burns if you don’t let it cool down before changing it. Here is a tip for speeding up your oil change – if the engine is cold, fire it up and run it for 2-3 minutes. The oil will warm up to about 100 degrees, which is not hot enough to burn you, but warm enough that it will flow easily. If the vehicle has been driven, let it sit for 20-30 minutes before draining the oil. It is a good idea to wear rubber gloves and have plenty of clean towels handy to quickly remove any oil that spills on your hands.

2.  Drain pain

A good drain pan will make the job much easier. From left to right- Open type, semi-open with drain, fully closed with drain.

A good drain pan will make the job much easier. From left to right- Open type, semi-open with drain, fully closed with drain.

You aren’t going to just let that nasty oil flow free onto the ground; you need a drain pan. NAPA stores have everything you need to safely and securely drain the oil and protect the environment. There are several types of drain pans – open top, funnel-top with drain spout, and semi-open with drain spout. The best type is the funnel-top, as the oil is fully covered, there is little chance of spilling the oil.

3.  Get a grip

Every NAPA Auto Parts Store has a wide selection of oil filter wrenches, choose wisely.

Every NAPA Auto Parts Store has a wide selection of oil filter wrenches, choose wisely.

Oil filters can be a real bear to remove, especially if your hands are covered in oil. The proper tool for the job always makes it easier. NAPA stores have several options to make life easier under the car. There are several popular tools for removing oil filters – end cap style, clamp style, claw-wrench, chain wrench, and 3-jaw adjustable end cap wrench.

The end cap style wrench is a size-specific wrench for one certain size of oil filter. Unless you only have one vehicle and don’t ever plan on using it to change oil in other vehicles, you will need several sizes. This type of filter wrench works really well, it just isn’t very versatile.

Clamp-style wrenches use a spring-steel clamp that tightens down to grip the filter. They work well, but can be a little cumbersome to use in tight engine bays, and when they get slippery, they are even harder to use.

The claw-wrench is the cheapest and most versatile, but they are messy. These wrenches crush the filter, often tearing the canister, leaking oil all over the place. They are universal and effective, but messy.

The 3-jaw adjustable end cap wrench is similar to the end cap wrench, except that it is universal. This works great for multiple size filters and tight engine compartments.

4.  Don’t spill the beans

Whether you are working in your garage or on the driveway, oil stains are nobody’s friend. Keep some oil-dry handy any time you are doing an oil change. If you anticipate a big mess or want to be sure there are residual stains, lay out a shower curtain under the car. When you are done, just hose it off.

5.  Filter seal

After you fill the filter with oil, make sure you wipe a little on the seal.

After you fill the filter with oil, make sure you wipe a little on the seal.

A common mistake made by novice oil-changers is to leave the filter seal dry. This leads to loose fitting, leaky filters. Eventually the filter can unthread itself, dumping the engine’s lifeblood on the ground. Fill the filter about halfway with oil and then spread a little around the filter seal before installing it.

6.  Plug it

While most seasoned oil-change pros skip this step, beginners might want to double check that they plug is tightened correctly. 25 foot pounds is the typical spec.

While most seasoned oil-change pros skip this step, beginners might want to double check that they plug is tightened correctly. 25 foot pounds is the typical spec.

Before you pour the oil into the engine, you need to re-install the plug. If there is a gasket, make sure it stays in place. Clean any sludge off the magnetic tip, thread the plug back into the oil pan and tighten it down. If you want to be sure, check the spec for your vehicle and use a torque wrench. The typical spec is 25 foot-pounds lbs.

7.  Pour some oil in me

Use a funnel and hold the bottle the right way. The spout goes at the top of the bottle, not the bottom. This keeps the oil from chugging.

Use a funnel and hold the bottle the right way. The spout goes at the top of the bottle, not the bottom. This keeps the oil from chugging.

Pouring oil seems like a no-brainer, but for the novice, getting more oil in the engine that on the can be a tricky proposition. The natural tendency is to hold the bottle so that the spout is at the bottom, but this will gurgle and spurt every time. Instead, turn the spout so that it is at the top and pour slowly. The oil will run out of bottom of the spout and air will enter the bottle through the top of the spout, allowing a nice, easy pour. If you are using a gallon jug, turn the bottle sideways. This helps for anti-freeze too.

8.  Weight for it…

Follow the specs listed on the filler cap or the spec sticker under the hood. Older higher-mileage engines however typically need one step heavier oil.

Follow the specs listed on the filler cap or the spec sticker under the hood. Older higher-mileage engines however typically need one step heavier oil.

All engines have specific oil weights that should be used in that engine. This varies by the make and model. Most modern cars have the weight (5w-30, 10w-30, etc) printed on the oil fill cap under the hood, but some cars simply list it on the spec sticker under the hood. The factory spec is good for most areas of the US, but if you live in a cold climate state, such as Alaska or the upper Midwest, you will want to consult your local NAPA store for the correct cold-temperature oil for your vehicle. As the temperature drops, the oil thickens, making it harder for it to do its job.

9.  Burial rights

Here is where the closed drain pan with a drain really pays off. Pouring the old oil back into the bottles for disposal is much easier.

Here is where the closed drain pan with a drain really pays off. Pouring the old oil back into the bottles for disposal is much easier.

Used engine oil must be disposed properly. Not only is it better for the environment, but some states and municipalities have laws regarding the disposal of used oil. Most NAPA stores will be able to help you recycle used oil.  Call your local store to verify their participation. Watch the video below to learn more about NAPA’s oil recycling process.

10.  Spare oil, spoil the car

Don't rely on how much oil you put in, be sure to check the dipstick every time.

Don’t rely on how much oil you put in, be sure to check the dipstick every time.

Always consult your manual for the proper amount of oil that the engine needs to fill the crankcase, but don’t take that for granted. Check the oil level after pouring the second to the last bottle into the engine, and then check it again after the last bottle to ensure that you have the right amount of oil in the engine. It is also a good idea to check the oil level (as well as for leaks) after a few miles to make sure that everything is still in order. 

Changing your own oil is not only a great way to save money, but it also keeps you in touch with your car’s well-being. You could see potential problems before they become a major issues because you under the hood and under the engine.  Following the proper maintenance schedule and keep on wrenchin’.

Check out all the chemical products available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on oil change tips, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

 

about author

Jefferson Bryant

A life-long gearhead, Jefferson Bryant spends more time in the shop than anywhere else. His career began in the car audio industry as a shop manager, eventually working his way into a position at Rockford Fosgate as a product designer. In 2003, he began writing tech articles for magazines, and has been working as an automotive journalist ever since. His work has been featured in Car Craft, Hot Rod, Rod & Custom, Truckin’, Mopar Muscle, and many more. Jefferson has also written 4 books and produced countless videos. Jefferson operates Red Dirt Rodz, his personal garage studio, where all of his magazine articles and tech videos are produced.

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