Oil is the life blood of your engine. The importance of regular oil changes cannot be overstated. 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 10 oil change tips, your oil change will go down quick and hopefully not so dirty.
1. Cool Your Jets
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, open the hood to let air circulate and let the car 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. If the drain plug falls into the oil drain pan, resist the temptation to reach in immediately and grab it as some oil may still be hot. Wait for it to cool down before launching a retrieval mission.
2. Drain Pain
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. Whichever one you choose make sure you can easily slide it under and out from your vehicle without spilling. Remember that you still have to get your hand in to remove the oil drain plug, so the height of the drain pan matters. If you have a service lift there are even tall drain pans on wheels just for you.
3. Get A Grip
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. If you are in a situation where an oil filter won’t come off with your bare hands, put down the screwdriver and try an oil filter tool first. 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. Most have a hex head that can be turned with a wrench of a 3/8″ square drive for use with a ratchet.
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 might crush the filter, often tearing the canister, leaking oil all over the place. They are universal and effective, but messy.
A nylon strap wrench slips over an oil filter and is attached to a square steel pipe. The pipe attaches to a ratchet or breaker bar. As the square pipe is turned it grips the filter and provides a leverage point.
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. It usually has a 3/8″ square drive for use with a ratchet or breaker bar.
If all else fails here are a few tips on how to remove a truly stuck oil filter.
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 no residual stains, lay out an old shower curtain or tarp under the car. When you are done, wipe it off and fold it up for next time. In a pinch you can even use a large piece of cardboard.
5. Filter Seal
One of our oil change tips is actually a common mistake made by novice oil-changers, which 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. If you have a canister oil filter that faces up you can fill the filter about halfway with oil and then spread a little around the filter seal before installing it. For canister oil filters that face down stick to just spreading a little fresh oil on the filter seal. For cartridge oil filters you still need to lubricate the O-rings on the cartridge (if it has one) and the oil filter housing cap.
6. Plug It
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. If your oil filter includes a new oil drain plug washer, use it. Clean any sludge off the magnetic tip, thread the drain plug back into the oil pan gently by hand 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. If you feel any resistance when threading the drain plug into the pan stop and double check that it is entering the pan straight. Cross-threaded oil drain plugs are an unfortunately common problem than can be avoided with a light touch. If your drain plug is stripped you may need to try a universal drain plug or an oversized drain plug.
7. Pour Some Oil In Me
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. Pour slowly so you don’t risk overflowing the funnel.
8. Weight For It…
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 wide temperature range 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 owner’s manual 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. Don’t use oil weights that are not approved for your engine. You may think switching to a thicker oil may help with an issue, but you may cause even bigger problems if you ruin bearings or the oil pump.
9. Burial Rights
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.
10. Spare The Oil, Spoil The Car
The last of our oil change tips is to always consult your owner’s manual for the proper amount of oil that the engine needs to fill the crankcase, but don’t take that for granted. You may be shocked at how much or how little oil some modern engines hold .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. Not every engine holds a round number of quarts, so you may have to add part of a bottle to reach full. 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 a great way to keep 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’.
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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.