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5 Winter Oil Change Tips

A person checks their oil using a dipstick.

Changing your vehicle’s motor oil lubricates the engine, cleans its moving parts and keeps it cool. Using fresh oil also improves fuel mileage and extends the engine’s life. By following the manufacturer’s maintenance guidelines to change your oil, you can keep your vehicle in top running order. If you’re changing the oil yourself this winter, there are several oil change tips to keep in mind, including a few that are entirely seasonally appropriate.

1. Shop for a Conventional Winter Blend or a Synthetic

Find your vehicle’s owner’s manual and turn to the maintenance section. You’ll notice that the recommended conventional oil blend is different when temperatures are below the freezing mark. The ratings typically describe the oil’s viscosity, or thickness when it’s cold and hot. For example, the 10W in 10W-30 describes the thickness of the oil in cold weather. The 30 after the W stands for its viscosity when hot. The lower the oil’s viscosity rating, the thinner it is and the faster it will flow. Because cold makes oil thicker, manufacturers often recommend a motor oil with a 0W rating in the winter. However, you do have another option: a synthetic blend, which does a better job of handling extreme temperatures throughout the year. If you need to change your oil once annually, a synthetic blend would be ideal for any season.

2. Prepare Your Workspacecar in snow

If you prefer to change the oil and replace the oil filter yourself, you’re in good company. By doing so, you can not only maintain your vehicle but you can also get a chance for an up-close inspection. Cold weather, though, can make changing oil a challenge. While a heated garage is ideal for the job, any covered or protected area with a level surface will do — just ensure that the pavement is dry enough to safely hold the chocks and lifts in place.

3. Gather the Essentials

In addition to motor oil and an oil filter, you’ll need a few other items to get the job done. Be sure to wear safety glasses, put on gloves and keep rags handy. You’ll also want a wrench or socket set and an oil catch pan to hold the old oil. Use jack stands or ramps to lift the front end of the vehicle, but never get under a car held up by a single jack, no matter its weight rating.

4. Start Your Engine

Who wants to stay out in the cold and wait for the old engine oil to slowly flow into a waiting pan? Chances are good that you don’t, so once your vehicle is securely lifted, start it and allow the engine to run for about five minutes before turning it off and draining the oil. But take care: the oil will be hot, as will the drain plug and oil filter. A warm engine is better at releasing oil and freeing impurities (including sludge build-up) than a cold one. Leave no doubt that all the old oil has been removed by warming your engine up a bit before you start the oil change.

5. Change as You Normally Would

Now you’re ready to proceed with your oil change as you would in any other season. When you’re ready to drain the oil, remove the drain plug first. Let the old oil drain out, and then remove the oil filter and pour any remaining oil into the pan. Once this is done, you can secure the drain plug, put the new filter in place, add oil, start the engine and allow your vehicle to run for 30 seconds. Look for leaks as you do so. With this done, lower the vehicle to the ground, check the dipstick for the correct oil level, and add more, if necessary. Make sure you dispose of the old oil and filter properly.

Even in the winter, changing your own oil isn’t too difficult, and it can be a great way to save some money on maintenance. Maybe this is the year you give it a try!

Check out all the cleaners, fluid oils, and lubricants available on NAPA Online, or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. To learn more about changing your oil, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Images courtesy of Pixabay.


Matthew C. Keegan View All

Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.

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