Home Car Maintenance Should You Try to Change Your Own Oil?

Should You Try to Change Your Own Oil?


Deciding whether to change your own oil is an important aspect of car maintenance that requires consideration. Performing an oil change demands a basic understanding of a car’s engine and the willingness to invest time into the task. For vehicle owners, the choice often comes down to personal preference, capabilities, and cost-effectiveness. On one hand, changing your own oil can be a rewarding experience, offering a sense of achievement and the opportunity for financial savings. On the other hand, it requires a set of tools and a proper understanding of one’s vehicle to ensure the job is done correctly.

Choosing the right oil and filter is critical for a successful oil change, as is knowing the proper intervals between oil changes for your specific vehicle. While some car owners relish the hands-on approach, others may find the process too complex or time-consuming, opting instead for the convenience of professional services. It’s crucial to weigh the benefits against the potential downsides, such as the mess, disposal of old oil, and the risk of making common mistakes that could affect your car’s performance.

Key Takeaways

  • Changing your oil can offer personal satisfaction and cost savings but requires technical know-how.
  • The right tools, oil, and understanding of oil change intervals are essential for a proper oil change.
  • Professional oil change services are a convenient alternative, especially for those lacking time, tools, or confidence.

Benefits of Changing Your Own Oil

Changing your own oil can offer substantial benefits, primarily through cost efficiency and an enhanced familiarity with your vehicle. These advantages can contribute to overall savings and convenience.

Cost Efficiency

Changing the oil in one’s car can lead to significant savings. They avoid labor costs that are incurred at service stations, and they may also purchase oil and filters at a lower price. Over time, these savings add up, making it a cost-effective maintenance habit.

  • Save Money: On average, individuals can save between $25 to $75 per oil change.
  • Bulk Purchase: Buying oil and filters in bulk often results in lower costs per unit.

Familiarity with Vehicle

By undertaking the task of changing oil, car owners develop a better understanding of their vehicle’s condition and maintenance needs. This familiarity allows for the following:

  • Timely Detection: They can spot potential issues early, possibly avoiding expensive repairs.
  • Personal Maintenance Records: Keeping track of oil changes ensures that they maintain a consistent vehicle service history.

Tools and Equipment Needed

When changing one’s own oil, one needs the correct tools and equipment to ensure the task is completed efficiently and safely. This setup involves the essential tools for the oil change process and the safety equipment to protect oneself and one’s vehicle.

Essential Tools

Wrench: A wrench is mandatory for removing the drain plug. It’s crucial to have a wrench that fits the plug properly to avoid stripping it.

Oil Filter Wrench: This tool is specialized for removing the oil filter. There are different styles, so one should ensure to get the type that fits their car’s filter.

Jack and Jack Stands: If the vehicle isn’t high enough to work under, a floor jack is necessary to lift it. Jack stands and then securely holds the vehicle in place.

Ramps: For those who prefer not to lift their vehicle, ramps are an alternative to provide under-car access. They must be sturdy and rated for the vehicle’s weight.

Drain Pan: A drain pan or container is needed to catch the old oil as it is drained from the engine.

Funnel: A funnel helps in adding new oil to the engine without spillage.

Torque Wrench: A torque wrench is required to tighten the drain plug to the manufacturer’s specification correctly.

Safety Equipment

Gloves: Wear latex gloves or a suitable alternative to keep hands clean and protect them from hot engine parts and used oil.

Safety Glasses: It is advisable to wear safety glasses to protect one’s eyes from oil splashes during draining.

Choosing the Right Oil and Filter

Selecting the proper motor oil and oil filter is crucial for maintaining engine health and performance. It ensures longevity and efficiency, preventing costly repairs caused by using substandard products.

Types of Motor Oil

Motor oil is categorized into conventional, synthetic blend, full synthetic, and high mileage oils. Conventional oil is the traditional choice for many cars and works well for regular commutes without severe conditions. Synthetic oils are designed for modern engines and high performance with enhanced protection and longer life spans. Synthetic blend oils offer a middle ground with better protection than conventional oil at a lower cost than full synthetic. High mileage oils contain additives designed to extend the life of engines over 75,000 miles.

  • Conventional Oil: Suitable for simple commutes and regular conditions.
  • Synthetic Blend Oil: A mix of synthetic and conventional oil.
  • Full Synthetic Oil: Best for extreme conditions; long-lasting.
  • High Mileage Oil: For engines with over 75,000 miles; contains specific additives.

Oil Filter Selection

The oil filter is as important as the oil itself. A high-quality filter can trap contaminants effectively, ensuring only clean oil circulates within the engine. One must select a filter corresponding to the vehicle’s specifications and the oil type. Filters are typically classified based on the material and construction, such as cellulose, synthetic, or a blend. They also vary in terms of filtration efficiency, capacity, and change intervals.

  • Cellulose Filters: Good for conventional oil; 3,000 to 5,000 miles change interval.
  • Synthetic Filters: Higher filtration efficiency for synthetic oils.
  • Blend Media Filters: Balance between cellulose and synthetic fibers.

When choosing both engine oil and oil filters, consult the vehicle’s manual to match the viscosity and filter recommendations. Moreover, consider the driving conditions, as extreme temperatures, towing, or high mileage may necessitate specific oil formulations and filters for optimal protection.

Car Lift for Oil Change

Preparation for Oil Change

When preparing to change a car’s oil, ensuring a safe and organized workspace and properly prepping the vehicle are crucial steps. A systematic approach will aid in avoiding common mishaps and ensure efficiency.

Workspace Setup

The workspace, preferably a garage, should be clean, well-ventilated, and free of clutter. Organize all necessary tools within easy reach, including wrenches, rags, and an oil pan. It’s essential to have adequate lighting to prevent missteps during oil changes.

  • Floor Surface: Check for a flat and stable floor surface.
  • Tool Accessibility: Lay the tools out neatly to avoid having to search for them mid-task.
  • Safety Equipment: Position safety equipment, like a fire extinguisher, nearby.

Car Preparation

Before commencing with the oil change, a car owner should consult the manual for specific instructions tailored to their vehicle’s make and model. Ensuring the car is cool to the touch and on a level surface will mitigate potential hazards and inaccuracies in oil level measurements.

  1. Cool Down: Allow the engine to cool if it has been running.
  2. Elevate the Car: Use a jack to raise the car if necessary, securing it with jack stands.
  3. Locate Oil Cap: Open the hood and find the oil cap on top of the engine for later ventilation.

By following a detailed approach to workspace setup and car preparation, the process of changing a car’s oil becomes a much smoother and safer endeavor.

Step-by-Step Oil Change Process

Changing your own oil can be a cost-effective and satisfying DIY task if done correctly. A key aspect to remember is having all the necessary tools, such as an oil drain pan, wrench set, and the correct type of oil and filter for your vehicle.

Draining the Old Oil

The vehicle should be parked on a level surface, and the engine should be allowed to cool. Place the oil drain pan beneath the oil sump. One should locate the drain plug, which is typically at the bottom of the sump, and use a wrench to loosen it, allowing the old oil to drain out completely. After the oil has been drained, the drain plug must be reinstalled and tightened securely.

Removing the Oil Filter

The oil filter is usually found near the engine; one may need an oil filter wrench to remove it. Positioning the drain pan underneath is important to catch any residual oil that may spill. After removing the oil filter, check the seal to ensure it’s not stuck to the engine.

Installing New Oil

Before installing a new oil filter, lubricate the rubber gasket with new oil. Screw in the new filter by hand until it is securely in place. Next, locate the oil cap on top of the engine and remove it to add fresh oil. Use a funnel to prevent spillage and add oil according to the manufacturer’s specifications. Lastly, use the dipstick to ensure proper oil level. Once done, replace the oil cap and run the engine for a few minutes, checking for leaks.

By following these steps carefully, one can efficiently complete an oil change. Dealing with the old oil responsibly is essential, as it can be environmentally hazardous.

Post-Change Inspection and Clean-Up

After changing your vehicle’s oil, performing a thorough post-change inspection and ensuring proper cleanup is essential. This process minimizes environmental harm and maintains the vehicle’s health.

Checking for Leaks

Immediately after the oil change, one should inspect the area around the oil drain plug and the filter for leaks. Start the engine and let it run for a few minutes, then turn it off and check for any new oil marks or drips under the vehicle. It’s crucial to address leaks promptly to prevent potential damage to the engine or the environment.

Disposal of Used Oil

The disposal of used oil should be done responsibly. Never pour oil down a drain or onto the ground. Instead, transfer the old oil to a sealable container and take it to a local recycling center or auto parts store that accepts used oil. Proper disposal is key to preventing pollution and preserving natural resources, as the used oil can be refined and reused.

Understanding Oil Change Intervals

Determining the correct oil change interval is crucial for vehicle maintenance and can significantly impact the longevity and performance of a car’s engine.

Manufacturer Recommendations

Every vehicle has a manufacturer’s manual specifying the recommended oil change intervals. Typically, manufacturers outline a schedule based on mileage or time, whichever comes first. For instance, many modern cars are designed to require an oil change every 5,000 to 7,500 miles. However, these intervals may vary depending on the make and model of the vehicle and the type of oil used—conventional or synthetic. It is imperative to consult the manual to understand the specific recommendations for a particular vehicle.

Signs It’s Time for an Oil Change

In addition to the manufacturer’s schedule, there are tangible signs that may indicate it’s time for an oil change:

  • Engine noise and knocking: An increase in engine noise or a knocking sound suggests that the oil may no longer be lubricating the engine effectively.
  • Dark and dirty oil: Clean oil is amber in color; over time, it gets filled with particles and turns darker. Upon checking the dipstick, an oil change is due if the oil appears too dirty.
  • Oil change indicator: Modern cars are often equipped with an oil change indicator light on the dashboard that alerts the driver when an oil change is necessary.
  • Exhaust smoke: Translucent vapor from the exhaust is normal, especially in cold weather, but actual smoke could be a sign of oil problems.

By heeding both the manufacturer’s guidelines and being attentive to these signs, car owners can maintain proper lubrication of engine components, thereby extending the life of their vehicles.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

When changing oil, vehicle owners must be vigilant not to commit errors that could lead to costly repairs or even personal injury. It’s critical to consider the potential risks, such as damaging vehicle components, and ensure the safety of both the person and the vehicle.

Improper Tool Use

  • Using Incorrect Wrench Size: Selecting a wrench that doesn’t fit the oil drain plug correctly can strip the plug, making future removal difficult. Always use the correct size to avoid damage to the plug.
  • Neglecting Jack Stand Stability: Reliance on a jack alone is a grave error. Always position the jack stands securely to prevent the vehicle from falling, potentially causing injury or damaging the underside of the engine.

Overlooking Key Steps

  • Ignoring the Rubber Gasket: When installing a new oil filter, failing to ensure a proper seal with the rubber gasket can lead to leaks.
  • Forgetting the Washer: The drain plug washer must be replaced or inspected for wear; a damaged washer could cause leaks, resulting in inadequate oil levels and increased risk to engine health.

By keenly avoiding these oversights, vehicle owners can execute a smooth oil change, maintaining engine performance and extending their vehicle’s lifespan.

When to Choose Professional Service

When managing vehicle maintenance, it’s paramount to recognize when the expertise of a professional mechanic is beneficial. Complex vehicle systems often necessitate specialized tools and knowledge, while warranty and insurance considerations may dictate service choices.

Complex Vehicle Systems

Modern vehicles are equipped with intricate systems and technology that require a specific skill set to maintain appropriately. Oil changes may seem straightforward, but they often involve more than just replacing the oil. A professional mechanic at a AAA-approved auto repair facility can ensure that the oil change is compatible with the vehicle’s complex engineering, as they typically possess the necessary diagnostic tools to identify any potential issues that may arise during the process. Reliance on professional service minimizes the risk of damage that could be costly to repair.

Warranty and Insurance Considerations

The vehicle’s warranty may require a certified mechanic to perform repairs and maintenance, including oil changes, to remain valid. Attempting to change the oil oneself could inadvertently void a warranty if it leads to a problem that requires repair. Furthermore, insurance policies may have stipulations regarding repairs and who performs them. For insurance purposes, it can be crucial to have a record of professional service, which demonstrates the vehicle has been serviced according to manufacturer specifications and with the appropriate grade of parts and fluids. This can come into play in the event of a claim related to vehicle performance or maintenance.

Advantages of Professional Oil Changes

When it comes to maintaining a vehicle, professional oil changes offer definitive perks, particularly in terms of convenience and the range of added services available. Drivers can benefit from expert handling, access to specialized facilities, and potential savings through promotional offers.


Professional oil changes stand out for their ease and efficiency. Customers can often schedule an appointment at a time that fits their busy lifestyle, eliminating the guesswork and time investment of doing it themselves. Furthermore, many service centers are AAA-approved auto repair facilities, ensuring a standard of quality and reliability. Vehicle owners can minimize downtime by opting for a professional service, as trained technicians complete the oil change rapidly and proficiently.

Added Services

In addition to the primary task of changing oil, professional service centers usually conduct a comprehensive check of the vehicle. This might include topping off fluids, checking tire pressure, or even a complete vehicle inspection. Drivers might also find value in available coupons and promotions that can provide cost savings on these bundled services. The expertise of certified mechanics also means any potential issues can be identified early on, potentially saving on future repair costs.

Saving on Professional Oil Changes

Professional oil change services can be quite a burden on one’s finances if not managed carefully. However, significant savings can be achieved by strategically finding deals and considering routine maintenance packages.

Finding Deals

The cost of professional oil changes can vary widely, but utilizing coupons can lead to considerable savings. Many service centers offer coupons either directly on their websites or through local advertising channels. For instance, a customer may find a coupon offering a $15 discount on their next oil change, effectively reducing the price from a typical $40 service to $25.

Routine Maintenance Packages

Investing in routine maintenance packages can also lower the overall cost of oil changes. Many automotive service providers offer packages that include a set number of oil changes at a discounted rate. For example, purchasing a package of three oil changes for $100, when each normally costs $40, saves a total of $20. Additionally, adherence to a regular maintenance schedule ensures vehicle longevity and performance.

Frequently Asked Questions about Changing Your Oil

Before delving into the specifics of oil changes, it’s essential to understand the nuances of deciding to take on this task. The frequently asked questions below cover the key aspects, from practical benefits and savings to the necessary preparations and precautions for changing your car’s oil.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of changing my car’s oil by myself?

Changing your car’s oil independently can lead to cost savings and a deeper understanding of your vehicle’s maintenance needs. However, it requires a certain level of mechanical skill, time investment, and the possibility of encountering unexpected issues that could complicate the process.

How much can I save by performing an oil change on my own vehicle?

The savings incurred from performing an oil change at home versus having it done at a shop can vary. Generally, one can expect to save the labor costs a service center charges, which can be considerable.

What are the essential tools and equipment needed to change my car’s oil?

The tools necessary for changing oil include a wrench or socket set for the drain plug, an oil filter wrench, a funnel, an oil catch pan, and gloves for protection. The vehicle’s manual will specify the correct oil type and quantity and the required oil filter.

How do I properly dispose of used motor oil after performing an oil change?

Proper disposal of used motor oil is crucial for environmental protection. Many auto parts stores and recycling centers accept used oil. Always transport the old oil in a sealed container to prevent spills and ensure it is recycled properly.

What common mistakes should I avoid when changing my own oil?

Common mistakes to avoid include over-tightening the drain plug, which can strip the threads, not replacing the oil filter, and using the wrong grade or type of oil. Always double-check the specifications for your vehicle’s oil requirements.

How can I determine the correct interval for changing the oil in my vehicle?

The interval for oil changes can depend on several factors, including the type of vehicle, the type of oil used, and driving conditions. Consult your owner’s manual for the manufacturer’s recommendations or perform an oil analysis to tailor the oil change interval to your vehicle’s specific conditions.

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