A Step by Step Guide on How to Change the Oil in a Car

Supplies for Changing your Oil

Getting Ready to Change the Oil

I recently changed the oil in my mother in law’s car and thought it would be a great opportunity to take a few pictures and write an article about how to do an oil change step by step. Doing an oil change on your car is very important, when oil is old and broken down it’s not protecting your engine any more. For more info on when to change your oil check out this article.

Everything I’m going to cover here can be used to change the oil in almost any car. The car I changed the oil in was a 2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser. This car was incredibly easy to change the oil in as I didn’t even have to drive it on ramps or jack it up to reach everything. Doing the PT Cruiser oil change allowed me to take some pictures to give you a step by step guide for how to change the oil in a car.  So let’s take a look at how to change car oil at home.

Step 1 – Preparing for your Oil Change

Before you can change your oil you’re going to need to pick out some oil and a filter. There are a number of debates about the kind of oil you should use but I won’t go into that here. Just make sure you use the correct weight as recommended in your owner’s manual. It’s sometimes printed on the oil fill cap as well. Use a cross reference or ask the guy at the parts counter for the correct oil filter to fit your vehicle. For the oil change I did I chose to go with Quaker State oil (5w30) and a Fram oil filter. Personally I’m not crazy about the Fram filter, but I was trying to this on the cheap for my mother in law.  How much you spend on your oil change will depend on your choice of products.

Before you start your oil change be sure you have all the necessary tools. You’re going to need a ratchet and socket or box end wrench to remove the oil drain plug. On the PT Cruiser the oil drain plug took a 13mm socket, yours may be different. You also need an oil filter wrench, although I’ve found that if you have a strap wrench that will work quite well also. Be sure to have a good drain pan, I like the kind you seal up so you can take the oil to be recycled. A funnel is going to be helpful when it’s time to refill the oil in the car, and they are cheap so get one. If you need the car raised to reach your drain plug and filter then have ramps or a jack and jack stands ready. NEVER crawl under a car supported only by a jack!

Step 2 – Draining the Oil

Oil Filter and Drain Plug Location

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After you get the car jacked up (if you needed to) you can get your drain pan and wrench and crawl underneath to locate your oil drain plug. It should be noted here that while it’s a good idea to have the oil WARM before changing the oil, be sure your car has cooled down enough so you don’t get burnt from either hot oil or engine parts. Go ahead and fit your wrench or socket to your drain plug and turn it counter-clockwise (lefty loosey) until it’s loose enough to turn with your fingers. Set your wrench aside and turn it the rest of the way out with your fingers. You are probably going drop the drain plug into your drain pan if you’re not careful. Let me give you a pointer – push in on the drain plug lightly as you turn it out, when you are confident that the plug is unthreaded all the way pull it away quickly and you should avoid dropping the plug or getting covered in oil. This comes with practice, but I can usually change the oil and stay clean by using this trick. This is a good time to go and get a frosty beverage of your choice and let the oil drain for a few minutes. Once it slows to a drip I’ll usually put the drain plug back in and snug it up so I don’t forget about it or lose the plug.

Step 3 – How to Change Oil Filter – Removal step

Here’s another step that is a bit tricky in terms of staying clean. First you need to get your filter wrench out and get it on the oil filter. Once again you turn it counter clockwise until it is loose enough to turn it with your hand. Be sure your oil drain pan is underneath your oil filter because oil WILL come out as you remove the filter. Once you have the filter off, drain the oil out of it into the drain pan. Set the old filter aside, most places that recycle the oil will also recycle the oil filter. This next step will only take a second but is VERY VERY important. Check the engine block where you removed the oil filter and make sure that the rubber gasket from the old oil filter came off. If it is stuck to the block still, be sure to remove it. I forgot this step one time, put my new filter on, put in 5 quarts of oil and when I started the car I got 5 quarts of oil in my driveway. Learn from my mistake!

Step 4 – Put on the new Oil Filter and fill the Engine Oil

You’re in the home stretch of your Oil Change! Open up a quart of your new oil and set aside the

Oil the New Filter

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cap. Now take your oil filter out of the package. Next you need to get some of the new oil on your finger and smear it around the gasket of your new oil filter. Once you’ve done this you can go ahead and crawl back under your car and screw the oil filter on. You want the filter to be snug but not overly tight. DO NOT use the filter wrench to tighten the oil filter. Just tighten as much as you can with your hand, no need to give yourself a hernia either, just get it good and snug. With the filter back on, you can prepare to fill your oil. You should already have put the drain plug back in and tightened it, but double check as you can’t be too careful.

Adding the Engine oil

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With everything wrapped up under the car you can open your oil fill cap and put the funnel in place. Check your manual to see how much oil your car takes before hand as you don’t want to overfill. If the car takes 5 quarts, I’d add about 4 and half quarts at first. Overfilling the oil does more harm than under filling. Once you’ve added the proper amount of oil, remove the funnel and replace the oil fill cap. Now you can start the car and let it run for a minute or two. This will pressurize your oil system and fill your new filter with oil.  This is a good time to check for leaks as well. Now you will need to shut the car off and wait a minute before checking your oil. Fill the oil the rest of way, but again be sure not to overfill. Put your oil cap back on, shut the hood, and pick up your tools. You’re done,time for another frosty beverage!

Step 5 – The Feeling of Accomplishment

Now you know how to change the oil in a car and change the oil filter in your car. Give yourself a pat on the back, this is one of the most important maintenance items you can do to your car. Doing regular oil changes will keep your car running smoothly and prolong its life. How often you do an oil change will depend on the type of oil you run and what the requirements are for your car. The PT Cruiser that I did the oil change on was WAY past due and the oil I drained out was very black. Too much time had elapsed between oil changes on this car, don’t make this mistake!

Jason

Jason has been working on cars since he was 11 years old helping his dad fix up an old Jeep. Since then he's done partial rebuilds on car engines and two complete rebuilds on motorcycle engines. As an avid backyard mechanic Jason maintains and rebuilds his Jeep. Connect with Jason on Google+

2 Comments

  1. Good job putting up a very detailed article like this about oil change. I like it you have included images also. It’s always easy to see something when you’ve got photos.

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