Oil Changes

Show of hands, how many of you change your own motor oil?

A lot of us do and most of us are pretty good about having it changed whether we do it ourselves or have it serviced by someone else.  How often you do it depends on how much and what kind of driving you do.  The owners manual is a good start here.  For most cars the manufacturer recommends 5000 miles.  There is usually a shorter mileage for “severe duty” use.  Be sure to check the definition of that.  You might be surprised to find out that you qualify. 

Oil is used for lubrication, in other words, to reduce friction between moving parts.  It is also used to suspend and contain contaminates that occur from combustion and wear.  The oil filter has the job of removing and isolating some of the bigger stuff.  Oil also helps to cool the engine or at least transfer the heat to where it can be released, such as an oil cooler. Your choice of oil is basically refined from crude or synthetic.  Refined lubricating oil has been used for decades with excellent performance.  Synthetics came about during WWII as sources of crude oil were constrained.  Synthetics have demonstrated advantages over refined in terms of durability and performance.  Because of the extreme demands, I wouldn’t use anything else but a synthetic oil in a turbocharged engine.

Oils are classified in terms of viscosity or weight.  You will see numbers like 10W-30 which provide a relative indication of how thick the oil will be in use.  Relative, because everything changes with temperature and time.  Check your owners manual for what weight oil is recommended in what temperature ranges.  You can use a “lighter” oil and help improve your gas mileage.  In my 400 horsepower Eclipse GSX I used Mobil1 0W-40 with no problems. 

How did I really know that I had no problems?  I have my oil analyzed.  Every oil change I take a sample as it is draining and send it off to be analyzed.  I use a company called Blackstone Labs, but there are other companies out there that do oil analysis.  For about $20 a series of tests are run and I get back a report on what my used oil contained, how well it held up, and any indicators of problems such as antifreeze in the oil or too much fuel.  They can even help you determine how often you need to change your oil.  Depending on the results you might find that you can extend the miles that you drive between changes.

As important as the oil is the filter.  Usually the factory oil filters are excellent.  If you change your own oil you will probably go to an auto parts store to pick up the oil and will likely pick up your new filter at the same time.  You might do well to read one person’s study of oil filters (http://minimopar.knizefamily.net/oilfilterstudy.html).  My personal choice is to get a factory oil filter for my Evolution and a Mobil1 oil filter for my 1991 Toyota Pickup. 

While you are picking up the filter and oil there is one more thing you should remember – a new gasket for the drain plug.  If you want to make this really easy you can pick up an oil drain valve and never have to change the gasket again.  A company called Fumoto makes one for most cars and trucks.  It is a ball valve that locks in the closed position so it is reliable and safe.  It is not cheap, but you never have to worry about gaskets, over tightening, or stripping the threads again.


If you are going to change your own oil you will need to get the vehicle up in the air.  Everyone would love to have a lift in their garage, but not all of us are so lucky.  The other choices are ramps and jack stands.  Ramps are the easiest, but they need to be safe and rated for the weight they are supporting.  With a most vehicles weighing over a ton this is no time to find a cheap solution.  If you have jack stands it can mean that you can not only get the car up in the air, but you can have all of the car up which will provide you an opportunity to really inspect the underside for wear and damage.  Check that owners manual for jack points and where to place the jack stands.  Use wheel chocks!

You will want the engine oil to be warmed up.  This aids the draining process and also means you have to be very careful.  Hot oil can burn.  Wear safety glasses that will protect your eyes from any splashing.  Have rags handy to catch any spills and to clean up the underside of the oil pan.  Wear mechanics gloves or equivalent.

Now you need something to drain the oil into and hold the oil filter while it drains.  My favorite is an oil recycling bucket designed by a company called Delta 4.  I’ve seen and used many different kinds of driveway oil drain catch pans.  Most of them are horizontal in nature and that is great for minimizing the height and catching the splashing oil, but when you try to carry the hot oil in a flat pan it can be a balancing act that can be a mess when you lose it.  Once you get it in the flat catch pan then you have to figure out where you are going to pour the old oil so you can take it to recycling.  Delta 4 eliminates all that.  It catches the oil, the lid becomes a low drain pan.  The bucket has a shelf to catch the drain plug and drain the oil filter from.  When you are done you just put the cover on it and carry it like a bucket.  it is well balanced and is easy to empty at the recycling center.  I found mine on the Internet, but now several cities offer them to the public for a small charge or even free.


Aside from rags and buckets you will need a wrench for the drain plug and a wrench for the oil filter.  The big reason why I use a K&N oil filter is that it has a hex nut on the bottom that allows you to use a 25mm (1 inch) wrench to remove it.  K&N oil filters are also a very high quality that offer maximum protection from a spin-on filter.  The wrench you use on the drain plug should fit exactly.  A box wrench is best.  As you unscrew the drain plug keep pressure on it.  That way you can feel when it gets to the last thread.  Then you can just let go of the plug and get your hand out of the way.  Otherwise you will have hot oil draining on your hand as you try to unscrew the plug.

There are all kinds of oil filter wrenches to choose from.  The best is one that fits the bottom of the filter and is used on a socket wrench.  Next best is a strap wrench that grabs the filter and tightens as it is turned.  It is best to get that kind of a wrench as close to the base of the filter as possible so that the filter case won’t deform as the strap tightens.

Let the oil drain.  Open the oil fill cap and pull out the dip stick to allow air to come in.  Then go find something to do while it drains. One thing I like to do is fill the oil filter with new oil.  To me this makes sense because it primes the system with oil instead of air.  When the oil has drained enough wipe off the threads on the pan and the drain plug and install a new gasket before you tighten it up.  Put the plug on firmly, but don’t try to spin the car.  It just needs to be tightened enough to crush the washer a little.  Wipe the area where the new oil filter is going with a rag.  Be sure that the old gasket didn’t remain behind when you took off the old filter.  Coat the new filter’s gasket with some oil to keep it from sticking to the engine block.  Spin on the new filter and hand tighten.

Now you can fill up the engine with the new oil you bought.  I use a funnel with a big opening.  One designed to fill a radiator with works well.  It is short and has a big drain opening that keeps spills off the valve cover and holds the oil container while it is draining.  Check the oil level with the dip stick.  When you think it is correct, clear everything out of the way, put on the oil fill cap, and start the engine.  Take it easy and let the oil pressure build.  Starting an engine is when most of the wear happens.  Then shut off the engine and check the oil level again.  Add if you need to but don’t over fill.  Over filling can cause big problems.  If the oil level is too high the crankshaft can whip it into a frothy mix which doesn’t lubricate very well at all.  If you over fill, just open the drain plug for a quick second (you left the drain bucket out, right?) and check the level again.

Changing your own oil is not hard and will give you a chance to look over your car from a perspective you hardly ever get to see.  Something you can do yourself and feel good about, especially when you drop off your used oil at the recycling center.

This entry was posted in Automobiles, Care and Feeding, Cars, Modifying Cars, Servicing Cars and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Oil Changes

  1. mark says:

    Good post Jim! Like your installment on tires, this one covers a lot of very practical material that should help anyone from novice to experienced members among your readership. The links, and comments on oil analysis and that all filters aren’t equal were helpful. While I tended to use AC Delco and Fram (depending on the vehicle), you put me on to K & N, and I really was impressed by the 10 PSI increase in oil pressure that I got on my Z06 corvette. Any tips on how to fix a stripped or leaky drain plug, or to remove a stuck filter – one that’s been on too long due to neglect? Of course, I only find these kinds of filters on other people’s vehicles, never on mine. (smile).

  2. Noel says:

    Oil is a perennial source of discussions, conflict and faulty logic on most car-oriented discussion boards. One place to learn more than you want to know is bobistheoilguy.com, where you can acquire all kinds of arcane knowledge.

    I just read an article from NINES, the Saab magazine, that digs into some of the oil issues on the recent versions of Saab’s turbo engines. Long story short, some design changes coupled with long drain intervals (10K miles) were causing sludge issues. Of course the long intervals were meant for people who don’t do short trips, no stop and go, don’t carry stuff on the roof or tow a trailer. Everyone else needs to change the oil at about 5K. And it really has to be synthetic. This is true for all makes, not just Saab, and Toyota has had sludging issues in recent years due to prolonged drain cycles. You really have to pay attention to change intervals. But there is more to it than that.

    There are grades of synthetic that nothing to do with weight. Oils are tested and approved by organizations who rate the oil in a variety of areas. Some oils are just dandy for a low power 4 cylinder, others for a high-revving engine or a big V-8. When you turbocharge a motor you add a lot of heat, so the oil has to work a lot harder. Saab, for example, says its current crop of cars need an oil that meets API standards SJ, SL or SM *and* ACEA (a European agency) standards A3/B3. Not all oils, even some flavors of Mobil 1, meets all of these. Mobil 1 0W40 does, so does Amsoil’s 5W40 Euro formula, and Castrol Syntech 5W50.

    Turbo engines may also cause a greater loss in viscosity over time than a normally aspirated engine, so a 40 or 50 can be beneficial, even though the owner’s manual says 5W30 is just fine. The key is still to change it often. I like to do it at about 5K miles, but I know the oil is still good longer if I can’t get to it. Just did the ’96 yesterday, in fact.

    Another thing is that synthetics sometimes cause leaks in engines that have always run dino oil. That is due to the lighter weight–the 5 part of the oil’s designation–but you can usually get around this by running a 10W30 syn. My two older Saabs, a ’95 and a ’96, which were run on dino oil (changed every 3-5K) have had no leaks when switching to synthetic. Our newest one, an ’03 9-5 my wife drives, has always run synthetic, changed every 5-6K.

  3. Jim says:

    The folks at Delta 4 who make that outstanding oil drain bucket helped me out.

    I put a link to their site for you folks to find out about them, but they can’t help you if, like me, you just need one.

    For those of us on the east coast we can go to http://www.aircraftspruce.com/catalog/eppages/oilrecycler.php and order just one. Their bucket is soooo much better than any pan or tray that I have tried. Once you try one you will wonder why they don’t sell them in the auto parts stores.

  4. Great post! I’ll probably blog something similar later. Should I Use Synthetic Motor Oil

  5. Dan says:


    Thanks for the great comments about our oil recycling buckets.

    Here’s our new web address: http://www.delta4recycling.com/

    If it’s ok with you, I’d like to add a link from our testimonial page to this oil-changes page.

    Let me at the email above.


  6. Silano says:

    Thank you for an informative article! Hopefully we see a lot more posts in the future. It is not often I save a site to return to.

  7. Paul says:

    Heres a very handy way to change your oil and it works i have a Honda accord which needs regular oil changes so i purchased an oil extractor. All you do is put the small tube into the dipstick
    hole till it reaches the bottom of the sump then pump the handle.and it sucks your oil out fantasic tool.
    And i took out sump nut the first time I used it to see how good it was and didnt need to it did its job just fine.

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