How to Change Your Car's Oil

A hand removing the cap to the oil reservoir under the hood of a car.
What You'll Need
A pan for the old oil to drain into
Jack stands or car ramps
New oil filter
Replacement oil
Container for the used oil
Box end wrench or socket wrenches
Filter wrench
Safety glasses
Tarp or plastic sheet

Learning to change your car's oil is not only a way to save money, but it's a great way to notice any other issues with your car before they become necessary and costly repairs. Of course, it has other benefits as well, such as being a great confidence booster. If you have the skills it takes to crawl under a car and use a wrench, you can change the oil in your car.

Before You Get Started

Your service manual will hold some valuable information for you before you get started, and that includes the recommended grade of oil and how many quarts to add. This is a necessary thing to know so that you do not overfill or underfill your car's engine oil. You'll also need to know what kind of oil filter to use, which may or may not be listed in your car's manual.

You can, however, find all of this information out at the auto parts store that you'll be getting your oil and oil filter from, so be sure to know your car's make, model, year, and engine size when you shop. This is also a good time to ask the sales associates at the store what size wrench you'll need for removing your vehicle's drain plug.

Next, gather what you'll need to change your oil: a pan for the old oil to drain into, jack stands or car ramps, the new oil filter, enough oil to refill the oil reservoir (it can be anywhere from 4 to 8 quarts depending on the vehicle), a container for the used oil, a box end wrench or socket wrenches for removing the drain plug (size will differ per vehicle), a filter wrench, and safety glasses. A tarp or plastic sheet can also be handy for laying on the ground where you'll be doing the oil change, but it's not necessary.

Step 1 - Preparation

A car mechanic working underneath a car.

Before you really get started, warm up the car's engine. Allow it to run five to 10 minutes so that the oil will flow out easier when you pull the drain plug.

Open the hood, and locate and remove the engine oil dipstick, which helps the oil to flow while you're draining it. Now, you can jack the car up or use car ramps. If you're using a jack, place the jack stands in place to hold it and lower the car. Always use jack stands when changing your oil—never crawl under the car if you only have a jack. Before you get under the car, grab the tools mentioned earlier to have them ready at your side and put on your safety glasses.

Step 2 - Draining the Oil

Place the drain pan beneath the drain plug and loosen the plug using your wrench. Remove the plug by hand and allow the oil to flow into the pan. Oil will flow quickly and take several minutes for it to all drain out. This is a good time to inspect your drain plug for any wear. If the plug threads and gasket look worn, it's best to purchase a new gasket. Once all the oil has drained from the engine, you can put the drain plug back in place. Simply use the wrench to screw it back on and make sure it's tight.

Step 3 - Replacing the Filter

A hand holding an oil filter over a car's engine.

Unscrew the old oil filter by hand or use your filter wrench. Check the old oil filter with the new oil filter to make sure you have the correct replacement and also to make sure that the gasket came off with the filter and it's not still stuck to the engine. Smear a little clean oil on the new filter's gasket and install your new filter by screwing it in place. Do not use the filter wrench to install it and do not overtighten it. The rule of thumb is normally to hand tighten it three-quarters to one full turn. However, the filter's box and your service manual may also have directions for you to follow.

Wipe away any oil drips from under the car and you're finished with any work under the engine.

Step 4 - Adding Oil

The hard part is now done and it's time to add your oil. To do so, remove the cap from the oil reservoir which is on top of your engine. Use a funnel to add the oil so that you won't have a lot of burn off from oil that spills onto the engine. Only add as many quarts as your vehicle's manual states. Once you have your oil filled, replace the oil cap and start the engine. Allow it to idle for at least 30 seconds and check for any oil leaks. Look especially near the oil drain plug and oil filter. If a leak is visible, shut the car off immediately. Make any repairs before you restart the engine.

Step 5 - Final Level Check

Wiping off a dipstick over car battery.

If there aren't any leaks, you can now lower the vehicle back down and reinstall your oil dipstick. Check the oil level and add more if needed, but do not overfill. Keep in mind that overfilling can be just as bad as not filling it enough, and sometimes even worse.

Although changing the oil in your car is fairly easy and routine, it's one of the most important maintenance tasks and a great DIY skill to learn. As for how often to use your new DIY skill, most auto manufacturers and mechanics suggest it's done every 3,000 miles or three months for older vehicles. For newer vehicles, it's often only necessary every 5,000 to 10,000 miles. To be safe and keep your car running well, check your owner's manual for the exact specifications.