The Do-It-Herself Oil Change

In today’s world, car owners are spending almost 100 dollars for the service of an oil change. “Would you like a higher quality oil?” is one question that raises the price while making drivers feel compelled to take good care of their vehicles. We look at this service as a convenience, and to save ourselves from a messy job and time. The truth is that we can take better care of our vehicles at a fraction of the expense and time as a “do-it-herself.”

Record Books

We keep all kinds of records. Books or computer programs are used for our finances, while calendars help us remember a multitude of events. It is logical to keep a book for car maintenance and mileage for two reasons.

  1. It’s a good feeling to have specific dates and the ability to answer questions about your fluids, tires, and oil changes.  
  2. In computing your fuel efficiency, you will discover ways to save money by modifying driving habits and improving gas mileage. (My husband loves this “game” and will brag about achieving 650 miles on one tank of diesel.)    

The Dipstick

While all fluid levels should be checked, especially on older vehicles, the one that requires your attention is the [oil] dipstick. In addition to learning if the levels are “full” or “low,” you will also determine if an oil change is sometimes based on a dark coloration. In the 1970s, most vehicles required 10W-40, which tended to lose its viscosity within 3,000 miles. Due to improvements in higher-quality lubricants, most automakers recommend oil changes after 5,000, 7,000, and sometimes as high as 15,000 miles for newer models. While changing too soon will not harm your vehicle, check your owner’s manual for mileage and time intervals.

The dipstick has a ring to loop one finger through and pull directly upwards. It is best if the car has cooled before checking oil levels. Have a cloth in hand to wipe the stick clean before returning it fully, and pulling out to read. (In your record book, post the date and information concluded from the reading.)

What Kind of Oil Should I Buy?

Scanning the shelving for oil is overwhelming. There are oils for high-tech engines, new cars, higher-mileage vehicles and heavy-duty/ off-road vehicles. There is also a wide selection of viscosities. Do not guess – your owner’s manual will recommend the right oil and amount needed for your vehicle.

A “How To” Guide

Before starting, it is important to gather all the necessary items together. You will need a wrench and a filter wrench, an oil pan, the filter and oil, a few rags, and a clean 1-gallon milk jug and funnel.  


To ease the flow of oil, allow your engine to run for about two minutes. The “drain plug” is a large bolt or plug located under the oil pan at the bottom of the engine. (Having your car on “ramps” with the parking brake pulled will ease your reach.) Position the oil pan; then, while your hand is protected with a rag, unscrew the plug with a wrench, and allow to drain. This step will take no longer than ten minutes.

Changing the Oil Filter

With the hood already open, the next step is to unscrew the oil filter using a wrench (use the manual to help locate the filter). Twist counterclockwise. Be careful and keep your hands steady as you remove it, as the filter will have oil in it. Pour the excess oil into the clean milk jug. Remove any remnants of the filter’s rubber seal, too. Before putting in the new filter with your hands, rub the seal with a little oil.  (Follow the directions on the box.)

Plug the Pan

With so many steps accomplished, it is important to remember to replace the plug or bolt the drain before adding oil. Wipe clean and look at the condition of the washer. It may need to be replaced.


Pouring the recommended weight and amount of oil into your car will take little time; however, it is advised to use a funnel and pour slowly. Replace the oil filter cap; then, run the engine for a minute. Check for any leaks around the plug or the filter, and the oil level. It should read “full.” The final step is transferring the old oil into the gallon jug.

Congratulations! The entire process should take no more than 15 to 20 minutes. With each opportunity to change your oil, or to help, you will discover your car’s maintenance is in very capable hands!