Changing the oil in your car is a critical part of maintenance. It helps extend the life of the engine and improves fuel efficiency. The process of changing oil is not difficult, but it must be done correctly to prevent damage to the engine. Here are five tips for making sure you do your next oil change correctly.
Choose the Right Oil
When you look at the oil shelf at the auto parts store, it may seem like there are too many types of oil. You see 10W-30, 5W-20, and all their cousins, and you ask yourself whether it really matters.
It may be tempting to skip the decision process and just grab whatever is cheapest, but that is not what’s best for the engine. Each manufacturer has specifications for what oil is best in their products. Those requirements are listed in the owner’s manual, but you can also track them down online if you’ve lost the manual.
Oil can be a dangerous material. You may be doing your oil change while the engine is still hot, creating a risk of burns to your skin and eyes. Wear safety goggles and gloves anytime you are handling oil. (Hint: Slipping on a pair of latex gloves under your work gloves will also reduce your handwashing time.)
You also need a secure way to raise the vehicle. Unless you’re working on a tall SUV or pickup, the vehicle will need to be jacked up and placed on stands. Use these tools properly, and be sure they are in good working order before you start.
Be Careful with the Plug
On the bottom of your vehicle’s engine you’ll find the oil drain plug. It looks like a standard six-sided screw head, but this one is very important. If you damage it as you try to remove it, you may be headed to the mechanic for a costly process of removing and replacing it.
Use the correct size wrench or socket, never an adjustable wrench, when you remove the oil plug. Wipe away any water, grease, oil, or dirt that could allow the tool to slip, and don’t get carried away tightening the plug when you finish.
Change the Filter Too
On occasion, you’ll run across someone who says you don’t have to change the filter every time you change the oil. While it’s true that filter life may be longer than the 3,000 to 5,000 miles that your oil can go, it’s still best to change it. Here’s how you know.
Sometimes the oil change information in your owner’s manual will say the system requires four quarts of new oil if the filter is not changed or five quarts if the filter is replaced. That tells you that the old filter is keeping a whole quarter of old, dirty oil that will circulate in your engine with the new oil. Change the filter
An engine with no oil is worse than one with old oil. Changing the oil requires you to remove and replace the filter, remove and reinsert the plug, and open and close the oil fill cap on top of the engine. If any of these items is not fully tightened at the end of the job, an oil leak–sometimes a big one–can result, leaving your engine unprotected and creating a very real risk of major damage.
Before putting away your tools, make one last pass over everything. Make sure that your hands don’t slip as you check those vital openings, and don’t forget to check the dipstick to make sure you got enough oil into the motor.
Modern vehicles are incredibly complex, but many of them are still straightforward enough for a DIY oil change. With a little research, the right tools, and some basic safety gear, you can take care of this important maintenance task on your own schedule without paying someone else to do it for you.