How to Change Oil and Oil Filter

by William Zane

Routine maintenance is a crucial aspect of keeping a car running reliably and consistently for years to come. And an engine with fresh, clean oil is better off than one with old, dirty oil. If an engine is run with old oil, the internals can begin to wear prematurely, and this can shorten the life of the engine. Performing an oil change on most cars is relatively straightforward, and you can do it in your driveway or garage with just a few common tools.

Park the car on a flat surface in a well-lit area. You will likely be working under the car as well as under the hood and will need some light. For the best results, change the oil when the engine is warm, but not hot.

Open the hood. Remove the oil cap. Locate the oil filter. The location of the filter will vary depending the car. Many modern cars have filters that are located near the top of the engine at the front, while on others it may be located near the bottom of the engine.

Lift the front of the car with a floor jack and lower it onto a pair of jack stands, one placed under each side of the car. You may also drive the car up onto a pair of floor ramps to access the underside. Whichever method you use, make sure that the emergency brake is set, the car is in gear and that there is a block of wood or a chock behind the rear wheel.

Slide under the car and locate the oil drain bolt. This will likely be located on the bottom of the oil pan, directly under the motor. Place the oil catch container under the drain bolt.

Loosen the drain bolt with a wrench or a socket and a ratchet. Be prepared for the oil to come out very quickly, and make sure that the catch container is in position to catch the oil. Allow the oil to drain for 10 to 15 minutes.

Reinstall the oil drain bolt with a new crush washer after the oil has drained out entirely. Tighten the bolt to the specified torque with a torque wrench. If you don't have the torque spec, just snug the bolt 1/4 turn after you feel resistance. It's easy to strip the oil-pan threads, so don't over-tighten.

Move the oil catch container under the filter. Remove the oil filter. The method will vary depending on the type of filter. If your car uses a spin-on oil filter, place the filter wrench over the body of the filter and turn it counterclockwise. Place the old filter face down on the oil catch container to drain. If your vehicle uses a filter housing with a cartridge filter inside, unbolt the lid to the filter housing with the appropriate wrench. Pull the filter out of the housing.

Wipe a light layer of fresh oil on the O-ring located on the end of the spin-on filter. Wipe the filter mating surface on the engine with a clean rag. Thread the filter on by hand. After you feel initial resistance, tighten the filter an additional 3/4 turn. Do not use the wrench, and do not over-tighten.

Install a new cartridge filter element by sliding it into the filter housing until it seats firmly at the bottom. Replace any O-rings that are part of the filter assembly. These will come with the filter. Reinstall the lid to the oil filter assembly and tighten it with a wrench.

Pour the appropriate amount of oil into the engine through the hole in the top of the engine where the oil cap was removed. This will vary depending on the make of the vehicle, but will likely be around 5 quarts. The correct type and grade of oil, and the required amount, will be specified in your owner's manual. Do not overfill, as this is harmful to the engine. Reinstall the oil cap.

Lower the car off of the jack stands or the ramps. Check the oil level with the dipstick. Remove the dipstick, wipe it off and reinsert it. If the oil is showing on the dipstick, start the engine and let it idle for one minute. Shut the engine off and wait two minutes, then recheck the oil level. Add oil if necessary to bring the level to the "Full" line on the dipstick. Check the filter and drain bolt for leaks, and tighten if necessary. Dispose of the old oil at an oil recycling facility. Most auto parts stores will also recycle the oil for you.

Items you will need

About the Author

William Zane has been a freelance writer and photographer for over six years and specializes primarily in automotive-related subject matter among many other topics. He has attended the Academy of Art College in San Francisco, where he studied automotive design, and the University of New Mexico, where he studied journalism.