Sunday, September 4, 2011

How to: Change Your Oil Like a Pro / Oil FAQ / "Everything you need to know about Oil" Crash Course

Changing your oil with quality products is an easy, cheap way to extend your engine's life exponentially.
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Fast Facts
  • Time Involved: First timers might take up to an hour, but you'll get it down to 30 minutes after a couple tries!
  • Required Tools: Oil drain pan and a wrench or socket that will fit your drain plug. Unless you're working on an SUV or a car with high ground clearance, it's helpful if you have a jack and a jack stand, but you don't need anything fancy just to get started. Optional but recommended: oil filter wrench, gloves.
  • Parts Needed: Engine oil, oil filter. You might need an air filter, too. Most chain auto parts stores (like O'Reilly, NAPA, Advance) have a monthly oil change special where you can get the oil and filter for one low price. You can see Advance's monthly special here, and even buy online and pick it up in the store to minimize the chance of confusion.
  • Shop Supplies: A can of engine degreaser and some rags or paper towels. Perhaps a bag of kitty litter if you're messy like me.



Are you tired of paying the car dealership outrageous amounts of money to change the engine oil in your car? Or perhaps it's the quick lube's incompetency and inattention to detail that's got you interested in doing it yourself. Even large, "reputable" chains use generic, bottom-of-the-barrel 5w30, which protects their profit margins, but usually not your engine.

I believe that anyone with even a hint of mechanical ability can learn to change their own oil. With just a few tools, you'll be able to change your oil at home. Not only will it take less time than dragging your car down to a shop, you'll know that the job was done, and that it was done right. And you'll have the satisfaction of doing it yourself!

First, here's a comprehensive list of "Oil FAQ's." The step-by-step directions are after the FAQ. You'll probably find that the actual task of changing the oil is easier than figuring out what to buy!




"How often should I change my motor oil?" you ask. That's a good question, and there's not really a single answer to it. Check your owners manual. Some automakers contend that you can drive up to 10,000 miles between changes! I disagree. I change my oil every 4,000 miles, using conventional (non-synthetic) oil. For my cars that have turbochargers, I change the oil every 2,750 miles. If you use full synthetic oil (Mobil1, Castrol Syntec), you can safely drive 7,000 miles, maybe up to 10K if you're a highway driver.


What's the best kind of oil to use? Another good question that doesn't have a solid answer. My personal favorite is Castrol GTX, which is a standard conventional oil. It's priced fairly and it is widely recognized by car companies and car enthusiasts as a good oil.  For diesels, I prefer Shell Rotella T. Valvoline is also very good oil. Avoid cheap store brand oil and second-tier lines like Pennzoil and Quaker State. One exception is NAPA oil, which is made by Valvoline (Ashland).

What's the best filter to use? Fun fact: Despite the large number of filter labels on the market, there really aren't that many filter manufacturers out there. You can read to your heart's content about oil filters on this page (Warning: OCD content, but it's good), or just read this:
  • Purolator filters are pretty good, along with Mobil1 and Wix. Wix are my favorite filters for most cars, and they're widely available:
  • Wix filters are sold at NAPA as Silver and Gold (Gold are better, but Silver are still good). In August, NAPA changed their filter branding. All the NAPA branded filters are still Wix products, including the ProSelect branded filters which are now supposed to be sold to garages only.
  • You can also buy Wix filters from O'Reilly Auto Parts. They are not rebranded or relabeled, just ask for a Wix filter.
  • And finally, CarQuest brand filters are Wix, too. 
  • The only filter I won't use on my cars is a FRAM filter. They're generally accepted as junk. O'Reilly's house brand filters (Microgard) are rebadged FRAM- so if you buy a filter there, make sure it's a Wix-labeled filter. 
  • If you can get the OEM filter for your car (Ford=Motorcraft, GM=ACDelco, most European cars=Mann or Mahle), that's spiffy, too!
  • Believe it or not, Amazon.com is an awesome place to buy oil filters! If you spend over $25, shipping is free, and they ship fast. The prices are usually unbeatable.

What viscosity of oil should I use? Check your owner's manual. Many cars accept different viscosities depending on what kind of temperatures you experience in your area.  Exceptions include all gasoline Ford vehicles from 1995 and on, which recommend 5w20 oil for all situations, and modern gasoline GM vehicles which recommend 5w30.  

Generally - I said generally, so check your owner's manual, European vehicles in mild Midwestern climates recommend 10w30, and diesels, 15w40. Volkswagens and BMWs typically call for 5w40 oil.  

Oils you probably shouldn't use include 10w40, which is generally an outdated formula, and 20w50, which is outrageously heavy for a modern car. Castrol has a pretty good system for recommending oil here.

How much oil should I use? Owner's manual, or look for a sticker under the hood. Don't assume your car takes five quarts. Many take four quarts, and many take six. Some diesel cars take two gallons of oil! My Land Rover requires seven quarts, which can get expensive if I use synthetic oil.


Okay! Now that we've gotten all of that out of the way, let's get started!









Buy the oil and filter. Of course, you should be an expert on this now that you read the above FAQ. Look in your owners manual and find out what viscosity you should use, along with the quantity. You'll be able to look up the filter number at the parts store. Some stores, like Advance Auto Parts, allow you to reserve the whole package online, allowing you to
choose your parts in the comfort of your own home.

Drive the car you're going to be working on to the store to pick up the oil. This will heat up the motor, thinning out the oil so that you can get it all drained out.     








Park the car on a level, solid surface. If necessary, jack up the car (refer to the jacking points listed in the manual, and support it with jack stands so you don't get killed, that would make a mess on the driveway). Lay out some newspaper or an old towel in case you spill oil. Put your gloves on and find the drain plug. It will be somewhere on the oil pan- towards the bottom, of course. The engine will be hot, so be careful. Make sure you don't drain the transmission fluid accidentally! One trick is to feel the plugs- the engine oil plug will be much warmer than the transmission plug. 







Loosen the drain plug with your ratchet or wrench. It might be tight, but it'll come off!

Remember, left to loosen, right to tighten. Try not to smash your knuckles on the driveway when it breaks loose- I've never done that before.... Make sure your face isn't under the drain plug. Hold it against the oil pan until you have the drain pan situated, then release
the plug, and watch the oil drain.










Loosen the filler cap on the top of the engine. This allows the oil to flow out quicker. If you have time, let the whole thing drain for an hour or so. This lets all the dirt escape, and it's something that the quick lube place will never
do.






Find the filter. If you're lucky, it'll be visible on the bottom of the engine block. It can also sometimes be found on the side. BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and some GM cars use a cartridge filter, near the top of the motor.

Front-wheel-drive cars (like this Ford Escape) tend to situate the oil filter in front of the engine, which is lovely because it's also right on top of the very hot exhaust system.
[end sarcasm]

The worst filter placement I've ever seen is on a Mazda Miata- the filter is behind a very sharp piece of metal and is quite difficult to get to without a lot of cussing and contortionism.








Remove the filter. You might need to use a filter wrench for this. If you can fit a strap wrench up there, that will be the best way to break it loose. Oil will spill (as illustrated), so be careful not to burn yourself.





Fill the new filter with fresh oil.

Don't fill it all the way to the top, because it'll spill. Filling the new filter with oil reduces the time that your engine runs dry, which is
nice, because running your engine dry, even for just a few seconds, causes years' worth of wear. Smear some oil onto the gasket so that it bonds properly to the housing.








Spin the filter onto the housing (or drop your cartridge filter down into its housing). Don't overtighten it. It's much easier to tighten a loose part than loosen an overtightened one.
One turn past the point that the filter touches the housing is plenty.








Screw the drain plug in. Don't forget the gasket or washer, if applicable. Again, don't overtighten the drain plug.










Pour the oil into your engine. Check for leaks. Start up the car, wait for the oil pressure light to go out, and check for leaks.







Now is a great time to check things
like:

  • Tire pressure and tire tread
    level
  • Coolant level and condition
  • Transmission fluid level and
    condition
  • Light bulbs








And I like to add Techron to the fuel tank, too.

Techron is a fuel system cleaner
made of 10% liquid gold and 90% angel saliva. Really though, it
will make your car run noticeably smoother and get better fuel
economy.











Don't forget to record your mileage.

Check for leaks, and you're done!

Repeat again in 3-4,000 miles (for conventional oil) or 6-7,000 miles (for synthetic oil) 







What are your own "oil secrets?" How many miles do you drive between changes? Post a comment!


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