Oil Changes: To DIY or Not?

Ahhh, the oil change. To some, mysterious, dirty, and a necessary evil. On the other end of the scale, a rite of passage, a break from the daily grind, and a welcome task to get us out of the house.

Today i’m going to break down the pros and cons of doing it yourself, and see if we can filter out some of the crud in the thought process here. By the way, ICYDK, an oil filters job is specifically to hold the gunk that the engine makes to keep it from recirculating through the engine, so don’t skimp on the filter changes! 😀

So first up is time. I’ve found it takes about an hour whether you DIY or take it somewhere.
When I DIY, I need to buy the oil and filter, which I usually do during one of my weekly shopping trips, then I have to put the vehicle up on ramps in a suitable spot, and go through the process (Another post).
When I take it somewhere, I have to drive there, check in, wait around awhile (or go do other stuff and come back) pay, and drive home.
About an hour, more or less, but the DIY is all my time actively spent, while the shop is some active and some passive.

When I DIY, I know exactly what was done, and how it was done.
When I take it somewhere, I have to trust that the shop did it correctly, didn’t cut any corners, used the correct parts, and so on.
The value of knowing exactly what has been done, for me, is very high.

When I DIY, I spend time with my vehicle, looking, noticing, poking, checking, nosing around, and I get to see the condition of things. Doing that many times gives me lots of data points to help me find, and fix, problems.
When I take it to a shop, they may, or may not, check other things, they may, or may not, care to look at other things, and they may, or may not, bother to let me know what they found.

When I DIY, it costs me about $30 and an hour of my time.
When I take it to a shop, it’s $30 and up, and still takes about an hour.
Now, to be fair, it also cost me $20 for the oil pan, $80 for the ramps, $10 for the wrench, and $10 for the oil filter wrench, but that’s all stuff I use for other tasks anyway, so it’s part of my overall overhead.

In closing (finally, right?!?!), I think i’m getting a far better value doing it myself because it helps me ‘keep up’ with what’s going on under the hood (and vehicle), which is important in itself, but moreso because I drive an older vehicle (that’s paid off, YES!) so I need to keep up with it.
Your mileage may vary, but DIY is the way to go to me! 😀

The oil change

Changing the oil in your car should not seem a daunting task. While it’s true that some are more difficult than others due to filter placement, engine covers, and such, the whole process is generally simple and straightforward.

First, the setup.
You need a solid, mostly level place to perform the work. If you have a shop with a rack in it, great! (Also, give me your address and what time I can come over 😉 ) For the rest of us, a driveway works fine, or even a flat spot in the grass would do. If it’s a shady spot in a hotter climate, that’s even better.
A set of ramps make this super simple, and I recommend every DIYer have a set. In lieu of ramps you can use a floor jack and jack stands, but make sure you’re on solid ground (concrete or asphalt) for that.
You’ll need an oil pan, and I recommend getting one that is fully contained to make transport easier. This one is what I use at home.

Second, the facts.
You’ll need to know which oil filter and what grade of oil your vehicle takes, as well as how many quarts you’ll need. You can find this in your owners manual, or you can ask the nice folks at the parts counter of your local auto parts store. There are a bunch of options, but i’ll go over the quality and price points of parts in another post.
You’ll also need to know where your drain plug is, what size wrench the drain plug needs, where your oil filter is, and how to access them. Youtube is a great resource for this, but you can probably find this in your owners manual, too. As always, if you want a little help with anything, just drop me a message. For this, make to sure to include the Year, Make, Model, Engine Size, and task.

Third, the process.
I like to do the work in the morning in summer, in the afternoon in winter, but you can do it anytime of the day (or night if you want a challenge! :P)
I buy the oil, the oil filter, a tasty beverage of choice, go home, set up the ramps in your flat spot, and pull the vehicle up onto the ramps.
Next, I like to let the car cool off a bit while I put my stuff away, maybe change into some grubby clothes, and get the rest of my stuff together.
Once i’m in my grubbies and my stuff is put away, i’ll get my tools and supplies together. I need my oil change pan, the wrench for the drain plug, two rags, the new oil, the new filter, and perhaps an oil filter wrench.
Now that i’ve got my stuff together, i’ll roll down the windows, turn up the tunes, pop the hood, remove the oil dipstick, wipe it clean, set it somewhere safe but obviously visible, then remove, clean, and set the oil filler cap somewhere also obvious but safe. While I’m under the hood, I like to poke around at all the other stuff and see if anything ‘pops out’ at me; this is why I always tell people to look under the hood once a week. Even if you’re clueless, constant observation will let you see changes!
Now the fun part! Get down and boogie! No no, i’m kidding. You do have to get down, but you just lay down, slide under the car, set the drain pan under the plug (keeping in mind that a side-facing drain plug will ‘shoot’ the oil out farther at first, then slow to a drip), remove the drain plug, and let the oil drain. You’ll want to take a look at the oils color, consistency and general condition as this will tell you a lot about what’s going on inside your engine.
Once it’s slowed to a drip (several minutes, usually), you can switch to the oil filter. Now, if your drain pan is big enough to sit under BOTH the drain plug and the filter, great, move right along. IF NOT, then you’ll need to let the oil drain to a very slow drip, put the plug back in, and then tackle the filter.
You should be able to take the filter off by hand (it should never be tightened with a tool!) but you might need the oil filter wrench to loosen it up. Once loose, spin it off slowly, bring it down to the pan, tip over and let drain.
I like to wipe off the oil filter attachment area, and be sure to check that the O-ring on the old filter came off with the old filter (A side story for later).
Take some time to check over everything, wipe off the oil/dirt/grease/roadkill, and make sure your drain plug is back in, good n tight (this you can, and should, tighten with a tool).
Fun part: Get the new filter out of the box, peel off any wrapping, inspect for defects (something you should also do in the store before purchase!), then dip a finger into one of the new oil containers, and spread that oil onto the O-ring of the new filter. It just needs to be moistened by oil, not swimming in it.
Slowly seat and start the new filter, spin it on, and tighten it by hand (NO TOOLS!). Check again that your drain plug is in and tight, check the filter, re attach any other pieces you took off underneath the car, then get out from under the car and smile, you’re almost done!
You may need a funnel, you may not, it’s up to you, but spilled oil in the engine compartment creates lots of issues, so make sure you clean any spills up right away.
Go ahead and put a quart or so of oil into the vehicle through the oil filler opening, then stand back and look under the car. Do you see any drips? Any fresh, clean oil on the ground? Any signs of leakage? Wait a minute… waaaaaiitttt….. ok, GO! LOL, no no, not run away….
If you found leaks, address them. If not, continue filling up your engine with the directed amount of oil. Once full, insert and tighten the cap, insert the dipstick, pull the pan towards the front of the vehicle (just so you don’t clip it on the way down with the car!), wash your hands, then go start the car.
When you start the car, look at the oil gauge, and listen to the engine. Your oil gauge should get right up to normal pressure (or your oil light should NOT come on) and your engine should be purring. If you hear clattering, grinding, screeching, or other loud noises that are new, STOP THE ENGINE and consult a mechanic. Also, don’t let the smoke out.
Now, if everything is running smoothly, back the vehicle off the ramps, park it somewhere level, and leave the hood up while you clean up your mess. The oil pan can be closed up and wiped off, the old stuff can be tossed, and you can either take the oil pan to the auto parts store for free oil recycling, OR, you can drain the old oil into the new oil bottles to take it back for recycling. I prefer to just take the pan in since it’s less work.
Once you’ve cleaned up your mess and put your tools away, check the oil level to make sure it’s full, top off if needed, then you’re all done!

Ta-Da! Lookit you changing your own oil like some magnificent beast (or belle of the ball!).
See? Simple. 🙂

The Garage

The garage can be many things to many people, a space to work, a space to play, a space to enjoy, or a space to stay away…
The garage, to me, is where your automobiles go to get a good nights rest, and keep the paint in good shape. It’s also where a lot of fixing things happens if you don’t have a separate shop space.

In this category we’ll be talking primarily about automobiles; cars, trucks, vans, SUV’s… which one is which, what’s the difference, why does it matter?
There’ll be lots of other fun and useful things in here too, so get in, put on your seat belt, and enjoy the ride! (yes, I know you like my puns….)