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A little elbow grease goes a long way: How to change your car’s oil

Changing the oil on your car can be a grimy task to say the least. For that very reason, many individuals simply shell out the extra cash and let any number of mechanics handle the dirty work for them. Taking on the task yourself, however, can save you plenty of money over the lifetime of your vehicle. Here are a few tips and tricks to know before rolling up your sleeves.

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Create some room to work

Although many SUVs and trucks have enough clearance beneath their frame for you to perform an oil change, the majority of smaller vehicles have minimal clearance and must be elevated — using either a ramp, lift, or jack — before you can get started. If you use the latter method, ensure the vehicle is securely positioned on a level surface (using a wheel block or another method) before climbing beneath.

Locate the oil pan and drain plug

Note: Be sure to let the engine and subsequent oil inside to sufficiently cool before starting the draining process.

Now that you’re under the car, the next step is to locate the oil pan and drain plug. This can seem a little daunting for first time do-it-yourselfers. If you’re unsure of where the oil pan and drain plug is on your vehicle, refer to your owner’s manual. Once correctly identified, place a container to catch the oil directly beneath the plug. Then, turn the plug’s screw in a counter-clockwise motion with the appropriate sized socket. Note that removing the oil cap and placing it on the top of the engine will allow the oil to drain faster.

It may take a few minutes for the engine to drain entirely, but when the steady stream of oil has become a sporadic drip, you’re now ready for the next step. Screw the oil plug back into place with a clockwise motion, along with the washer if it needs replacing.

Remove the old oil filter

Unlike the oil pan and plug on most vehicles, the oil filter isn’t always in the same position. The oil filter can be on the front, back, side, top, or bottom of the engine. Therefore, it’s best to know what an oil filter looks like before you start. Regardless, you should be able to turn the oil filter in a counterclockwise motion to remove it. If your hands are slippery from the oil, try using a towel or latex gloves for a better grip. If you cannot unscrew the filter, we suggest you purchase a oil filter removal tool. Also, keep in mind that higher-end vehicles actually have filter elements or cartridges rather than traditional exterior-mounted cylinder filters. You merely need remove these filters from their housing and replace them the same way.

Replace the filter

Adding the new filter isn’t as simple as merely screwing on the fresh filter in place of the old one. Before adding the new filter, apply a little oil to the rubber ring along the filter’s edge. This will help create a better seal and should also make it easier to remove the filter when it comes time to change your car’s oil again (fingers crossed). Be sure to avoid over-tightening the filter when screwing it in place, and check your vehicle and filter instructions beforehand.

Add the new oil

Rest easy, the hardest part is now behind you. Simply pour in the oil per your vehicle’s requirements and make sure nothing leaks from the drain plug or the oil filter housing. If this does occur, tighten the necessary components.

Start the engine

You’re now ready to start the engine. Let the motor run for a moment and then check the oil levels using the dipstick to ensure a proper fill. It’s also important to monitor the oil pressure gauge on the dash panel to make sure everything is copacetic. If everything checks out, wash your hands and give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back.