DIY Oil Change: Have You Been Doing It Right?

Posted by Jason Unrau on

You’re driving along and, suddenly, the ‘oil change due soon’ warning pops up on your dashboard. It feels like you’ve just done it, but truthfully, it’s been a few months and much driving. It’s time to buy the engine oil and filter again and set aside some time on the weekend to get it done.

But that gets you wondering again, “Why is an oil change due so often?” And since you aren’t a licensed technician, there’s always the concern that you might not be doing your oil change properly.

Here are the ins and outs of an oil change and how to do the job well.

Why an Engine Oil Change is Important

Everyone knows that engine oil lubricates the internal moving parts of an engine. But that’s just one of the key functions motor oil performs. In addition to lubrication, it also:

  • Washes sludge and carbon deposits from inside the engine.
  • Reduces friction between metal parts.
  • Inhibits rust and corrosion inside the engine.
  • Provides a protective barrier to keep moving parts from touching, and…
  • Performs up to 40 percent of the engine’s cooling.

These are the things that fresh, clean engine oil can do for you.

Is Conventional Oil or Synthetic Oil Better?

So, which oil should you use in your engine? Is it okay to use conventional, mineral-based oil or should you use synthetic oil? That’s not necessarily a simple question.

If your owner’s manual says you must use synthetic oil, then it’s not worth the chance of using anything less. Synthetic oil is more highly refined and contains premium additives and detergents to extend its life and protect better. But if it gives the minimum requirement for your oil as conventional oil, then it’s perfectly fine to use it.

Make no mistake – conventional oil is still highly refined and contains oil additives. But the difference between the two is remarkable in its chemical composition as well as its ability to protect.

Consequences of Neglecting Your Oil Changes

Your oil change reminder is counting down to zero. What happens if you don’t change your oil on time? If you’re late by a few weeks or even a couple months, or a few thousand miles once, there likely won’t be any noticeable repercussions.

Do it consistently, and the story changes. Neglecting your oil change can allow sludge to block oil passages, reduce the efficiency of your engine, and permit corrosion inside. Over the long haul, it can lead to poor engine performance, major engine work, or even a seized engine.

It doesn’t cost much to do an oil change, so it’s best to stay on top of this critical service.

How Often is an Oil Change Needed?

Did you know that the Ford Model T required an oil change every 1,000 miles? And as recently as this decade, many car manufacturers recommended an oil change every 3 months or 3,000 miles.

But most cars today have longer service intervals that use oil life monitoring systems to predict when the oil needs to be changed. It could be as little as 3,000 miles or as long as 15,000 miles. Your car’s instrument cluster will let you know when it’s due.

No matter what, it’s important to change the engine oil every 12 months.

Steps in a Proper Oil Change

Ready to get your oil change done? Great! Here’s what you’ll need and the steps to take to get the job done right.

What’s Needed:

  • Ramps or jack stands
  • A wrench set
  • Funnel
  • Drain pan
  • Clean lint-free rag
  • An oil filter
  • Engine oil

Step 1: Warm up the engine

Run the engine for two to three minutes prior to beginning your oil change service. When you run the engine, it stirs up the deposits in the engine to help purge them as well as helping the old oil to flow faster from the engine. It doesn’t need to get up to operating temperature – in fact, it could burn you if it does. It just needs to warm for a few minutes.

Step 2: Lift your front wheels

You should position your car with the front in the air with two objectives: access and safety. You need to be able to reach the drain plug and oil filter easily, plus the oil drain plug is positioned on the back of the pan so it will drain better.

Drive up onto wheel ramps or lift your front end with a jack and secure it on jack stands. Then, engage the parking brake so it’s as safe as can be.

Step 3: Drain the engine oil

Place your drain pan underneath the oil drain plug. Use a wrench to loosen the oil drain plug. Many makes and models use a 15mm wrench, but you’ll need to ensure yours is the correct size. Once it’s loose, you can turn it out by hand if the oil isn’t too hot. Catch the old oil in the drain pan.

Step 4: Perform a visual inspection

Let the oil drain completely until it no longer drips consistently. During the several minutes that will take, perform a visual inspection on your car. Check the brake hoses for leaks, top up the tire pressure, and check suspension components for looseness or damage. Wait until after your oil change to top up the fluids – when the car is sitting flat once again.

Step 5: Replace the oil filter

Whether you have an element-style oil filter or a canister-style filter, remove it and replace it when the oil has finished draining. Be cautious, though, as the filter is probably full of oil too. Wipe the oil filter adapter off with a clean rag, then spin the new filter into place. Tighten it by hand as much as possible.

Step 6: Fill the crankcase with oil

You’re done underneath, so lower the car back to level. Using a funnel, top up the engine oil with the correct grade of oil. Check the dipstick consistently to ensure the oil level is between the FILL and ADD marks. If you overfill the oil, be sure to drain a little to bring it into the right range. Otherwise, you could damage oil seals.

Step 7: Idle the engine

Run the engine for 15 to 30 seconds to circulate the clean oil throughout. Check the dipstick again and top up with a little more oil if you need to.

Should Anything Else Be Done at the Same Time?

An oil change is a straightforward service but it needs to be done correctly. It’s also a great time to catch up on a few other maintenance items. For example, rotate the tires at the same time as your oil change to ensure even tire wear. Change the cabin air filter once per year during the oil change service, and the engine air filter as well.

When you’re done, don’t forget to reset the oil life monitor so you can get an accurate indication when your next oil change is due!

And when you need engine oil, an oil filter, or any other service fluids or components for your car, AfterOEM has them for you at a competitive price and delivered right to your door!