Hooniverse 101 – Let's Change Oil!

Many of you have long ago mastered the art of auto repair, and presently maintain a wrench-fu worthy of ASE certification. This post isn’t for you, it’s for everyone else who’s under-hood acumen is – shall we say – yet to be developed. And today we’re going to bring everyone up to speed on one of the simplest and most cost effective maintenance tasks you can undertake yourself – changing your car’s motor oil. Let’s get busy.

Doing your own oil change can not only save you money, but it will also guarantee that you know the quality of the oil going into your car or truck, and doing so helps you become more comfortable with working on your car too. It does however require the purchase of some tools that may make your first change more expensive than the Lube shop’s, but consider them an investment.

We’re going to be changing the oil on a transverse-engine front driver, and all of the required elements are in plain view, something not always the case on many cars. First thing we’re going to do is jack up the nose, and then rest the car on a pair of jackstands. You don’t need a roller jack to do this, but a pair of stands are pretty mandatory if your car’s ground clearance isn’t enough to afford doing the caterpillar beneath. Again, a roller jack and stands are an excellent investment and tools that you will use again and again, and potentially pass on to your progeny.

Check your owner’s manual for jacking points – it will be there under tire changes. Typically there will be strengthened sections under the rockers where the manufacturer has installed jacking points. We’re not going to jack there, but we will be supporting the car on those. Also, make sure you’ve applied the parking brake, and ideally have chocked the rear tires with chocking wedges. We will be jacking the car by placing the jack beneath the subframe crossmember in front assuring that it is centered and really on the frame and not an engine part, exhaust manifold or is crimping any hoses or wires.

Once the car is at a reasonable height, position the jackstands under each of the jacking points you found in the owner’s manual and then SLOWLY lower the car onto them, keeping in mind that it will be sliding backwards as it goes down as a function of the jack. Check and make sure that the car is securely resting on both stands by rocking it from above. Then you can pull the roller jack out and may make your first trip under the car. Um, but before you do, put on a pair of shatter-risistent glasses or plastic protective goggles. yeah, you’ll look like a dork, but under the car, who’ll know?

There are two items we are looking for here underneath the engine; the oil filter, and the oil drain. In the picture above, the filter is the white cylinder on the left, while the drain plug is barely visible, facing backwards next to that exhaust pipe junction. We’ll get to that.

This is also a good point to bring up that before you start draining things out of, and taking things off of your car, you should have already purchased a sufficient quantity of replacement motor oil of the proper weight, as well as the right filter. Both may be procured at your friendly neighborhood parts store, or even at the Walmarts, and finding the right filter is easy because there’ll be a dog-eared and greasy book with every car you’ve eve heard off, and a few you haven’t, plus their corresponding filter number. Check your owner’s manual for your car’s proper oil weight and capacity before making your purchase.

Up on top you’ll want to find both your oil fill and dipstick – and no impromptu sword fighting with that dipstick, you could put an eye out. Nicely here, both are noted by bright yellow markings and sit right next to one another. I like to pop the oil fill cap off and then rest it over the fill hole, in order to let air in as the oil drains out below, but keeping leaves, bugs out and nosy neighbors from poking their fingers in there. Okay, ready to change that oil? Not quite yet we aren’t, first lets make sure we have all the tools ready to go.

This is what we’ll need, clockwise from the top – oil drain pan, anti-seize compound, box-end wrench of proper size (15MM in this case) and an oil filter wrench. Now, your filter wrench may look different, and it all is determined by how nice a guy the engineer who designed your engine bay was. In the case of the Toyota Sienna with its V6 engine, the filter sits mid-block on the front, with no possible leverage space on the sides due to the exhaust and radiator hoses. That requires an end-on cap-style wrench, which is then levered with a 3/8 drive jimmie bar. On this Ford the filter sits conveniently next to the pan and it’s an easy job getting the strap wrench (like the one above) around it. The important thing to remember in loosening both the filter and drain plug is rightie-tighty, lefty loosie. Since you will most likely be upside down, it’s easy to get turned around down there and attempt to turn either of them the wrong way. DON’T DO THAT. Okay, now lets drain!

Black gold, Texas tea, something that’s going to have to go to the recycler. Oh well. The oil drain is the first to be opened, making sure that you have already positioned the pan beneath and a little aft of the drain plug so as to catch the stream at both full force and once it slows to a dribble. Make sure that you are careful in spinning the drain plug out thte last few turns by hand so you don’t lose it into the slimy pool of blackness quickly filling your pan. You might want to also spread newspapers around under there to catch any drips, let’s see an iPad do that!

While you are waiting for the oil to finish draining, you might take a moment to enjoy a cup of joe, and reflect on the fact that you need to work on your own spare tire.

Okay, hopefully this won’t be the last time your car’s oil gets changed, so lets make it a little easier on the next guy, after all that might just be you. Here we’re going to put a dab of anti-seize compound on the upper threads of the drain plug. Not too much, just enough to coat the threads all the way around when you run your finger around it. Hey, I didn’t say you weren’t going to get dirty!

Next up is torquing the drain plug back in place with a torque wrench. Now, this is sort of the really anal way to do this, and is probably where so many Lube & Tune shops let their customers down by either under or over tightening the plug causing problems down the road.

I torque it to 20 ft-lbs and am done with it. Also, I should note that this car has a steel plug and an aluminum pan, which doesn’t require an intermediary washer. Should you pull the plug out and find a copper or other material washer in there, make sure it’s in good enough shape to reuse, or get a new one from the parts store.

Okay, we’ve drained most of the oil out, and we’ve re-sealed the pan, we’ll next turn our attention to the filter. Oil filters come in a variety of forms, from canister inserts like on my old MGB, and remote cartridge style. But the most common type is the spin-on filter, and that’s what we’re going to focus on here. If your car was built in that last 30 years or so, and is reasonably common, that’s what it’ll have, pretty assuredly.

The filter here is the white canister that’s about the size of a small can of coffee. It’s held in place by the pressure of its rubber gasket, and is threaded onto the center fill pipe.

Once again, it’s important here to remember which way you need to twist the filter off as lying on your back you can get turned around, and the last thing you want to do is tighten the filter even further onto the filter mount. You might be able to twist the filter off if you’re reasonable strong, or, should you be Dakota Fanning, you might want to use a band wrench.

There is a chance that the filter has been ‘cooked’ in place, where the rubber gasket has possibly hardened or is otherwise stuck onto its bearing surface making removal with a wrench really tough. If that has happened you may need to employ a strap wrench and breaker bar, or – god help you – a large screwdriver driven through the filter and pried upon until it breaks free. Most likely, it will come undone with a good steady bit of pressure applied to the wrench.

Make sure you’ve positioned your drain pan under the filter to catch the oil that is presently sitting in the filter, and begin to loosen it by twisting counterclockwise. Once it’s loose, continue to spin it by hand but be really careful as it will start leaking oil as soon as the gasket seal is broken, and should you spin it all the way off without having a good grip on it, it will drop into the pan of nasty old oil, splashing you like this is a slapstick comedy, which it isn’t.

This is what it looks like once the filter has been carefully removed. The oil comes in through that center pipe with the threads, and then is pulled back up through the hole in that outer dished portion. Or visa-versa, I can never remember. The outermost lip is the bearing surface against which the rubber filter gasket seals. Make sure this is clean and free of debris so the new filter will seal properly.

Here’s a comparison of the old filter along with the new. The model numbers are the same, but it appears that Motorcraft has decided to make the new filter a little shorter, I’m over it. Next up, we’re going to prep the new filter for installation. See that black ring on the filter, the one surrounding all the holes? That’s the gasket, and we want to ensure that it doesn’t bind when we seat it to the bearing surface on the filter mount.

Carefully slide your pan out, first making sure that the oil filter mount is no longer dripping, and then dip your finger in the Texas tea. Use that to apply a thin bead of oil to the gasket on the new filter, and then screw the filter in place on the mount, being careful not to cross-thread.

The rule of thumb is to spin the filter down until it is hand-tight, and then twist it another quarter turn. That’s always worked for me, and I’ve not had a filter walk back off on a single one of the hundreds of changes I have undertaken. Once the filter is in place, we’re pretty much done with the under-side of the car, but don’t drop it off the stands quite yet.

Turning back to the engine top, we’re ready to refill the oil, and in this case, we’ll use the entire 5-quarts that come in the jug. Your engine’s capacity may be different, and it’s vitally important that you neither under- or over-fill the crankcase. Check your owner’s manual to determine how much you need, and it doesn’t matter whether you buy individual quarts or the big bottles. You will need a funnel as, after all that coffee you drank waiting for the old oil to drain, your hands are likely to be pretty shaky.

Once it’s full, cap the oil fill – this is something I’ve seen Lube & Tune places forget to do – and save the oil jug for the old oil, which you’ll be taking, along with the filter, to the recycler. Pull the dipstick and check the oil level. It may not read correctly as all the oil hasn’t made its way to the filter or other passages yet. Now we’re going to test the system. Get cleaned up, or better, have someone else get in the car and start it up. Look underneath (but don’t get underneath!) at the drain plug and filter to ensure everything is tight and leak-free. Shut the car down and then drop it from the stands. Once it’s level, and has sat for about five minutes, check the oil again, and make sure it’s in the level that the manufacturer set for proper operation.

If there are no leaks and the level looks good, you’re done. Look underneath and around the car to make sure you haven’t left a jack stand or pointy tool down below that would cause problems when backing out, and remember to take your old oil and filter to the recycler – the place where you bought the new stuff will most likely take them for free.

That’s it. It’s really not that hard, and be being able to change your own oil, you open the door to other maintenance opportunities that will, over the long run, save you money and make for a better bond between you and your car.

This was a very basic, and kind of anal, how-to. Let me know your thoughts on doing other Hooniverse 101 posts. Do you think these are of value? Was this one too comprehensive, or not detailed enough? If you liked it, what other routine maintenance jobs would you like to see detailed? If you didn’t like it, well, okay. Either way, let me know your feedback in the comments below.

Now get out there are change that oil!

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