Change Your Car's Oil

Changing the oil in your vehicle is one of the best ways to keep it in good shape, in fact, when most people think of mechanics and car maintenance, they probably envision an oil change. DIY oil changes are a great way to save money, make sure the job is done correctly, and get more familiar with your vehicle. It is not very hard and requires a minimal investment in tools.

The most significant differences between vehicles while doing an oil change are the location of the oil filter, the type of oil, and the amount of oil. These instructions, though performed on a 2007 Ford Five Hundred, should be similar to all vehicles.

Parts and Materials
From Left to Right
Top: Catch Pan, Rag, Jack (with Handle), Jack Stand
Bottom: Ratchet, Oil Filter Wrench, Socket Extension, Socket, Funnel, Oil Filter, Oil

It's Time For An Oil Change
Some people recommend changing the oil when the engine is still hot. I prefer an engine that has been driven a few hours ago, that way the oil or exhaust system which you may brush against while under the car are not hot enough to burn you, yet the oil is still warm and will flow freely when we drain it. So, without further adieu, here are the oil change instructions:

Step 1 - Block the wheels and set the parking brake if you will be using a jack to lift one corner of the car. Block the wheel caddy-corner to the corner that will be lifted, for example, I jack the front passenger side up, so I will block the rear driver's side wheel.
Step 2 - Jack the front end up after finding the jacking location nearest the corner you want to lift. On most cars, the jacking location is a notch in the subframe behind the front wheel or in front of the rear wheel. Raise the vehicle high enough to get a jack stand underneath. ALWAYS support a vehicle with a jack stand, NEVER rely solely on a jack alone!
Step 3 - Loosen the oil fill cap

Step 4 - Locate the drain plug and oil filter underneath the vehicle. The drain plug will be on the oil pan. The oil pan will be a ribbed metal pan and is attached to the bottom of the engine. the drain plug may be on the bottom or one of the sides of the pan. Note: your car may also have a transmission drain plug. Look at where the engine is from above, in a front wheel drive vehicle (almost all cars sold today), the engine will be offset to one side or another. Use this as a guide to distinguishing between the oil pan and the transmission pan.You will also need to find the oil filter. The oil filter will be very close to the oil pan, but may be farther up (when laying on your back looking up) the engine. On some vehicles you may need to remove a splash shield or the filter may be obscured by other engine components. If you cannot reach it from underneath the car, see if you can gain access from above the engine bay. On the Five Hundred, the oil filter is in plain site and is easily accessible (it is the blue canister in the photo below).
Step 5 - Drain the old oil into the catch pan. Of course, before the oil can be drained, you first must remove the drain plug! Place the catch pan under the car within convenient reach. It does not have to be below the drain plug just yet. With your ratchet and socket or box-end wrench, loosen the drain plug.If the plug is too stubborn to get loose with just a wrench there are a couple of tricks you can try. First, you can slip a length of pipe over the handle of your wrench to increase the amount of leverage you have. The length of the pipe will be dictated on how much clearance you have to turn it under the car.
Another neat trick to use if there is enough room around the drain plug, is to clamp a large pair of vice grips on the other end of your wrench. With two handles you can apply more torque with the wrench to get the drain plug loose.
With the drain plug loose, put your wrench out of the way, get your rag by your side and slide the catch pan under the plug. Continue loosening the plug with your hand.You will know when it is almost ready to come out because a small trickle of oil will start falling into the catch pan. I try to push the plug against the hole while loosening it so that the drain plug does not fall into the catch pan and become lost in a sea of used motor oil. Pull the plug away from the drain when the last threads of the drain plug are free and watch the oil pour out. Use your rag to clean your hand (no matter how quickly you pull the plug away from the drain you will get some oil on you) and clean the plug. If the plug or plug gasket are damaged, get a new one from the auto parts store (I've never had to do this so I don't think it is very common).When all the oil has drained (a drip every few seconds), clean the drain surface with your rag and reinsert the drain plug. Tighten the plug with your hand as tight as you can get it, then use the wrench to tighten it a little more. It does not have to be extremely tight, just a good snug fit with a wrench will be sufficient.

Step 6 - Removing the oil filter can potentially be the hardest step of changing your oil depending on who installed the oil filter the last time. If it was installed correctly, the filter should not be too hard, but I have run into cases where the previous person over tightened the oil filter making it nearly impossible to remove it.

The first thing you will need to consider is how to get at the filter. In some cases it may be simple, in other cases you may have to remove parts that are in your way. Once you can get at the filter try to loosen it by twisting it counter clockwise. Try using an oil filter wrench if you cannot twist it with your hand. There are a few different types of oil filter wrenches available, including the cup, band, and pliers types. (Cup and band type pictured below).
With the filter loose, position the catch pan underneath and make sure your head and body are as far away from the oil filter as possible in case it falls down and splashes oil everywhere. Use care when removing the oil filter because there may still be a lot of oil in the filter and it is often messy when the filter comes all the way off.
Place the old filter face down on the catch pan so the oil drains and take a rag to clean where the oil filter mates to the engine.
At this point you can remove the catch pan from underneath the car and place it out of the way.

Step 7 - Install the new oil filter by pouring a dab of new motor oil on its rubber seal. Use your finger to rub that little bit of oil onto the entire rubber gasket.
Next, screw the new filter on. It does not need to be on very tightly. Do not use an oil filter wrench to tighten it or you will never get it off the next time you change the oil. Tighten it by hand. The rubber gasket that you rubbed the oil on will expand once the car is driven so there should be no worry of it becoming loose.

Step 8 - Fill the engine with new oil, though before you pour the new oil in, double check to make sure the drain plug and oil filter are installed correctly. When you are sure everything is correct, remove the engine oil cap and slowly pour the new motor oil in. Using a funnel will help keep things clean and tidy. When the correct amount of oil has been poured into the engine, replace the oil cap.
Step 9 - Clean up by using the funnel to drain the used motor oil from the catch pan back into the empty oil bottle(s).
Most auto part stores will take used motor oil; other places that may recycle oil could be local recycling centers, automotive shops, and some gas stations. Check to see if they take old oil filters as well. If you cannot find a place that will take used oil filters, leave the filter upside down on the catch pan (like in the first photo of this article - see the blue filter?) for a couple of days. It takes a while for the oil to fully drain out. After that time and can dispose of the old filter.

Quick Oil Change Guide
  1. If you need to, create enough clearance to get under your vehicle by jacking it up, driving it onto ramps, using a hoist, or using a mechanic's pit.
  2. Remove the oil cap.
  3. Position a drain pan under the drain plug.
  4. Remove the oil drain plug.
  5. Reinstall the drain plug once all the oil has emptied.
  6. Remove the old oil filter.
  7. Apply some new oil to the new oil filter rubber gasket.
  8. Install the new oil filter.
  9. Fill the engine with the proper grade and amount of oil.
  10. Properly dispose of the used motor oil and oil filter.

The Epitome of Car Maintenance
Nothing says "car maintenance" like an oil change, and now you can do that maintenance yourself. I personally believe mastering the DIY oil change is the first step in becoming more and more a backyard mechanic. Use the oil change time as a time to inspect other components on your vehicle and perform other routine maintenance, and then enjoy the money you saved by changing your own oil.

Relevant Sites
Here are some external links to sites with information relevant to this article.


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