How to Do an Oil Change for Your Car (Part 2)

oil change 1

Welcome to the newest installment of my DIY car maintenance series. This week is Part 2 of my overview on changing your car’s oil and we’ll be looking at the specific steps you need to take to do the oil change. If you want a detailed look at the tools and supplies needed for an oil change, please check out Part 1.

Just to remind everyone, I am not a mechanic. Far from it, and that’s actually the reason I started this series. I was tired of not knowing what was going on with my car and having to pay someone for every little thing it needed, so I decided to start learning some basic car maintenance. My plan is to start with some of the smaller things and work my way up, with the ultimate goal of learning how to take better car of my car at a lower cost.

An oil change is a relatively simple process that I think anyone can handle. What follows is a step-by-step explanation of the oil change process for my wife’s 2004 Scion xA, much of which will be applicable to any vehicle.

Search online for instructions

I had never done an oil change before, so I went to my favorite source for this kind of information: the internet. Since today I was working on my wife’s 2004 Scion xA, I googled “how to change oil 2004 scion xa” and filtered through the search results until I found a couple of helpful sites. I would recommend finding at least one video showing you the process for your specific car so that you have a good visual. I would also try to find some good written instructions that you can print out and keep with you while you’re doing it. For our the Scion xA, I found this video and these step-by-step written instructions to be helpful.

Tools and supplies needed for an oil change

I went over this in detail in Part 1, but here’s a quick list of the tools and supplies you’ll need to do an oil change. Keep in mind that each vehicle may have slightly different needs, so you should find directions for your specific car before proceeding.

Tools

Supplies

  • Oil (the grade and amount will vary by vehicle)
  • Oil filter (the type you need will vary by vehicle)
  • Oil pan bolt gasket (technically not a need, but better safe than sorry)

Step-by-step oil change instructions

Although some of the details will absolutely vary from car to car, the overall steps involved in an oil change are pretty generic. My goal here is to give you the high-level step-by-step process that should apply to most vehicles. But again, I am not a mechanic and I do not know the specifics of your car. So please, take this as a general guide to use alongside more detailed instructions tailored to your own vehicle.

car on rampsStep 1: Drive your car up onto the ramps, or lift the front up onto jack stands. If you’re using ramps, make sure your tires are centered on the flat part of the ramp. Turn off the car and engage the emergency brake. Feel free to put something behind the rear tires as well if you’re worried about the brakes failing.

 

oil drainingStep 2: Find the oil pan and the oil pan bolt. For our 2004 Scion xA, this was in the front of the car on the passenger’s side. Position your oil drain under the bolt, ready to catch the oil that will start pouring out as soon as you remove the bolt. Using your metric wrench, unscrew the oil pan bolt. This part was pretty difficult for me and took some real force to get it unscrewed. Once you’ve got it loosened, unscrew it the rest of the way by hand to make sure it doesn’t fall into your oil drain. Oil will be pouring onto your hands while you do this, so you’ll definitely want some gloves.

Step 3: Pop the hood of your car and open the oil cap. This is where you will eventually be pouring the new oil in, and you can figure out where this is using your owner’s manual. For right now, you just want to loosen the cap and leave it resting on top, open enough to let air flow in but not open enough for anything to fall in.

At this point, you need to let the oil drain for a good 30 minutes or more. You want to make sure it’s fully done draining before you seal it back up.

Step 4: Once the oil is fully drained, wipe off the oil pan with a rag and replace the oil pan bolt. This will either be with a new bolt and gasket, as I bought, or with the old bolt you’ve cleaned off along with a new gasket. Either way is fine.

**Update: Grayson reminded me that their are specifications for how tight the bolt should be. Generally you only want to tighten it an extra 1/4 to 1/2 of a turn past where you can get it with your hand. Otherwise you could end up damaging either the oil pan or the bolt.

oil filterStep 5: Locate your oil filter. Again you can use your owner’s manual for this. Mine was right in the front-center of the car. You want to move your oil drain under the filter (more oil will be pouring out soon, so put some gloves back on) and use your oil filter wrench to loosen the filter. One you get it loose, oil will start dripping out and you can unscrew it the rest of the way by hand.

Step 6: Once the oil is done draining, clean the area with a rag. Then you can take your new oil filter, apply some of your new oil to the gasket on the top, and screw it in place. Do it by hand until it’s tight, and then just another 1/2 to 3/4 of a turn with the wrench. Apparently you don’t want to it be too tight or you can damage it.

Step 7: Do another cleaning around the filter and oil pan bolt if needed. You need them to be clean so you can check for leaks later.

oil change 2Step 8: Now you can add the new oil to the car. Back up under the front hood, take off the oil cap and put in your funnel. Again, find out how much oil your specific car needs, as each car will be different. Our Scion xA needs 3.9 quarts, so I put just over 3 quarts of oil in, ran the car for a few minutes, turned it off and let it sit for a few minutes, and then used the dipstick to measure the oil level. From what I read, you’d rather leave it a little below full than overfill it, so it’s best to do this slowly and cautiously. I repeated this process a couple of times until I had it filled to a proper level.

Step 9: Once you’ve got the new oil in and the oil cap screwed back in, you’ll want to back the car off the ramps and drive it around for a few miles. Pay attention to how things feel and take note of anything that doesn’t seem right. When you get back, put the car back up on the ramps and check for leaks around the oil pan bolt and the oil filter. Assuming everything’s fine, back the car off the ramps onto a level surface and let it sit for a few minutes. Then, check the oil level with your dipstick one last time, and hopefully you’re good to go!

Step 10: Especially is this is your first time, I would check for leaks one more time after you’ve driven the car around for another day or so. Better safe than sorry!

Step 11: Find somewhere where you can recycle the old motor oil. You may have a landfill nearby who will take it, or maybe your city has a recycling program in place. Many auto parts stores will also take your old oil. You can use this site to find a recycling location near you: Motor Oil Recycling.

My thoughts on the experience

The entire process took me about 2 hours from beginning to end. That included some extra time to figure out where things were for the first time, to read over instructions and to take pictures so I could share them here. It also included the 30 minutes spent just waiting for the oil to drain. My guess is that I could easily cut this down to an hour or so, with half of that available to do something else while waiting. That’s easily less time than it used to take me to take the car to my mechanic, wait for them to do the oil change, pay and get back home. So from a time perspective, I think that with practice this will be a net savings.

As I detailed in Part 1, I didn’t really save any money this first time. The cost came out to right around $42, which is just about exactly what I would have paid my mechanic or one of the quick oil change shops. My hope is that I can find some of the supplies at a lower cost next time, but even without that I think it’s something I’ll continue to do. The time savings matters to me, as does my overall goal with all of this which is getting in better touch with the health of my car. I’m very much of the belief that doing this kind of work will help me recognize and fix problems earlier and will allow me to keep my car running better for longer. If I can do that, I will absolutely save money in the long-term and pick up some valuable skills along the way.

Full disclosure: Some of the links to products within this post are affiliate links and will earn me money if you purchase the product. As always, I only include affiliate links for products I actually use and have proven helpful for me personally.

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39 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • Alexa Mason October 2, 2013

    It’s nice to know how to change your oil but it’s still probably something I would never do. I just worry way too much that I would screw something up. Paying someone to change my oil is an expense that’s worth it to me.

  • DC @ Young Adult Money October 2, 2013

    Hey Matt thanks for sharing in such detail. This is definitely something I’m considering doing, mainly just to have the skill and learn more about cars (not nec. as a money-saving tactic). As I said on your first post, I know nothing about car maintenance and would really like to start gaining some basic knowledge. Oil changes seem like an easy place to start.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 2, 2013

      It was definitely a relatively easy place to start, though not incredibly quick or cheap given the tools that were needed (though of course that cost goes down over time). I think it’s something I’ll continue to do at least for now.

  • Grayson @ Debt Roundup October 2, 2013

    Good write up Matt. One note that many don’t know about is how tight to make the oil pan bolt. There are actually specifications to how tight this should be. Some people turn it too tight and that can damage the pan or strip the bolt. If you don’t have a torque wrench, then just get it hand tight and turn it a 1/4 to 1/2 turn with the wrench, much like the oil filter.

  • Thanks for this very informative post Matt! I showed to my Uncle about your first post on how to change oil and now I will let him read this part 2. 🙂

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 2, 2013

      Very cool! Definitely keep me updated and let me know how it goes if he actually tries it out.

  • Andrew October 2, 2013

    I’d also like to get in better touch with the health of my car…it’s pretty important to learn some basic skills when it comes to your car. I probably won’t be able to do the oil change as there is no space in my parking spot. Not sure what else you have in store in the car series but I’m definitely interested in learning more.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 2, 2013

      I actually borrowed my parents’ garage for this one. I’m not sure how cool it would be to do this out on the city street where I live. It didn’t end up being very messy but it has the potential to be really bad.

  • John S @ Frugal Rules October 2, 2013

    Thanks for such a thorough breakdown Matt. Like I said in your previous post I have no clue what I am doing with a car and have a mechanic do things for us – we’re taking our car in today actually for a few things. That said, I can totally see the value of the DIY approach, mainly so you can know the health of your car.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 2, 2013

      Yep, staying in touch with the health of my car is really my main reason for doing this. I do think there are some long-term savings that can result from that though.

  • AvgJoeMoney October 2, 2013

    A quick note about the ramps, too: my dad’s uncle was crushed under his car when one of the ramps collapsed. Make sure everything is really secure before getting under your car.

    Great series. Thanks for going through this process. If you’re in NE Texas and want to do a series on “How to Wash Windows,” I’ll be happy to be your test house.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 2, 2013

      Haha, actually cleaning bathrooms is my next big project. Are you still in for the test?

      Good call on the ramps. Laurie is actually doing a guest post for me next week on how to take proper safety measures when doing this stuff, which I’m excited about. I have a lot to learn there.

  • Kyle James October 2, 2013

    I’d add to check to see where your oil pan and plug is before dropping some cash on ramps. On my old Honda DelSol, I could reach it all without having to drive it up on ramps. Saves time and money on the whole process.

  • Done by Forty October 2, 2013

    Great write up – I think you may be creating some future gear heads here on the blog.

    I seem to remember having to heat up our engine before doing an oil change, which adds in the ever important 12th step: burning your fingers when you loosen the bolt and let the warm oil out. It’s an important part of the process.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 2, 2013

      Hmm, I didn’t read anything about heating up the engine. But you make a good point about being careful not hurt yourself. Some of the parts were a little warm when I was working on them and I definitely could have really burned myself if I was either not thinking about it or they were hotter.

      • Warm oil flows more freely than cold oil, so it will drain faster and more completely. This is especially important in the winter when the oil can get somewhat thick.
        I usually take the car out to run errands, park the car (I use Jack stands instead of ramps – never felt comfortable driving up the ramps), then edit an hour so I don’t burn myself and then change the oil.

        • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 4, 2013

          Thanks for the advice Edward. A few people have mentioned warming up the oil first so I’ll definitely have to keep that in mind, especially since the next time I have to do it will likely be in the dead of winter.

  • Pauline @RFIndependence October 2, 2013

    We do the maintenance on the motorcycle and it is pretty easy to do, plus what you say about letting the oil drain for a good while is rarely done in the shop so you get a cleaner change with DIY.

  • Lance@MoneyLife&More October 2, 2013

    I recently changed the oil in my wife’s motorcycle. It was a giant pain, but motorcycle oil changes are much more costly than car oil changes so it saved us about $35-$45.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 4, 2013

      That’s the second time I’ve heard how much more expensive motorcycle oil changes are. Just goes to show that supply and demand is a real thing.

  • krantcents October 2, 2013

    I have no DIY skills! I found a great place to change my oil and they throw in a free car wash for just about the cost of just an oil change.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 4, 2013

      Sounds like a good deal. I really have no DIY skills either though, which was a big part of my motivation to start with this stuff. I’d like to learn.

  • Jacob @ iHeartBudgets October 3, 2013

    Nice work Matt! No so bad, huh? One quick tip on the 30-minute wait time. If you do that while the car is still a little bit warm, the oil is less viscous and will drain much quicker. Just note that it will be warmer when draining out, so just feel it out for when it’s cool enough. Also, a socket wrench for the drain bolt will break much easier, especially of the knuckleheads at the lube place tightened it too much. They also seem to tighten the oil filter too tight….

    Anyway, nice work man. Glad you got your hands dirty, and I know it has to feel pretty great knowing you gave your car a blood transfusion! 😉

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 4, 2013

      Good tip about warming it up. I’ve heard that from a few people now so I’ll have to keep that in mind. As you say, the trick will be getting it warm enough to move quicker but not hot enough to burn. Should be interesting.

  • cashRebel October 3, 2013

    I’ve really wanted to learn how to change my oil for a few years now. I’ve almost done it a couple times but I live in an apartment so I don’t have a garage or any space to do it besides the street. Once I have a driveway, I’m going to start doing this, but for now it’s not worth buying all the materials if I’ve got no where to put them

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 4, 2013

      I wouldn’t feel real comfortable doing it out on the street either. Not sure people would be happy about that.

  • Either oil is more expensive in your area, or you are using a much more expensive type of oil for your car, because my oil changes cost about $22.
    I think that a lot of people get unneededly worried about doing simple car maintenance wrong. Last night while getting a new brake light bulb, there was a woman who needed help adding antifreeze to her car because she was worried about doing it wrong! How much more simple can it get than simply adding fluid until it reaches the full line?

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 4, 2013

      I just didn’t shop around well enough for the oil. I can get all the parts I need for about $24 next time. I have to admit though, I’ve been that antifreeze lady before, not specifically with antifreeze but with incredibly simple things like that. I just didn’t have faith in myself. That’s a big part of what I want to change.

  • Brian @ Luke1428 October 3, 2013

    Great write up! I love some types of DIY projects. Unfortunately car maintenance is not one of them. And for me it’s a matter of time right now. With all the other family matters to attend to, I’d rather pay for someone to handle this for me.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 4, 2013

      The time issue is an interesting one. I actually think that with some practice I’ll be able to do this in less time than it would take me to bring it to someone else. We’ll see.

      • I’m glad you realize this. When I talked about changing oil yourself, several commenters said something along the line of, “it’s a better use of my time to pay someone to do it” but they forget, they are using that much time and more driving to the shop, waiting in line for your car to be done, and driving home afterward.

        • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 4, 2013

          Mr. 1500 pointed it out to me in one of my original DIY posts and I think it’s an important point. There’s a lot more to having someone else change it than simply the time it actually takes them to do it.

  • moneystepper October 4, 2013

    Very thorough post. Learning to do these things can save a great deal of money, both through not having to pay other people to do it and through not having to pay for expense repairs for your car because you forgot to do them!!

  • Ahmed Kozanoglu April 7, 2014

    You can get some of the best full synthetic oils-5 qt bottle- not semi-syn as you used, at Walmart for 25 dollars. The best filter for your car is a Toyota filter, either 90915-10003 or the replacement 90915-YZZF3 for 5 dollars from the dealer if you buy just one. When you buy a case of 10 it is cheaper per filter. Denso blue filters are a little better built, still by the same co. That makes filters for Toyota. That is 30 dollars. No jiffy lube will ever use the nice Toyota OEM filter ever. They use cheap disposable filters, costing a dollar. But a syn. Oil change, at the lowest, costs 50 dollars with cheap pseudo syn bulk oil with cheap ready to fail filter. You still save half of the cost.

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