How to Do an Oil Change for Your Car (Part 1)

oil change 1

Welcome to the second installment of my series on DIY car maintenance. Last time we learned how to change your car’s battery. The topic this week: how to do an oil change.

Just to remind anyone who isn’t already familiar with this series, I am not a mechanic. In fact, I am about as far from a mechanic as possible. Until recently I’ve had all work on my car done by other people and I have never been what you might call “handy”. But I recently decided it was time to learn how to do some of this stuff on my own. My plan is to start slowly with some basic car maintenance and work my way up, sharing my experiences as I go. My hope is that we can all learn how to take better car of our cars at a lower cost.

I found an oil change to be a relatively easy process, even for someone as un-handy as myself. But there is a decent amount of information to go through so I decided to split the lesson into two posts. Today, I’ll detail the all of the tools and supplies you’ll need to do an oil change. In next week’s post I’ll go through the step-by-step process of actually doing the oil change.

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. My advice is to find at least one video showing you the process so that you have a good visual. I would also find something that has 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.

Gather your tools

You’ll need a few tools to do the job. Each of these should be able to last you for a number of years at least, but I would consider borrowing them if this is your first time and you have an easy resource. You may find that for whatever reason you’d rather not do the oil change yourself after this experiment, and it’s better to not have dropped the money for this stuff if you never use it again. Assuming you’re comfortable after this first time, you can go out and buy the tools yourself. I used a mix of borrowed tools, tools I already had, and tools I had to buy.

car rampsCar Ramps: These are to elevate your car to make it easier for you to slide under. I borrowed these from my dad, though I’ve done some research on and will likely purchase these RhinoRamps for my future use. I also considered getting car jacks instead, but these ramps seemed much easier to use and came highly-recommended.


oil drain

Oil drain: This is to catch your old oil as it drains out of your car and store it until you have a chance to recycle it. This Blitz 15 Qt oil drain was also borrowed from my dad. It definitely did the job, but the way it catches oil leaves a good amount of oil residue on the top of the container. I’m not sure if that’s the norm, but I’ll probably look for one for myself that doesn’t have that small issue. But overall this particular model was a good product.

Metric Wrench: This is used to unscrew the oil pan bolt so you can let the old oil drain out of the car. I already had this as part of the Black & Decker Tool Set I had received as a wedding gift, but you could buy something similar as a standalone product.

filter wrench and funnelOil Filter Wrench and Funnel: The oil filter wrench is used to unscrew the old oil filter and help screw the new one in. I tried taking the old one out by hand and it would have been impossible without a vice claw grip, so definitely came in handy. The funnel isn’t entirely necessary but was cheap and helpful when putting the new oil into your car.


glovesGloves: An oil change doesn’t have to create a huge mess, but you will absolutely get oil all over your hands unless you have some gloves. I thought these cheap disposable gloves were great because I could go through a few different pairs without much hassle or cost.

The total cost for all of these tools was about $85, including the cost of the things I borrowed, but excluding the metric wrench that I already had as part of a larger tool set. Assuming I can get at least 20 oil changes out of them (I think that’s probably low), I’m looking at $4.25 or less per oil change.

Gather your supplies

oil change suppliesEach oil change will require you to get some additional supplies. First and foremost you need new oil to put into your car. You can find the grade and amount of oil your car needs pretty easily online or in your owner’s manual. Our 2004 Scion xA required just under 4 quarts of 5W-30 oil, which cost me about $20.

You’ll also need an oil filter, and again you can look up the specific size required for your vehicle. I found that the Mobil M1-103 oil filter worked for our car, which was about $13.

Finally, you’ll want a gasket for the oil drain bolt (technically I don’t think you need this, but better safe than sorry). I couldn’t find just a gasket, so I bought an new bolt with a gasket for $3.50.

Is the cost worth it?

The total price for all of the supplies was about $37.50. Add $4.25 for the tools and my total cost was about $41.75. I used to get my oil and filter changed at my mechanic for about $43.50, and a quick call to my local Jiffy Lube quoted me $37.99 plus tax. So I didn’t save much money doing it myself, and may have been able to get it done for a little less at one of quick oil change shops. My hope is to find a way to get the supplies a little cheaper next time. Suggestions are welcome.

But I have another goal with all of this which is simply learning more about my car and how to take care of it. I think that doing some of the maintenance work myself will, over time, give me a better feel for the health of my car and what it needs to keep it running longer. If I can achieve that, then the process will absolutely save me money over the long-term in the form of a healthier and longer-lasting car, even if I’m not saving a ton of money on any specific service.

UPDATE: Using a suggestion from my friend Grayson over at Debt Roundup, I see that I can get the oil and filter for about $15 less than what I spent here. Jason over at Hull Financial Planning suggested buying in bulk from Amazon, so that’s something worth looking into as well. Either way, there are definitely some savings to be had.

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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53 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • DC @ Young Adult Money September 25, 2013

    This is definitely something I go back and forth on. For now I’m happy to have someone else do my oil changes for me, as I simply have not found the motivation to do them myself. Probably the best argument for DIY oil changes is the exact one you raised: you get a better feel for your car. I may want to go to this route someday, but for now I’ll focus on other things.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney September 26, 2013

      Being happy to have someone else do it seems like a common sentiment. Grayson did point me in the direction of Walmart for supplies though, which should save me about $15 per oil change off of what I spent here. Certainly not life-altering but it adds a little extra incentive.

  • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer September 25, 2013

    I just love this series, Matt. Rick, also a self-taught handyman, does our oil changes, not for cost savings, but for the practice, and because he knows that with mechanics it’s a hit or miss on quality of work, and if he does it himself he knows it’ll be top-notch quality work. One thing I have to emphasize to readers is the safety aspect of performing your own car maintenance. When Rick was a firefighter/EMT he went to too many calls where people died or were seriously injured due to a lack of safety knowledge by DIY auto care people. I’d be happy to have him put together a post about this if you like.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney September 26, 2013

      That’s a fantastic post idea Laurie! It’s something that’s obviously critically important as well as something I personally need to learn more about. I’ll reach out to you about it separately.

  • John S @ Frugal Rules September 25, 2013

    Good post and explanation of how to do it Matt. I think I am likely the most un-handy person out there. I’d love to do it myself, and definitely see the value of doing it myself but with my car I’d rather pay someone who knows what they’re doing and get it done right. It’s funny, because I have taught myself a number of things around the house, but the car I’d rather not touch.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney September 26, 2013

      That’s always kind of been my sentiment with my car as well. And there are still plenty of jobs I wouldn’t feel anywhere near comfortable doing right now, but some of the basic stuff is easy enough to learn and fairly risk-free. If nothing else, I’m learning a little bit more about how my car works, which I think is a good thing.

  • AvgJoeMoney September 25, 2013

    I think everyone should change their oil at least once….to see exactly why it’s the task I love giving to someone else! It isn’t hard, but I really don’t want to ever do it again.

    My roommate in college forgot to put a pan down before loosening the oil filter one time. That was a bad day.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney September 26, 2013

      Haha, oh wow. Yeah forgetting the pan would put you in a world of hurt. I can see continuing to do this as long as I get faster at it. I think I can get it down to a speed that’s faster than taking it to a mechanic.

  • Jason Hull September 25, 2013

    My father refused to let me drive a car or get a learner’s license until I changed the oil and changed tires. At least he didn’t do what my grandfather did. He made my uncle tear an entire engine down to its component parts and then reassemble it before he was allowed to drive.

    Is the tire changing lesson next? Or are we all going to be drafted in to toxic cleanup duty for Joe’s roommate?

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney September 26, 2013

      Man, weren’t the old days great! Haha. I do need to learn how to change a tire, so that’s actually a really good idea for a next lesson. Much better to learn that one before you need it. I’ll leave the toxic cleanup to you and Joe.

  • Andrew September 25, 2013

    The places that I go for an oil change by me charge around $30 give or take a few bucks. When I get an oil change, I also like that they check out to see if there are any other issues (worn brake pads). Although maybe I should learn to see that for myself. I’ve always wanted to take an introductory class to car maintenance…it’s great that you are taking time to learn to about car care. Oh and I see you got those gloves from Target…I’m a big fan of Up & Up! haha

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney September 26, 2013

      There are definitely some benefits of taking it to a professional place, but I think you hit it right on the head when you say that you could learn at least some of those things yourself. I’m still very much at the point of knowing pretty much none of those things, but being aware of at least the basics like brake pads is really where I want to get to.

  • Stapler Confessions September 25, 2013

    Thanks for your post — you have impeccable timing, because a DIY oil change is on my list of things to do this weekend. Wish me luck!

  • Stapler Confessions September 25, 2013

    Oh, and my suggestion for getting the supplies cheaper next time is to stay alert to sales and any available coupons, buy when you can combo the two and then you’ll be all set for your next oil change. Target isn’t the cheapest when it comes to certain items, so you might be surprised to find a better deal at a hardware store or auto parts store if they’re having a sale. I know Ace Hardware sells motor oil, and they frequently have coupons for $10 off a $25 purchase, etc.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney September 26, 2013

      That’s a good call. I actually got the supplies from a local auto store (except for the gloves) but I really didn’t shop around and definitely didn’t get the best deal. Grayson also steered me in the direction of Walmart, which looks like they have much better prices. I think I can save about $15 just by getting the supplies there.

  • Tonya September 25, 2013

    That’s cool your DIY! I have to admit though based on my own handy skills and the fact that I don’t have a garage to work from, I’ll still probably take it to get changed. 🙂

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney September 26, 2013

      I promise I’m just as un-handy as you are. Really I can’t do anything without explicit instructions, and even then it gets dicey. So if I can do it, really anyone could. But from a pure cost perspective there isn’t a huge savings so having it done professionally is a pretty reasonable choice.

  • Grayson @ Debt Roundup September 25, 2013

    I assume your total cost includes the items that you won’t have to purchase again? By the time I do my oil change, I am out for about $22.

    I pick up my oil and filter at Walmart and no one can beat the price. I have changed my oil for years. The gasket on the drain plug is not necessary unless it has been ripped or torn. I have seen many cars not even have them.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney September 26, 2013

      I included about $4 from the cost of the tools I’ll use again. I didn’t really shop around much (poor planning) but I checked out Walmart and you’re absolutely right about the prices. I should be able to save about $15 next time. Thanks for the tip.

      What’s your take on oil and filter quality? Specific brands to target or avoid? Does it really matter?

      • Grayson @ Debt Roundup September 26, 2013

        It took me some time to find the prices at Walmart. That is the only reason why I even shop there.

        There really isn’t much difference in the quality of oils. Most of them are made the exact same way and hold together the same. Filters are different. Wix are really good, but you can’t get them at Walmart. Fram are OK, but not the best. They hold up well. I used them in my older car the whole time and never had any problems. Some people will disagree with me, but I can only provide my experience. Purolator has some good filters as well.

  • Kyle James September 25, 2013

    When I was a teen I use to love to change the oil in my Honda. But these days I take it in as I bough lifetime oil changes for $220 when I bought my truck a few years ago. But yes, I totally agree that it is a great way to begin to understand what is under the hood. That alone makes it worth the time.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney September 26, 2013

      Assuming your truck lasts for more than 6 oil changes (seems likely) that’s a pretty great deal. Was that just through the dealer when you made the purchase?

  • Brian @ Luke1428 September 25, 2013

    Awesome job Matt! I’ve changed my oil several times but just prefer to take it to someone now. It’s not something I really enjoy and seems like it takes me longer than it should.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney September 26, 2013

      I’m definitely hoping I can get the time down. It took me about two hours this time (explained in next week’s post), but I think I can get it down to an hour or less with practice. If that’s the case it will actually save me time over taking it somewhere. We’ll see.

  • krantcents September 25, 2013

    I use a local place that throws in a free car wash and my cost is roughly $35 for the whole thing.

  • Clarisse @ Make Money Your Way September 26, 2013

    Nice post Matt, I know lots of readers’ benefits from this one. I will show this post to my Uncle so that he will try to DIY oil changes.

  • Holly Johnson September 26, 2013

    We know nothing about cars so we have to pay to get our oil changed =/ Greg would probably blow our car up if he tried!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney September 26, 2013

      Haha, he can’t be less handy than I am. But I can definitely understand just wanting to have it handled by someone else.

  • Mike GetRichWithMe September 26, 2013

    Changing the oil and knowing how to change brake drums, shoes, pads and discs can save you a small fortune. It doesn’t take a lot of technical knowledge and you know the job has been done right.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney September 26, 2013

      I got a tip on twitter about the big cost savings of doing your own brakes as well. I know nothing about the process, but brakes make me nervous just because of their importance. But I will absolutely look into it. Thanks for the advice.

  • MoneySmartGuides September 26, 2013

    I’ve changed my own oil for many years. I would save a few dollars doing it myself, but the value to me was also in learning more about my car so that I could do more basic repairs on my own.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney September 26, 2013

      The learning is really the big value to me as well. Hopefully if I can work my way up to some bigger projects I can really start saving some money.

  • Pretired Nick September 26, 2013

    I’ll be the bad guy and disagree with you, I guess. (: I think an oil change is so cheap to have done these days at a professional shop that it doesn’t make sense to DIY this one. You also should note how one disposes of the used oil. This can cause an additional expense in some communities and it should not just be stored in your garage. Many people do their own oil changes to save a little money and end up dumping the oil down storm drains or throwing it into the ordinary garbage causing massive environmental damage. I’d advocate only going to a professional shop that recycles their used oil safely.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney September 26, 2013

      I think cost is only one piece of it, though with the advice I’ve gotten from some other commenters I can definitely do it myself for less than I can have it done. I also think I can save time vs. going to a shop. But the other part of this is simply learning about my car and being able to take better care of it. That’s my main objective, and I think overall cost savings will come of it.

      You make a good point about recycling the oil and that’s actually part of my Part 2 post. I didn’t have to pay for the recycling as we took it to a landfill that handled it but for some people that might be an extra cost, sure. And I wholeheartedly agree that no matter what, it should be done in an environmentally friendly manner. Thanks for the input.

  • Peter September 26, 2013

    I used to do them myself mainly because I had an affection for my car, that was 10 years ago. Now with two babies, car is just a car and savings is not big enough to motivate me.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney September 26, 2013

      To me, the big goal with all of this is being able to take better care of my car over the long run. I think that will save me a lot of headaches and a lot of money, more than what I see from just a single oil change.

  • Done by Forty September 26, 2013

    I changed the oil on my car once, and immediately decided it was not worth the savings for me. I know this makes me sound like a whining wuss, but I think it’s too dirty a job for the money, and dealing with the oil afterwards is a bit of a hassle. I find that I can often get an oil change for $25 to $30 out the door if I’m willing to shop around a bit.

    That said, like you, I’m glad I at least know how to do it. If I change my mind on the process, I at least know how to do it, and that’s the real benefit anyway.

    On a related note, I’m going to start doing oil changes on my scooter, because motorcycle mechanics really build in a big profit margin on these ($50 to $75 per oil change, with only like a quart of oil total).

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney September 26, 2013

      Haha, not everyone is for everything. You tried it and didn’t enjoy it. Totally cool. But it definitely sounds worth it for the scooter. How do they get away with charging so much? Is it just a lack of supply of those types of mechanics?

      • Done by Forty September 26, 2013

        Yeah, they charge regular labor rates, which is crazy high (like $60 – $80).

  • Green Money Stream September 26, 2013

    Good job, Matt! This is a great overview of a DIY oil change. For us right now, we find it worth it to pay for it after factoring in the cost of our time in the process. I can usually get an oil change for around $20 at a local shop. But this is the type of thing I would definitely be doing once I reach financial freedom and would have more time on my hands.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney September 26, 2013

      Wow, $20 is pretty low! I’m doing this as much to learn about my car as I am for the savings, so hopefully I can really benefit from that part of it.

  • Jacob @ iHeartBudgets September 26, 2013

    Baller! Doesn’t it feel good? Funny, I LOVE DIY, and I do most maintenance on ANYTHING myself, but just got lazy and took the 4runner to the lube station earlier this month. LoL. I haven’t freed up the funds for buying in bulk, but I plan on stocking up on oil, tranny fluid, diff. fluid and filters so I have no more excuses.

    Nice work!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney September 26, 2013

      I have to admit, I felt pretty manly afterwards. Haha. I like the idea of buying in bulk, I just have to find a place to store it. But even if I can’t do that, the Walmart tip will let me get it all for much cheaper. But I don’t know man, you’re pretty much my whole inspiration for this whole thing. How can you be abandoning me now and going to the cheap lube shop? Now I just feel dirty.

      • Jacob @ iHeartBudgets September 27, 2013

        Hah! I just got lazy and was overdue. I had also just changed the timing belt from hell over the weekend, and didn’t want to get near any car for a good long while after that. But hey, car ran great after that 🙂

        Don’t worry, I’m still as DIY as they come. One day, I’m going to make a list of everything I’ve DIY’d along with savings (or in some cases, cost).

        • Matt @ momanddadmoney September 27, 2013

          I’m looking forward to that list. Sounds like a timing belt might be something I should wait to get a little more experience before attempting.

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