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 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: 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.
Oil 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.
Gloves: 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
Each 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.