How to change the oil in your car
Learning how to change the oil in your car without having to go to a mechanic can save you hundreds of pounds every year. Once you've acquired the necessary tools and understand the workings of your vehicle, you'll be able to get this job done in under 30 minutes. It's a relatively straightforward task that anyone can do, but you can make quite a mess if you aren't prepared. Read on to find out:
- Why do I need to change my car oil?
- How often should I change the oil in my car?
- What oil do I need for my car?
- How to change the oil in your car, step by step
Engine oil is integral to keeping your engine running smoothly. Car engines have many moving parts that rub against each other and create friction, which creates heat. Oil is used to lubricate the engine and absorb some of this heat, which helps to keep it running smoothly. Over time, water, dust, and dirt can make its way into your oil through the normal running of your car, decreasing its effectiveness.
Your oil filter will help to trap any particles that are contaminating your oil but, eventually, your oil filter will become clogged and stop filtering the oil as well. Engine oil is key to the safe running of your vehicle, and not replacing it will ultimately lead to very costly engine damage. One tell-tale sign that your car's engine oil could need changing is if you begin to see smoke coming from your exhaust. This can be a number of different colours from blue, black, white, and grey, but luckily, we have a troubleshooting guide to car exhaust smoke to help you diagnose the problem quickly.
How often you need to change the oil in your car will depend on the model you have and how many miles you clock up every year. Your owner's manual will provide you with your manufacturer's recommendations, but a good rule of thumb is to change your engine oil every 5,000 miles.
Engine oil is measured by its viscosity, which essentially explains how thick or runny it is. The lower the viscosity, the faster the oil will be able to flow, and vice versa. Modern engine oil is typically multigrade, meaning it has two viscosity ratings: one for cold temperatures and one for warm temperatures. For the most part, you don't need to worry about these numbers as each car has been designed to work optimally with a specific engine oil grade.
In order to get the most out of your engine, both in terms of performance and longevity, it is always recommended that you follow your manufacturer's instructions. The recommended engine oil grade for your car and type of oil filter you need can be found in your vehicle's handbook.
Alternatively, you can find out what your car requires by entering your make and model or registration number into our handy online engine oil finder tool.
Make sure you've got all right tools
Before you put on some old clothes, pop the bonnet, and get underneath your car, you'll want to make sure you've got all the necessary tools and parts for the job. Here's what you'll need:
- The correct grade and amount of engine oil (check manufacturer's handbook)
- A high-quality oil filter (check manufacturer's handbook)
- Scissor or hydraulic car jack designed for your car weight
- Axle stand (s) designed for your car weight
- Socket spanner set
- Oil filter pliers
- A funnel
- A plastic container to catch the old engine oil (most cars will contain between 5 and 10 litres of oil)
- A large jug (to dispose of the oil)
- Old rags
- Gloves (optional)
Warm up the engine
Engine oil becomes runnier as it gets warmer, so turning on your engine before you begin an oil change will help to make sure you can drain as much of the old oil as possible. Run your engine for five minutes or so: this will allow the engine to get warm but not too hot, which is ideal for an oil change.
After this, turn the engine off completely and open your car bonnet to remove the oil refill cap, as this will help the oil to drain more quickly. If you aren't sure where this is, look for the brightly coloured dipstick which is used to check your engine oil levels. The oil refill cap will be near this and should have a small oil cannister symbol on it, as shown in the image below.
Jack up your car
Before you begin jacking up your car, you want to make sure it is parked on flat and solid ground. Position your jack directly underneath the jacking point on your car (you can find out where this is by checking the manufacturer's handbook). If you have a scissor jack, insert the metal rod and manually crank it to raise the vehicle; if you have a hydraulic jack, you simply have to pump up and down. You want to raise the car as high as you can to give yourself enough room the easily get underneath the car.
Secure your axle stands
The jack alone is not sufficient to safely hold the weight of the car while you change the oil, so use your two axle stands to safely hold the weight of your vehicle. Place them near where the jack is touching the car and lock them in place. You can gently wiggle the car to check it is resting on the axle stands. If it is, you can safely lower the jack. Ensure that your axle stands are designed to take the weight of your car, and never substitute them for alternatives such as boxes or bricks as these can easily slip while you're under the car.
Drain the engine oil
Now that your car is secure, it is safe to get on your back, crawl under the engine, and locate the drain plug: a large nut or plug located on the bottom of the engine. Place your container underneath the oil drain plug ready to catch the oil as it pours out. Using your socket spanner, slowly start to undo the nut or plug. The oil will come thick and fast, so you want to try make sure the plug doesn't fall into the oil container, as things can get quite messy. While the engine drains, clean the plug and set it to one side.
Remove the oil filter
Your car's oil filter will typically be located underneath the engine, although on some models it may be found under the bonnet. If you're unsure, we recommend checking the owner's manual. Use your oil filter pliers to unscrew the lid of the filter housing and remove the filter. Oil will come out with it, so have some rags on hand to clean up any mess. Set the used filter to one side to be disposed of and use your rags to clean the filter housing.
Install your new filter
Take your new filter out of its packaging and moisten the seal with some of the new oil. Gently screw the new filter into the housing unit by hand until it has been secured — make sure you don't over-tighten it! Once it's in place, screw the lid back on securely and, again, don't over-tighten it.
Add the new oil
Once the oil has drained from your engine, use a rag to wipe the area clean and screw the plug or nut back in. Using your funnel, you can now pour fresh oil into the top of your engine. Pour slowly and in stages to allow time for the oil to make its way through. Adding too much oil is not good for the engine, so it's wise to keep checking your dipstick as you go. Once the oil level reads as 'full' on the dipstick, you can place the cap back on.
Check your work
To complete the job, you'll want to finish by checking the oil level. To get an accurate reading, lower your car to the ground and remove the jack stands — in most vehicles, the dipstick is located to the front of the engine, so you won't get an accurate reading if the front is still raised. Then, switch on the engine and let the car run for at least a few minutes. This will allow the fresh oil to start circulating throughout the engine. Turn the engine off and inspect the areas you have been working on to check for leaks. If everything looks good, you can then open the bonnet and take a dipstick reading again to make sure the oil is at the recommended level.
Dispose of old engine oil
Pour your black, used oil into a large jug ready to be disposed of. Many people simply pour this liquid down the drain, but this is polluting the environment and against the law. Instead, take your used oil to an oil bank so it can be collected and recycled safely. Modern processing methods mean that about 60% of the oil can be recovered and reused. To find your nearest oil bank, check the oil bank website or phone 03708 506 506.
You've successfully managed to change your car's engine oil and save yourself a lot of money in the process. If this is your first time, it may have taken you a while. But, when you come to change your oil again, you'll be able to do it in no time.