D. Gilson is a writer and author of essays, poetry, and scholarship that explore the relationship between popular culture, literature, sexuality, and memoir. His latest book is Jesus Freak, with Will Stockton, part of Bloomsbury’s 33 1/3 Series. His other books include I Will Say This Exactly One Time and Crush. His first chapbook, Catch & Release, won the 2012 Robin Becker Prize from Seve...

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has appeared on legaladvice.com, themanifest.com, and vice.com.

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Reviewed by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer

UPDATED: Mar 13, 2020

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Consumers are vigilant about how they spend their money, especially when it comes to their cars. Often seen as lifelong investments, a vehicle needs to meet its owner’s long-term demands and needs, without costing an arm and a leg along the way. A simple, cost-effective way to help maintain the quality of your car and keep it running at its best is to perform routine, preventative maintenance measures yourself.

Changing oil is not a particularly challenging or expensive chore to do, but many people shy away from tackling it themselves because they simply don’t know how. In fact, Edmunds.com reports that people can save anywhere from $25-$75 by doing the job themselves—talk about a handy skill. For those of you wanting to brave the waters of at-home oil changes, below is a step-by-step guide on how to do it yourself.

What You’ll Need

Before you get started, you want to be sure you have a copy of your vehicle’s owner’s manual to ensure you use the proper type and amount of oil. Using the wrong oil is not only annoying, but it can also be damaging to your vehicle’s motor, so proceed with caution here.

Once you have the proper oil, you’ll need an oil filter, drain pan, funnel, latex gloves, an oil filter wrench, a jack and jack stands. Depending on your work area, you may need a ramp as well.

Sometimes these initial purchases deter some people from following through with the procedure, for fear it will be too costly, but the only thing you will have to replenish is your oil and the filters—everything else is pretty much a one-time purchase that will pay for itself over time.

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How Long Will it Take?

Your first go-round will take a little longer, as it is a new, foreign process to you. The experts at Edmunds.com tell people to give themselves about an hour the first time through. Depending on how good you get at it after that it can take you anywhere from 25 to 45 minutes.

When Should You Do It?

The old standard for changing oil was to do it every 3,000 miles or 3 months—whichever comes first. However, thanks to technology and changing mechanics, vehicles are becoming more efficient, which means they require oil changes less frequently. To be sure about yours, consult your manual. Whatever frequency your specific car calls for, it will still need to be changed when the motor and oil are warm, not cold.

Step by Step

For starters, locate your drain plug, place your drain pan at an angle to catch the old oil as it comes out and remove the plug. Once it’s all out, replace the plug tightly. Next, remove the old oil filter—which, depending on your make and model of car, will be either on top of or underneath your vehicle. Before applying the filter, be sure to lubricate it and fill it with oil.

Next, locate the oil cap in the engine and use your funnel to pour in the new oil. After doing this, simply replace the cap securely.

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What to Do with Your Old Oil

Even though you’ve gotten the new oil in, your work is not done. The last step is to properly dispose of the used oil. Most gas stations or auto parts stores like AutoZone will take your old oil off of your hands. Never dispose of it down a drain yourself, as this could damage the local water and plumbing system.

Oil Overview

Oil is to a car what blood is to you. It needs it to run. Negligence and disregard of proper oil maintenance has the potential to be very damaging to your vehicle and should be avoided at all costs. Think of a routine oil change as a chance to inspect your car as a whole and reconnect with it. The more you do it, the more familiar you will become with your car’s norm, making it easier to detect when something isn’t right.