By on July 11, 2012

It’s an unbelievable pain. Or a pleasure worthy of a cold beer on a hot summer day.

Changing oil in a car can either be a 1-2-3 process that gives you an instant feeling of afternoon achievement. Or a painful and miserable endeavor that leaves stains on your clothes, oil slicks on your driveway, and cuss words on the tip of your tongue.

The question every car owner has to ask is, “Will this be worth my time?”

Here is a ten point scale that can help you figure it all out.

10 “The Quick & Easy”

All you have to do is remove one easily accessible drain plug, one oil filter at the top of the engine, and one oil cap. That’s it.

The “Quick & Easy” oil change will offer enough ground clearance on the bottom of the vehicle so that you can easily access the oil drain plug and slide the oil drain container without any issues.

Just pick the wrench that fits the oil drain plug. An oil filter wrench for removing the old filter.  A new oil filter, motor oil, and a basic funnel.  Follow the steps on the video above and voila! You are done. Money in the bank and quality products in your car.

Note: Keep an eye out for discounted motor oil and filter specials at They always highlight several cheap to free offers during the course of the year. Also, you may be able to use an online discount code to lower your purchase costs.


9: “The Not As Quick, But Easy.”

The only variation with this one is that the oil filter will usually be under the engine instead of above it.

Can you still easily access the oil filter? Or do you need a socket wrench and an extension?

All it takes is a one time $10 investment in a good socket wrench and an extension. Everything else is still a peace of cake.

Note: The most common mistake on most DIY oil changes is not checking to see if the old circular gasket came off with the old filter. Always check to make sure it was removed before installing the new oil filter.


“You Need A Lift, But Easy Enough.”

Two good jack stands that are designed to hold the weight of your vehicle and a good jack are all you need. Follow the proper procedures for jacking up a car and….

Please invest in a good jack. If you decide that you want Rhino Ramps instead, make sure that they are more than capable of holding the weight and keep them indoors and away from the cold.


7  “What’s This? Some More Screws And Nuts? No Big Deal.”

Modern manufacturers love to encase their engines and underbodies in plastic shrouds.

Fuel economy. Protection of parts. Also, we now live in times where a big hulking piece of plastic on top of an engine is seen as a better marketing tool than showing the actual engine.

The question now becomes whether you have to remove cheap clips and fasteners or actual screws and bolts.

If it’s the former, you may just want to go for an oil change special at the dealer, or just throw away the entire plastic skid plate. A lot of these will rip apart in due time. I chucked mine for my daily driver and it still gets fuel economy that is 20% to 30% better than the EPA figures.

If you want to keep the plastic, go to an enthusiast forum for your vehicle. Chances are they may know of a way for you to keep all those wonderful plastic pieces intact using everyday tools.


“Am I Supposed To Get In There? How?”

Some cars are just a supreme pain in the proverbial posterior when it comes to oil changes. You can consult an enthusiast forum to find out if you need a bigger extension, a special tool, or a lot more thinking to do.

I am especially leery of cars that require a lift to be done right. In theory some of them may only require a higher level of jack clearance. But too many others will spill old oil onto your vehicle and give it a nasty burnt smell for hundreds of miles until the excess is burned off.

If the process seems to be too much, well, you’re in luck these days.


“I Seek Independence!”

In my neck of the woods a good independent shop will charge around $25 for an oil change. That is surprisingly less than Wal-Mart and with that, you get a lot more service and care for your ride.

Some independents will even allow you to bring your own oil change materials. The cost is usually only around $10 to $15, but do call first, always.  If you already have a strong relationship with an independent mechanic, and want to invest in a premium oil filter and synthetic fluid without getting dirty, this is your golden opportunity.


“Go to the dealership, if they are offering oil changes as a loss leader.”

One important thing related to this step. If the dealership advertises a $12.95 special but throws on a bunch of bogus disposal fees without disclosing them first, don’t just show up. Call them beforehand to find out the true price.

Used oil can be recycled. Used filters can be recycled as well. Other than extra profit, and the dealer’s desire to offer a fake price in lieu of the real one, there is no reason for these charges.


“Visit a chain if you must. But not one that’s too busy. Try not to hang yourself.”

I’m not a big fan of Quickie Lube places.

If the place is advertising nothing more than a witches brew of engine cleaners and fuel injection treatments, don’t even bother. Most quickie lube places do just that.

However I do have better luck with tire shops that also do oil changes. More than a few times in my life, I’ve combined a tire purchase with a guaranteed oil change at a reasonable price. $20 is the going rate for this combination in a non-metro area like mine. But who knows? You may get lucky.


2 “Phone a friend.”

Conversation, beer, and a contribution to your fellow man. If you really want to do the oil change yourself, but are a bit nervous about it, ask a friend to help out.

If the friend is going to be doing the dirty deed, make sure you have seen him in action before. A surprising number of so-called enthusiasts have never gone past their own dipstick.


1 “Just use a coupon you cheap bastard!”

My wife buys an Entertainment Book that offers hundreds of discounts for eating out, and two free oil changes. The book cost $10. The going rate for the oil changes? About $50 to $70.

There are countless numbers of other sources for a free or cheap oil change. Raffles. Daily deal websites such as Groupon and Living Social. Heck, you can even make the 574th Youtube video about it.


The Final Word

If someone else does change your oil though just make sure of two things before driving off.

A) The ground is level and the dipstick is right at full.

B) The oil filter and drain plug are tight.

If so, you’re in business.

If not, then tell the person in charge and let them take care of it.

Even if the one to tell is covered in oil and looking crosseyed at you in the mirror.  He’ll get the hang of it. Trust me. I’ve been there.

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38 Comments on “Hammer Time: Ten Ways To Change Your Oil (Without Killing Yourself Or Others)...”

  • avatar

    I’ve changed my own oil for years & prefer it that way even if my vehicles are under warranty. One thing I will say from the 1st video…the days of ‘3 month or 3,000 mile’ oil change (as the nice lady suggests) have gone by the way of the Dodo & have for years! What an absolute waste of resources…check your owners manuals folks (the 2nd least read publication next to the bible!) for the correct intervals & go by what the manufacture says, not what the dealership or quick lube places say. Good article though.

  • avatar

    I used to enjoy changing the oil on my car myself when I was young and had just one car to look after, stupid plastic underbody diffuser and all. With a family, demanding job, and three cars to look after (first world problem there), I gladly pay my trusted indy’s to keep my rides in tip-top shape. Even if I had the time, I’ve come to the conclusion that DIY oil changes are just not worth the time and effort unless you are a dedicated coupon hound a la Mr. Lang and have an easy access filter+plug.

  • avatar
    Nick 2012

    Steve – have you ever used an oil extractor pump? If so, are these a worthwhile investment to change your own oil? I have a car with a cartridge filter. With an extractor pump, it wouldn’t even be necessary to get under the car.

  • avatar

    I’ve always been a DIY’er for oil changes but it seems modern vehicles just aren’t made for that anymore. Changing the oil on a Lexus is a serious PITA and that was after much research on an enthusiast site. There was somewhere around a dozen or so screws to get all the plastic bits out of the way. Then a special tool from Toyota to get the damn oil filter cartridge open. Oh, and no dipstick to check the oil level so best have your math right when filling from quart bottles. What is a 15 min (at most) process on my 4cyl Honda is an hour or more on a Lexus. Totally not worth it until you find out what a Lexus dealer charges for an oil change. Oh, and BTW, the qucklube down the street wouldn’t touch it.

  • avatar

    Haha, no way. I have a tire shop do it for about 30 bucks. That price includes my favorite oil, and my quarterly exposure to Judge Judy. They are also careful enough not to make a huge mess under the hood and don’t try to sell me add-ons.

    But why? I have the time, the tools, and the know how.
    Picture it this way: It’s 114 degrees. You are lying in a fire ant hill and otherwise rolling around in dust and sharp gravel. You sweat so much that tools are too slippery to handle without busting knuckles and dropping them repeatedly. Blood and mud and sweat and stings –

    Okay, maybe not in the Summer…

    It’s 17 degrees, and the wind is howling. Your eyes fill up with sand and gravel faster then you can change the oil. Who needs eyes? You can do it by feel, except that you can’t when your hands freeze up. Game over.

    It’s also one of the easiest cars in the world to change the oil on. I have done it once or twice, but, no more. Watching Judge Judy for 15 minuets is a lot less pain. $120 bucks a year? I can deal with that. It’s nearly the same cost to DIY anyway. ~20 for oil and ~7 for filter. Then you get to haul the stuff off, and fill out a huge mile long form for disposal. Assume you do it in the spring and fall when the proposition is not insane, you have saved all of $6.

    And yes, I do 3 months/3000. Out here that’s pretty standard for such a harsh place to live. It’s not exactly Hawaii.

    As they say, YMMV.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m with you. I’ve been doing my OC every 7,500 with my 2012 Focus (what Ford recommends in the manual). I drive enough miles annually (20,000+) where I’ll get at least 3 changes per year, and with that change interval I get the tires rotated every change, too. I pick up my Mobil 1 at Wal-Mart and bring it and a Purelator PO filter to the dealership I bought the car from. $10 in labor for the change, another… $16? for the tire rotation and she’s done.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree.

      Oil changes are the only thing I consider to be under priced at the mechanic. It’s a loss leader. At $15-18, how can I say no? I can barely buy the supplies myself for that price.

      My “baby” gets home oil changes, but everything else in the fleet gets cheap and fast changes at the mechanic.

  • avatar

    I don’t mind changing it myself and its pretty easy on my car, but my mechanic’s shop is 5 minutes from my house and he charges me $15 to change the oil if I bring him the oil and filter. Considering the potential for something to go wrong (my dad has been famously banned from doing oil changes on my parents cars after ending up in the ER to get stitches) and the convenience, its worth it to me to have him do it.

  • avatar

    I change my own oil on an Acura TSX and I have found that the installation of a Fumoto oil drain valve (in place of the oil pan plug) has made the job doable with the car “on the ground”. This valve eliminates need for jack stands and the gymnastics of getting a socket wrench on the oil drain plug. I do have to remove an oil drain access panel. I have found a one of those 1-inch foam exercise mats makes a comfortable working place on the driveway/floor. (I keep it in the trunk floor for a possible roadside tire change).

    The access to the oil filter is not easy – on the rear of the engine. Best approach is to let the engine cool for comfort and reach in from the top. Access isn’t much better from below or through the right passenger wheel well area.

  • avatar
    Chicago Dude

    My local dealer has reasonable rates, but even better is that any time your car is in their garage, they hook it up to the computer and scan to see if you have any software updates or TSBs. If you’ve got any, they do them for free while the oil is being changed.

    Obviously that should be free, but most dealers fight tooth and nail and claim that there is nothing out there and if there is they will try to charge $100 or more.

  • avatar

    It’s easy: If I need work that I don’t want to do, or a state inspection, then the shop does the change at the same time. If I need nothing but an oil change, I do it myself. I don’t care about the few bucks, I care about my weekend. Going to a shop for only a change wastes way more time than DIY.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed. Even if a shop or dealership says you can swing by and they will change it while you wait, it somehow turns into a 3-hour errand anyway. A special trip just for an oil change is a huge waste of time.

  • avatar

    I have a new Charger and the Pentastar engine is just asking for DIY oil changes. The filter (cartidge-type) is front and center on the top of the engine. Just drain the oil, then swap the cartridge while standing up. Nice engineering.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    The article fails to mention one of the most common “hazards” of an oil changes (ask me how I know): the gasket that most spin-on filters use between the filter and the engine block. It’s not uncommon for that gasket to NOT come off when you spin off the old filter. Then, when you put the new filter on, you have two gaskets. This makes a nice mess as soon as you start the engine . . . oil spraying everywhere. So, always be sure you have the old gasket in hand before you mount the new filter.

    The second most likely problem is an over-tightened filter which is a bitch to get off. When you put the new filter on, follow the instructions about tightening it.

    I don’t change my own oil now because the places where I formerly was able to dump my old oil don’t exist. For a while, there was an independent gas station near me that had a big dome-like tank out front where they invited people to dump their waste oil. Then the tank disappeared; and now the station is gone. Then I discovered that a “village” police station (with all of 2 cars) had a waste oil tank outside, to which I could add my contribution. Now, they have a locked fence around it. The city’s recycling center across town probably accepts waste oil, but that’s a 50-minute round trip from my house.

    If you want to really have fun, trying changing the oil in an inboard boat engine!

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      The gasket usually doesn’t stick to the vehicle if the filter is hand tightened properly.

      However, thanks to the weird angles and unusual positions you need to get leverage on certain vehicles, the gasket issue is becoming a more common one.

      I’ll add it. Thanks for pointing it out.

      • 0 avatar

        When you are changing the oil, dip your finger in some clean oil and run it over the gasket on the new oil filter before attaching it to the car. Hand tighten. Also, always do a visual check for the old filter gasket on the block.

    • 0 avatar

      Maybe this was already covered in the related article, but I always thought one of the biggest oil change hazards was stripping the threads on the drain plug. If that happens, then you just turned a job anyone that cares to try can figure out into something that takes actual DIY skill to solve. As salt in the wound, the car is now undriveable – better have a backup ride to fetch any parts or tools you might need.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      How do people manage to break the gasket off the old filter anyway? I’ve never done that, or even seen it.

      I wonder how many people know you’re supposed to change the drain plug ring, or at least anneal it if it’s copper?

  • avatar

    This may start some debate, but another easy option is to suck the oil out through the dipstick tube with something like a Mityvac. Combine that with a top-side filter, and you don’t even have to raise the car.

    I think raising the car is the biggest pain in the whole process. I’ve never liked the rhino ramps; they always slide. Even though the weight rating is more than adequate, the tires on my car were technically one size too wide for them. I also needed to use the low-profile ramps to get them under the bumper. This means that even when I succeed in getting the car on them, they give me barely enough clearance to do anything underneath. A quality jack and jack stands are the way to go, but I think you need to get into more than just oil changes to justify that investment.

    Even using a mityvac, I don’t think it is worth the trouble to DIY. I guess it depends on available deals on the oil and filter. It only cost me an extra $15 to have someone else do it. I think that beats having to track down all the supplies, change the oil, and then bring the used oil to a recycling center.

    • 0 avatar

      You can make a cheap and easy ramp by nailing a couple 2×12’s together. I find a couple extra inches of clearance helps a lot, and driving onto them is much less nerve racking than dealing with ramps.

    • 0 avatar

      The manager at a local franchise of a well known national oil change chain business tried to convince me that my wife’s ’03 VW jetta didn’t have an oil drain plug and needed to be sucked out through the dipstick tube. For $85. Having been born at night, but not the previous night, I disabused him of that notion and promptly drove to the next nearest oil change place. To this day I wish I’d called and complained to their corporate parent. I’m not sure why I didn’t.

  • avatar

    I normally use the auto hobby shop on my base. With a lift, oil changes are so painless it’s almost criminal.

    My wife had been procrastinating about getting hers done for over a month now, so I did it in the driveway. Even using jackstands, it was less than a 30 minute evolution for me, though I haven’t hade it to the recycling center yet. Doing it on the ground is painful though when you know you could have used a lift.

    I was getting pretty fast at jacking up the car since I started swapping wheels for autocorss and track days. It takes me less than 30 minutes with hand tools now, including hauling everything up and down from the basement.

  • avatar

    My ’03 4Runner is a breeze for oil changes. Filter is on the top of the motor, drain plug is easily accessable. When I go to the dealership for the filter, and plug gasket, I pay around $7.00. The oil is definitely the most expensive part (around $25-30), but I still take solace in the fact that I know it is being done correctly, and I only have myself to blame if something goes wrong. The only car I owned that I sent out for oil changes was my ’89 Firebird. Boy, was that car a bitch to get under. Not to mention because of the low and long front overhang, it was damn near impossible to drive up ramps. Better believe as soon as it was pulled out of the pit, the very first thing I would do is walk over to the car and check the oil.

  • avatar

    +1 for the Fumoto oil drain valve for the those of us that do our own oil changes! Makes draining the oil that much easier without that initial oil splash when you remove the oil plug.

  • avatar

    Here’s another tip for those who have any shop change their oil –

    Make sure that the oil cap is properly tightened, that the oil was actually changed and that the filter was actually changed.

    As a young lad of 17, but wary of the inherent ‘trustworthiness’ of others, I personally discovered that a chain quick lube shop (which I would never recommend using, period) never replaced my oil filter, because the ‘tech’ was too embarrassed to advise the manager (or anyone else) that he couldn’t locate the filter, and so he simply changed the oil. It wasn’t until I pulled over into the next parking lot that I did a brief inspection to find the old oil filter still clinging on. Upon my immediate return, while popping the hood, and pointing to the filter, he confessed with a red face, while the manager pretended to be enraged, personally changed the filter, and gave me a booklet with 5 free oil changes (that I never bothered to use).

    A female co-worker, who also happened upon a quick oil/lube change franchise (***coughJIFFYcough***), discovered much to her fright, that the 10 minute service did not include tightening the oil fill cap, but only after she had been driving on the expressway afterwards for a full 15 minutes, when white plumes of smoke began to emanate from underneath her hood. Opening the hood revealed a missing plastic oil fill cap and motor oil splattered everywhere.

    A college roommate of mine, who had worked for a dealership (and a prominent one) for a year or so, candidly told me that they skipped changing the oil altogether “a lot of the time if the service department was in the weeds.” Some may claim he was being less than truthful, but I know otherwise.

    Moral of the story, change it yourself if you can, and if you can’t, take it to someone you trust to do it properly all the time (and please don’t let anyone put those cheap ass oil filters found on ebay for 89 cents each on your vehicle – yes, there are oil change places that use those).

    • 0 avatar

      An old roommate of mine, who worked for a Chrysler/Plymouth dealership called it a Friday Special. When things backed up and too many customers had been promised their cars back by the weekend. It wasn’t uncommon to just put on a new filter and add a quart of oil.

  • avatar

    I do it myself, I still remember to many buddies that worked for lube places that would just wipe the filter, drain the oil and fill with whatever they had on hand.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    I’ve been an apartment dweller for the last 5 years. I’ve used independent mechanics, if they were Ferrari and Maserati certified, I assumed they could handle an oil change on a Ford and I use a Lincoln dealer, pretty nice guys. In the middle of unpacking during the last I noticed I was overdue for an oil change. It was Sunday and I still needed to finish unpacking. Whipped into a quickie lube for an oil change. About 10 minutes into the process the tech came in and asked is my vehicle a 4 wheel drive? I drive an Escape. He then told me the transfer case needed service immediately. First and last time I used them. On Soapbox. Do not use concrete blocks to hold up your vehicle. I used to work as a mason and had them crumble in my hands. Off Soapbox.

  • avatar

    Changing the fluids and filters is something I can do with relative ease on my car. Also I do get a feeling of satisfaction from doing it myself. I’ve heard or read too many horror stories about the quick lube places to ever bring any car back to them.

  • avatar

    Had a hell of a time getting the plastic skid plate off of my Mazda 3 last month to change the oil. Two of the bolts holding it on had completely rusted out and seized. Ended up ripping the damn thing off and tossing it in the trash.

  • avatar

    I do my own oil changes, but it isn’t to save money on them. It’s so I can check the vehicle for things that need attention, take care of other maintenance items and fix any known issues. Most of the time, the oil change is only part of the job.

    I’ve done oil changes on two of my three vehicles in the last few weeks. While I was at it, I replaced a burnt out taillight, rotated tires, inspected them for wear, pulled a drywall screw out of one and checked all of them for air pressure, including the spares. I also checked brake, coolant and transmission fluid levels, went over other maintenance items and cleaned things up. While I was at it, I repaired a broken door handle. Each vehicle took me 2 to 3 hours to complete, not much more time than it would take to bring it to a shop.

    After watching too many inept clowns at quicky oil change places trash my friend’s cars, I steer well clear of them. One place drained a transaxle instead of the engine and then added more oil to the engine, laying waste to both. Another tried to upsell every kind of useless bulls&#t under the sun but didn’t know that you check an automatic transmission’s fluid level while the engine is running… later that week, the transmission went south due to low fluid. I could go on, but will spare you.

    But here’s the thing. When it’s all said and done, a nice day, a garage with my ride in it and a frosty malt beverage describes my happy place. Why should I let someone else have the fun, and then pay them for it on top of it? As the old saying goes, if I have to explain it to you, you wouldn’t understand.

  • avatar

    Of course it easy. Dead simple. Until:
    1. you forgot to put the draing plug back on and pour oil right on your garage floor
    2. A gust of wind blows the draining stream of oil away from the catch pan and all over the garage floor
    3. You can’t unscrew the plug or the filter quickly enough and a stream of hot oil runs right down your arm into your arm pit.
    4. You forgot to tighten the oil cap afterwards and the engine coughs up an oily mess all over your engine bay.
    5. You miss while pouring the oil into the tiny oil filler hole and end up pouring oil all over the side of your engine.

    In short there are a million ways where you could create a huge filthy mess.

  • avatar

    You would think that oil changes are a simple affair, but many vehicles now require special tools to remove the oil filter (Toyota comes to mind) and those canister filters can be a challenge to an oil change novice.

    For the ones who somehow manage to screw it up and wind up being towed to my shop they are charged the ST, the “stupid tax.”

  • avatar

    On a TDI, it’s really simple. All top-side:

    Warm up the engine a bit, shut it off
    Pull out the dipstick
    Insert the tube from your oil extractor into the dipstick tube. Pump your extractor to get the oil flowing
    While waiting for the oil to be extracted, unscrew the top mounted oil filter housing cover, take out the old filter
    Replace the 2 O-rings on the filter housing cover
    Put the new oil filter in. Put the housing cover back on, torque to 25 Nm.
    Make sure all of the oil is extracted. The extractor will lose suction and make noises when it happens.
    Refill with about 4 litres of 5W40 VW 505.00 oil. (Rotella T, Mobil 1 TDT)
    Start the engine, shut it off after about 30 seconds or so.
    Check the level and add a bit more if needed

    And you’re done! Might sound like a lot of work, but the extractor makes it simple. Plus getting under the car is completely optional.

  • avatar

    Luckily for me, my daily driver’s oil changes are about as easy as they get: there is no need for ramps or a jack and stands, and the oil filter is easily accessible from either above or below. So I always change the oil myself, except once…

    I took it to the local oil change in a hurry shop and asked for a smog check only. After sitting for a while I thought it was taking longer than usual, and got up right as the tech walked in and asked me what kind of oil I wanted. He’d already drained out the synthetic I’d just put in a week or so before. Needless to say they replaced my oil at no cost to me. Once they were done, I checked it out, and they had put 2 quarts too much in. I just drove the half-mile home and drained the excess myself.

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