Hammer Time: Ten Ways To Change Your Oil (Without Killing Yourself Or Others)

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang

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 bobistheoilguy.com. 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.

8 “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.

6 “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.

5 “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.

4 “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.

3 “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.

Join the conversation
2 of 38 comments
  • Brettc Brettc on Jul 11, 2012

    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.

  • Redaztec Redaztec on Jul 11, 2012

    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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