Changing Your Own Oil: Black Gold

Thanks to Suzanne for her comment on my post, 12 Ways to Live More Cheaply. Along the lines of saving money on auto maintenance and repair, I wanted to add a tip. Change your own oil.

Not everyone will be willing to try this, but it is really much easier than you'd think, and it will save you a good bit of money. I used to change my oil on occasion when I was in college, but I'd left it up to others for several years now. That was until I went to Jiffy Lube recently, with a $7 off coupon, and still ended up paying $38 for a basic oil change. There's no excuse for that.

Now, it is possible (easy, really) to find oil changes for less than what I paid, but even at $20-25, you can still save money. Plus, you have the added benefit of familiarizing yourself with your vehicle, being certain you're getting quality oil and filters and doing it on your schedule.

So, what's involved? Every make and model's going to have its own specifics, so do a bit of research or purchase the Haynes manual for your car. Your owner's manual should help you identify the recommended type of oil, the capacity of your engine and the location of the oil filer. Beyond that, these basics will get most of the way there:

First, you'll need jack stands or ramps ($20-60). You may be fortunate enough to have enough ground clearance (the distance between the pavement and the bottom of your car) that you don't need them, but chances are good that you will. To use jack stands, you raise up one corner of your car with the factory-issued emergency jack, slide the jack stand under a solid frame point, adjust to height and lower the car onto it. Repeat on other side if needed. Ramps are quicker and fairly self-explanatory, but I'd recommend using them with a second person acting as a spotter. Chocks to keep the grounded wheels from rolling are a good idea, too, though wood blocks or other things can work as well.

Second, you'll need oil and an oil filter. The oil cap on your engine should indicate the type of oil you need and your owner's manual will tell you how many quarts. Auto parts stores often have deals on 5 quarts and a filter for $13-15. They'll also have books (and employees) that can help you identify compatible oil filters.

Third, take your oil filter and look at the oil filter wrenches ($5-10). Find a universal one that fits it or, even better, find a wrench specific to your filter size that can be used on a socket wrench (if you have one). In a pinch, you can simply take a screwdriver, punch a hole in the old oil filter and screw it off, but that's pretty messy. Ideally, the filter should only be hand-tightened on, so it shouldn't be too hard to get it off, but it often is.

Fourth, get a drain pan ($10). There are a variety of them that can capture your old oil then store it until you take it for recycling (at the same place you bought the oil--Autozone, Murray's, etc.). Be warned, however, that nearly all of them leak. So store it laying down, not standing up.

Fifth, figure out the size of the oil drain plug (the bolt on the bottom of your engine where the old oil is drained) and get a wrench to fit or a socket to go on your socket wrench if you don't already have one. My Honda's was a 17mm. I had 15 and 19mm but had to go pick up the proper one. This shouldn't cost more than $3 or so.

Lastly, be sure to have some rags on hand to wipe up spills. Work gloves and a flashlight can be useful, as well. And a funnel can be handy but isn't necessary if you're careful pouring the oil in.

The first time you change your oil may be a bit daunting and take longer than expected. Once you get the hang of it, it shouldn't be hard to knock it out in 15-20 minutes. And, once you make your initial investment in a few tools, you'll be saving anywhere from $5-25 with every change. Nice, eh? You'll probably find that changing your own air filter is simple, too, and costs about a third of what others would charge you.

One other way to save money is by changing your oil every 5,000 miles rather than every 3,000. Most modern cars don't need the oil changed as often as the Jiffy-Quickie-Speedy folks say. It's simply a money maker for them.

WARNING: While changing your oil is very simple, if not done right, it can be dangerous. I've given you the tools and, hopefully, the motivation to do it. I'm not walking you through the specific steps, however. Be sure to research the process for your vehicle or find someone knowledgeable to walk you through it. Once you have it down, I suspect you'll enjoy the feeling of accomplishment. Be safe and enjoy it!

1 comment:

Patty said...

The air filter is very easy to change. I've been changing mine for years, not willing to pay $20 for a $4 filter!