Cars require maintenance especially older ones. The key to a good and healthy life of a car you own is keeping it well maintained. By “maintained” I mean everything from cleaning its interior and exterior to treating its mechanical core nicely. People usually do a lot of things for their cars apart from taking care of engine or suspension issues. This is what mechanics are for, right? Well, in recent days, more and more people try to learn how to change their car’s oil filter, for example. Why? Because it is a simple enough procedure that couldn’t damage anything seriously if you go wrong somewhere. It also saves you a lot in terms of money as it is something done on a yearly basis.
Oil change consists of removing the old oil, removing the old oil filter, and adding both new oil and a new oil filter to your car’s engine. First, you need to drain the old oil into an oil pan or bucket by removing the drain plug at the bottom of your engine. The oil filter is removed after all the oil is gone. Once you have the new filter in and the drain plug is put back inside you can pour the new oil specified by your car manufacturer.
One of the major features of any internal combustion engine is that it consists of various parts working together. Having a bunch of metal moving around in a confined space creates friction at the points of contact, though. This is why engineers have added an oiling system that lubricates the engine’s cylinder walls and other components where friction is an issue. With time the oil and its filter can degrade in quality leaving the engine’s parts grinding more and more to each other ultimately damaging the engine.
In this article I will walk you through the steps needed to change an oil filter (and the actual oil, of course). The process itself is very universal and whenever you feel like there is something brand-specific that is different about your car, just check your user’s manual. It stores all the information about your car’s components and their locations. Before we get started with the steps I have prepared for you, let’s go through some useful information regarding your car’s oil system.
How Do Oil Filters Work?
As simple as it may sound oil filters, well… filter oil. As I already pointed out, inside your engine metal components are non stop in contact with each other. This creates metal flakes which are taken and transported by the oil out of the engine. After your oil completes its thousands of passages through the oil circuit in the engine, it will start oxidizing due to these particles. Why are the particles staying in the oil? You guessed it right – the filter has also run its course and it’s time for a new one. This is why with new oil car mechanics always put a new filter into place.
Put into a single sentence, the oil filter’s main job is to filter out the particles your oil picks up from the engine’s parts.
What Could Go Wrong?
The issues when not changing your filter (and oil) come mainly from these rogue particles clogging up entrances in your engine. Some of the bearing clearances in your engine are almost as thin as human hair, so you can imagine it is pretty easy for a metal flake to get clogged in there.
It is important to know that not all filters are perfect. In fact, companies give you a percentage of a particle size fraction that their filter will be able to handle, meaning there will always be something that goes through it without filtering properly, there is simply no way around that.
When To Change The Oil Filter?
Oil filters have a very interesting mechanism that prevents them from clogging your oil system. All filters eventually reach their debris-filtering capacities and become useless. Once they do, the excess pressure in the oil system will open up a bypass valve and the oil will simply stop going through the filter. This sadly will allow the unfiltered oil to get back into your engine block where it will only cause further damage. The only way to prevent this is to change the oil filter regularly.
Every manufacturer has an interval they have pointed out for oil and oil filter change. You should stick to this interval but if the car is older than a few years you might want to make it 1 month shorter just in case.
Pro Tip: In general, automotive makers advice you to change oil every 10,000 miles. If you do not go through that much travelling per year, make the oil change yearly on a set month you’ve chosen (like in the beginning of summer every year). That way you will tie your pants and won’t have to think about your oil quality going bad.
Want to learn more about OBD scanners and see which are the leading models on today’s market? Check out this Buyer’s Guide on the topic.
Changing Your Oil Filter And Oil
Before you do this, you have to make sure that you are absolutely familiar with your car’s oil changing process. If something goes south in your garage, it will cost you way more to call a mechanic to fix the issue at your place. If you don’t feel confident, just go to a local mechanic and observe the procedure one time and even take notes if he allows you to. Next time, try changing it on your own following the steps you saw.
Now, let’s go through the things you will need before beginning this process:
- Engine oil – the proper amount and proper grade (see below for more information on that)
- Socket wrench
- Oil filter wrench
- A big funnel
- Gloves and goggles
- An oil pan or bucket to drain the old oil into
- Rags (a lot of them)
If you are not sure which oil is needed for your car, consult your owner’s manual or visit a website that lists this information. If you need a socket and oil filter wrenches, you can either buy them online or lend them from a local mechanic. There also are local shops that give tools to people for a small amount of money. My advice is – buy them. That is a long-term investment that will pay itself very fast.
Start your engine to warm the oil a bit. Warmer oil drains faster than cold one. Run the engine for a couple of minutes before starting the draining process. Don’t run your engine until it reaches optimal temperatures as the oil will be too hot to safely handle by then.
Drive your car up on ramps or find a garage with a tunnel below. You can drain the oil without being below your car but that is very hard and you risk spilling oil. If you do this in your garage careful not to stain it a lot, as oil is hard to clean.
Pull the handbrake and turn off the engine, put your gloves and safety goggles. Now you are ready for step number 2.
Find the drain plug of your engine’s oil. If you can’t, consult the internet or your owner’s manual. Once you do, place the oil pan or bucket beneath it and unplug it. Typically cars have around 5-7 liters of oil in them, depending on the size of the engine. Some bigger 6, 8 or 10 cylinder engines have up to 10 liters.
Once unplugged, the oil will flow at an angle, not straight down so you should keep it in mind when positioning your pan or bucket. The easiest way to loosen up the plug is with a socket wrench. Once its loose, finish the job with your hand. Once again, be careful as oil can be hot. Push the plug inside until you fully unscrew it so that oil doesn’t get all over your hand.
Pro Tip: Remove the filler cap of your engine to allow air to go into the oil system. That will help with drainage.
Once all the oil is drained, put the plug back in by hand and securely tighten it up with the socket wrench. Never overtighten the plug.
Remove the filter. Even if all the oil has been drained, the filter can still contain some hot oil, so be careful. Remove it with an oil filter wrench and clean the mounting surface with a rag. Careful not to leave the gasket from the old filter inside the mounting spot.
Once you’ve removed the old filter and cleaned the socket, lubricate the new one and screw it into place by hand. A good tip is to lubricate the rubber seal with some fresh oil before installing it. Usually new filters don’t need tightening but check your owner’s manual just in case.
This is the final step, hang on! It’s time to pour the new oil into the engine. Use a clean funnel for the process and pour the specified amount by your car’s manufacturer. Remember that there might still be some oil left which you didn’t drain so be careful to not overfill it.
Some mechanics like to replace the oil cap but that isn’t a necessary step.
Now it’s time to start your engine and look for any leaks or noises that might indicate an issue. After you let the engine run for some time, check around the new filter and the plug for oil stains. If there are no visible issues, turn off the engine and give it a few moments for the oil to go down.
Check the oil level by the oil stick (or by the car’s computer). Not all modern cars have oil dip sticks which makes this process a bit harder as computers aren’t always 100% accurate, but these cars can’t have their oil changed by someone in a garage anyway. They require computer work as well.
Take the dip stick out and wipe it clean. Then quickly insert it fully back in and take it out. Check the oil level compared to the indicators on the stick. It should have a “full” and “empty” mark on it. Make sure it is at or near the full mark.
After you are done, make sure you dispose of the old oil at an authorized drop-off center.
If you want to learn how to clean your car’s headlights and make them shine like new, check out my article on the topic.
Can I change oil without changing oil filter?
Practically you can, but in reality you should never do that. Assuming you changed the oil and filter at the same time last time, the filter will be no longer usable by the time you add new oil or if its still good it will last a couple of hundred more miles at the most. Then, the system will bypass it and cause all kinds of problems in your engine. Just think of the oil change and oil filter change as one single process instead of two individual ones.
Can you drive your car if it needs an oil change?
Yes, you can but I do not recommend doing it for too long. Of course, if you have to drive 200 miles to your home in order to change it, that won’t be fatal but don’t go around clocking a few more thousand miles on your car’s engine with the old oil and filter as this can cause further unwanted complications to your car and to your wallet.
Knowing how to change your car’s oil filter is a great thing that you can learn by reading about it both online and in your owner’s manual. If you love twitching things around your car, you will love doing this and in the long run, it will save you a lot of money which you can put into car upgrades!