How to Change Your Oil

Although there are a lot of very inexpensive places to get your oil changed in Orange County, some simply prefer to do it themselves either for personal satisfaction, or peace-of-mind, knowing that it is done right. Contrary to what you may believe, changing your oil is not nearly as difficult as you might expect, but it is important to do each step thoroughly; there is no room for short cuts, when it comes to the health of your vehicle.

How Much Oil do You Need?

If you have your owner’s manual handy, you will be able to find out if your vehicle has any special oil requirements, as well as how much oil you need.

If your vehicle requires an odd amount of oil, like 5.7 quarts, you will need to buy 6 quarts, and just save the rest for next time. Always double-check the oil’s viscosity. When in doubt, ask someone at the automotive supply store. They will be able to look up what you need, and make sure that you buy the proper oil and supplies.

As a special note, when purchasing a drain pan, you may want to look for one with a pour spout and screw lid, as this will make transporting and recycling easier.

Gather Your Supplies

The last thing you want to do is start your first oil change only to discover that you don’t have everything you need. Plus, if you have already drained your oil, you won’t be able to drive to the store to pick up anything you are missing, unless you happen to have an extra vehicle.

You will need oil, oil filter, wrench to remove drain plug, oil drain pan, oil filter wrench, funnel, jack and ramps or jack stands, latex gloves and possibly a replacement drain plug washer.

Warm Up the Vehicle

If you just drove to the store, your engine and oil will already be warm. Otherwise, you need to let the vehicle run a bit. Don’t immediately start the second you turn the engine off; allow it to cool so it is not too hot. You just never want to try to change your oil when it is cold.

Prep the Vehicle

If you need to raise the vehicle with a jack or ramps to get under it, do so now. If you have a vehicle with a high ground clearance, this may not be necessary. If your vehicle has an undercover, which many newer models do, you will need to remove this now. Some have simple twist-release clips and others have built-in hatches.

You should also open the vehicle’s hood before you start draining the oil, and open the oil filter cap. The air circulating will help the oil drain easier.

Draining the Oil

You need to locate the drain plug, which is generally easy to do as it is typically near the back of the engine. Place the drip pan under the plug, and make sure you are wearing gloves because as soon as you unplug, things can get a little messy.

All you will generally need to open the plug is a wrench and a little elbow grease. Keep your hands out of the line of fire. Keep in mind that it will be warm, if not a little on the hot side, so you don’t want it running down your arm.

Examine the Drain Plug

While the oil is draining, you will need to clean the plug. It is a good idea to have a spare plug and washer on hand, just in case the one you have needs replacing. If the washer needs replacing, make sure the old one is removed. Sometimes they stick to the engine’s oil pan, so if you add a second one, you could end up with a leak. When the oil is drained, you will replace the plug and washer and secure tightly. It needs to be secure, but be careful not to strip it.

Drain the Filter

In most vehicles, the oil filter is across from the drain plug, which means you will need to slide the oil drain pan over to catch the oil that will leak when you remove the filter. Hold the filter over the pan until it is done draining, and then use rags to clean it. Dab a bit of oil on the O-ring before replacing. This is very important if you are putting in a new filter; it will help achieve a better seal.

Fill the Oil

Place a funnel or a plastic water bottle with the end cut off in the oil hole. This will help ensure you don’t spill or splash oil all over the engine. Once you add the proper amount of oil, replace the cap and wipe up any spills.

Start the engine and check for any leaks under the vehicle. If you are satisfied that everything is fine, remove the ramps or jacks and check the oil level now that your vehicle is level.


The oil you drained from your vehicle cannot be simply thrown away. There are plenty of places in Southern California that will recycle the oil for you. If you have curbside recycling, they may offer special pickup days for hazardous waste a couple times a year as well. Always make sure the oil is in a seal tight container and labeled as old oil.