Weekend Money Tip: How to change your own oil (seriously, if I did it, so can you!)

how-toOn Fridays, I share tips I actually use to save my family money, along with my once-a-month grocery update. The posts will give you ideas to work on saving money over the weekend.

I want to reiterate here that the amount of frugality you want to incorporate into your life is an individual decision. Your time is valuable and there is a balance between the amount of time it takes to save money and the actual money saved. Just take away what works for you, and leave the rest (or share it with someone who may use it!).

Changing the oil in our vehicles is one of the ways my husband has been saving us money for years. The estimated savings on each oil change is approximately $30, depending on the price of our supplies (we stock up on sales!) and how much the service shop charges.oil change 10 revused

Now this post is a little different. I really wanted to share with readers how to save money on this task, but since I had never, ever changed the oil in any vehicle in my life, I was at a loss. So, I nagged kindly asked my husband to share, step-by-step, how to change oil. To test out the viability of his instructions, I used his tutorial to do my very first oil change (with the pictures to prove it).

How to Change the Oil in Your Vehicle

1. Buy the oil and filter.

“What kind of oil and filter?” I ask.

Look in owner’s manual for the weight of oil needed and the capacity of your engine (you can also find the weight on the filler cap).

“What if you don’t know where the oil filler cap is?”

It’s usually a black plug with an icon of an oil can on it and says “oil”.

“What type of oil do you use?”

I recommend using full synthetic oil (or at least a synthetic blend) because it doesn’t break down as easily, protects your motor, and lasts longer.

“What filter do you buy and where do you buy it?”

Your car owner’s manual should tell you original equipment filter number, but most places that sell oil filters will have an online cross reference catalog that will tell you similar after-market models that will fit your vehicle.

If your vehicle is still under the manufacturer’s warranty, it is recommended to use an OEM  (original equipment manufacturer) filter. Many manufacturers are now using crush rings on their oil drain plugs and recommend replacing them at each oil change. If your vehicle requires a crush ring, purchase it when buying your oil filter.

Auto parts stores, Walmart, and some home improvement stores will carry both the oil and the filters. (We have purchased most of our filters from Amazon).

2. Prepare to change your oil

oil change 2
Oil catch pan and funnel
  1. If your car is cold, back it out and let it run for a couple of minutes, but don’t let it get too hot.
  2. Get your ramps out, if they are needed, to allow you to get underneath vehicle.
  3. Pull car up onto ramps.
  4. Set the parking brake.
  5. Get oil catch pan out to drain used oil into.
  6. Fetch your oil filter wrench, wrench for oil drain plug, new filter (and crush ring) and new oil.
  7. Open the hood of your vehicle.

    oil change 1 (2)

3. Now, loosen the dipstick a little bit to allow oil to flow easily out into drain pan.

4. Position drain pan under drain pan plug.

I ask, “What if you don’t know where that is? Is it obvious?” (He’s frustrated with me at this point because I do not know what an oil pan is and I ask a lot of questions 😉 )

It’ll be at the lowest point on the oil pan with a large bolt.  The oil pan is under the car and the drain pan plug is a large bolt. Here’s a picture for you (it’s hard to take pics under the car):oil change 3

5. Use a wrench to loosen the drain pan plug and drain the oil into the catch pan.oil change 4

I ask, “Does it come flying out, like getting all over me?” (Not that I mind getting a little dirty, but this is oil we’re talking about.)

The oil will come out in a steady stream, but won’t spray.

6. Once the stream slows down to a drop every few seconds, put the drain pan plug back in (If you are working on a vehicle that needs a new crush ring, replace that prior to putting the drain pan plug back in).

oil change 5
Replacing the crush ring

“How do you replace the crush ring?” I ask.

It’s like a washer on a bolt, you take the old one off and put the new one on the bolt (or drain pan plug) – this helps seal the drain plug, so if you don’t replace them they could leak.

7. Remove the old filter with your oil filter wrench.

oil change 7 revised
Oil filter wrench

“How exactly do you do that?”

Typically you put the filter wrench around the outside casing of the filter and turn the wrench in a counter-clockwise direction. Have your drain pan handy, because when you take the filter off, there will be some oil draining out.

(I found this step to be most challenging – that oil filter wrench doesn’t work like a normal wrench and has a learning curve to it.)

8. Get out your new filter, but before you put on the new filter, put a little bit of the new oil in the new filter.

oil change 8 revised
Pour a little new oil into the new oil filter

Pour some new oil into the center hole of the oil filter. This will help minimize the amount of time it takes for oil to flow out of the oil filter and into your engine when you first start it up after the oil change. Use some of the new oil to put a thin film of oil on the rubber gasket.

9. Install the new filter.

Don’t use the oil filter wrench to install the new filter, just use your hands to put it in place and turn it clockwise as tight as you can get it. (If you are having trouble getting it tight, use some rubber gloves or a towel to get better grip because the oil can cause it to be slippery.)

10. Fill ‘er upoil change 10 revused

Remove the oil filler cap under the hood. Place a funnel in the filler hole and pour the amount the manufacturer listed as the capacity into the filler hole*. Replace filler cap and push the dipstick back down.

*Keep the oil bottles to put used oil in. Generally the used oil and filter can be returned to the retailer you purchased the oil from, but if not, go to earth911.com to find a local recycler.

11. Start your engine and let it run for about 30 seconds and back off the ramp (don’t forget to release the parking brake!).

oil change 11 revised
Check oil level on dipstick

12. Check the oil level to make sure your oil levels are in the normal range on the dipstick (add more if too low, carefully drain a little if it’s too high).

Note: It’s also a good idea to check for leaks on the oil filter and plug (we put cardboard under the car for the first day to make sure there are no leaks).

13. Record the date and mileage, type/brand of filter and oil into your maintenance log.

oil change 12 revised
Record info in your maintenance log

This is important for knowing when you need to change your oil next (we also put a little sticker in the windshield as a reminder), but it also provides the manufacturer and/or future owners with proof you’ve performed necessary service to the vehicle. Save your receipts for the oil and filter.


Cost Comparison: Total cost of oil, filter and crush ring on our Hyundai Sonata is generally around $20-25 (but sometimes less – we stock up on the synthetic oil when it’s on sale). The service department at our Hyundai dealer runs oil change specials (for full synthetic oil) at 3 oil changes/$160, coming out to about $53 each. Therefore we save about $30 on each oil change. After some practice, changing the oil takes around 30 minutes total (just as quick or quicker than going to a service station!)

I would encourage you to run your own numbers before diving in, but typically, if you buy supplies on sale, it will be cheaper to DIY your oil changes.

There you have it. Believe me, if I can do it, you can to! Let me know if you try changing your oil for the first time.

List of Supplies:

  • Oil
  • Oil Filter (and maybe crush ring, depending on vehicle)
  • Wrench for oil pan plug (bolt)
  • Oil Filter wrench
  • Catch pan (for used oil)
  • Funnel

Do you change your own oil? Did we miss any important information? Would you be willing to give this a go to save some $$$?

For those of you not at all interested in changing your own oil, but still stuck around and read this post – THANKS!

16 thoughts on “Weekend Money Tip: How to change your own oil (seriously, if I did it, so can you!)

  1. I do. This is something my dad showed me when I purchased my first car. It was something he had always do and passed on to me and my siblings. It’s pretty easy to do as long as you have the right tools.

    1. Yes, my husband taught my son to change his own oil as soon as he started driving. I’m all about adding new skills, so I was happy to learn how to do it. It’s much easier than I thought and I was pleased I didn’t mess anything up!

  2. Nice work! I’ve never changed my own oil before. My excuse has been it is better to leave it to the pros because a small mistake could result in big problems for me down the road. Maybe that isn’t entirely true though as long as I have someone who knows what they’re doing teach me. Thanks for the tutorial, I now have a little more confidence to do this on my own!

    1. I have confidence you can do it! Honestly after doing it once, I’m certain I could do it again – it’s not nearly as involved as I thought it would be. I do think it helps if someone who knows what they are doing is standing by the first time you try it, but you would probably know pretty quickly if you messed up!

  3. Wow, this post takes me way back! As a teenager and all the way through undergrad, I dutifully changed my own oil. We had the ramps, the oil filter wrench, everything…

    At some point, I suppose it was when I got my first apartment and “real” job after college, I started taking it to the local Jiffy Lube to have it done. Too inconvenient to do it yourself in an apartment parking lot.

    Now that I’m back in a single-family home, it never occurred to me to start changing my own oil again. I’ll have to think about whether it is worth the investment in ramps and time to pick up the habit again. Now that I am writing a blog on top of work and everything else, my spare time is at a premium!

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. I’m glad I help stir up some memories (good? bad?), Jon! I understand the lack of spare time! Sometimes you have to do what is best for your own sanity, even if it means giving up a little savings. The ramps can be expensive, but I picked some up for $5 at a garage sale, so used may be the best option here (think Craigslist). There is a slight investment initially, which is something to figure in to savings.

  4. My husband does a lot of the maintenance on our cars. A lot of times he’ll use a coupon to get the oil changed at an oil-change place because it costs about the same, particularly once you’ve disposed of the oil properly. But he also likes to play with the blends to tweak gas mileage.
    Cool that you got your husband to show you how to do it. I’d love to get Jon to show me and Little Bit once she gets a little older.

    1. Yep, the coupons can make it cheap enough to justify taking it to the service shop sometimes. We take our used oil and filter to Walmart and they dispose of it for free.

      If you’re interested, you should have your husband show you. I actually enjoyed learning and he taught me some other stuff, like how to change the air filter and check the brake fluid and coolant, so I learned a lot in a short amount of time.

  5. This is such a great post! I love DIY and learning how things work.
    We get our oil changed at the local Big O with a coupon for $20, which is hard to beat since it includes disposal of the old oil and we don’t have the ramps or other tools. One other pro of this is that they inspect the rest of the vehicle while we’re there and have let us know about necessary repairs that we didn’t notice.
    On the other hand, they often make unnecessary repairs sound necessary, so it’s important to take all their advice with a grain of salt and get a second, more trusted, opinion.

    1. Ahhh, thanks, Julie! Me too – love to learn to DIY anything and everything.

      $20 for an oil change is really, really cheap! We have a Big O around here, so I will check into that (my guess is they will charge more for the synthetic oil, but if not, I’m on board!). Yeah, you never know if they are just trying to make a few extra bucks on the extra repairs or not – a second opinion is a good idea, for sure.

  6. I am totally sexist and get my husband/brother/dad/any random guy walking past to help me do this, ha! You look lovely by the way!

    1. Thank you, Francesca! Hey, if you have those guys around to help and you have no desire to do it yourself, by all means, enlist their assistance! 😉

  7. I love this little frugal tips! they all add up to save big dollars over the course of a year.

    p.s I love your photo! it looks like you are so proud of yourself 😀

    1. Thank you! All the little things do add up to pretty big savings! And, yes – I was so totally proud of myself…I honestly couldn’t believe I actually did it and did it right! 🙂

    1. Thanks Stefan! I’m sure your girlfriend will appreciate the instructions! 😉

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