Last updated: August 2023
Ask almost any mechanic and they’ll tell you oil changes are important. Even so, you don’t have to spend dozens of dollars to get your oil changed every few thousand miles. You can do it at home! We’re showing how to change your own oil in four easy steps, and we’re explaining why regular oil changes matter so much.
How to Change Your Own Oil in 4 Steps
Conducting an oil change is as easy as 1, 2, 3, 4.
Step 1: Pull the drain plug and drain the old oil.
Step 2: Remove the old filter.
Step 3: Install a new filter and replace the drain plug.
Step 4: Add the new oil.
Why are oil changes important?
Experts tell you to change your oil regularly, but why do oil changes matter so much? Here are three reasons.
They help you avoid engine damaging sludge build-up.
Regular oil changes can help keep damaging sludge from piling up in your engine. As oil ages, it absorbs water, dust, and dirt particles to help protect your engine. That’s a good thing! Eventually, though, the oil breaks down and can become so full of gunk that it can’t absorb any more. When oil becomes the consistency of “sludge,” it can cause corrosion and decrease the life of your engine, warns Meineke®.
They help you maximize your gas mileage.
Clean oil lubricates the parts in your engine, helping it to run smoother and more efficiently. The dirtier your oil is, the harder your engine must work and the more fuel it must consume to get you where you want to be. Older, thicker oil is abrasive (it’s filled with dirt and junk, remember?) and could reduce the overall fuel efficiency of your car. Eventually, the oil filter may clog completely. With the right kind of oil and regular oil changes, though, you could actually improve your gas mileage by 1% to 2% reports the U.S. Department of Energy!
They keep things running in cold temperatures.
Weather is another factor that affects the thickness of your oil. Think about how hot maple syrup pours quickly, while cold maple syrup flows slowly. The thickness of motor oil, like maple syrup, changes depending on the temperature too. When your motor oil thickens, it could keep your engine from starting in cold weather as the ooey-gooey oil “challenges your battery and starter motor to spin the engine fast enough for it to fire,” writes Machinery Lubrication. By getting clean oil and a fresh filter before winter hits, your car could be better equipped to handle the strain of freezing temperatures.
How often should you change your oil?
Different vehicles have different oil change intervals. Most auto shops will recommend driving between 3,000 to 8,000 miles before getting an oil change. But be sure to check your vehicle’s recommended maintenance schedule.
When it’s time to change your oil, your car will probably let you know. Some vehicles come with a maintenance reminder that will light up on the dashboard when it’s time for an oil change. Occasionally, you may see an oil level warning light. That means you should get an oil change ASAP—at home or at a local auto shop!
In rare circumstances, your engine may start making strange noises, like ticking or knocking. In this case, to avoid serious engine damage, head straight to an auto shop near you.
How to Check Your Car’s Oil
The best way to know if you need your oil changed is to check it! Don’t wait for a dashboard light or engine noise. In fact, Consumer Reports recommends checking your oil level at every gas fill-up. The process is relatively simple and shouldn’t take longer than 10 minutes from start to finish.
1. Park on level ground. With the engine off, open the hood.
2. Locate the dipstick.
3. Pull out the dipstick or unscrew it with a paper towel in your other hand.
4. Wipe oil from the end of the stick.
5. Reinsert the dipstick all the way.
6. Pull out the dipstick and look at the tip.
7. Examine where the oil is to determine your oil level.
If your oil looks odd or is at the wrong level, it’s time to address the issue.