Changing your engine oil is an extremely important aspect to keeping your car running efficiently, and also maintaining the life of the car. It is a relatively inexpensive service and yet, many people let their cars run way too long between oil changes. I worked as a technician at a lube shop for three years, I saw firsthand the damage that is done when a car owner lets the maintenance go on their vehicle. An oil change is something that can easily be done at home with a few tools; however, when done incorrectly changing your own oil can have dire consequences. I have established a list of tips in order to help those do-it-yourselfers change their oil.
Don’t forget the oil filter: I cannot tell you how many times a car would come in with an oil filter dated from years prior (company policy made us write install dates on oil filters), the customer would swear up and down that they’ve been changing their oil consistently at home every 3,000 miles, but they’d been neglecting to change the filter. Running clean engine oil through a dirty filter makes dirty engine oil. If the filter is dirty or clogged, your oil becomes dirty and clogged. Grime in your engine is not a good thing, that’s why there is an oil filter, but if it’s dirty it’s not doing its job. Also, the gasket on the oil filter is not made to last years; it can deteriorate and cause an oil leak. If the gasket has been on for too long, good luck pulling the oil filter off with your hands, you’ll definitely be investing in a special tool to remove it, and if used wrong it will crush the filter making it near impossible to get off the spindle. Moral of the story: Don’t forget that oil filter!
Don’t forget gaskets: A simple mistake that technicians made regularly at the shop where I worked was forgetting to check for gaskets. Oil filter gaskets will sometimes stick to the spindle, after its unscrewed. The new gasket comes already attached to the new oil filter. If missed, screwing a new oil filter with a new gasket on top of an old gasket will cause a massive oil leak, it won’t hold pressure and usually the results are instant (oil spewing everywhere), which is easily correctable in a shop setting, because we are checking the oil pressure prior to letting the car leave the bay, but at home this may go unnoticed (you won’t make it very far though…). Lubing the gasket is also an important detail that is often missed, prior to installing the oil filter, run a finger full of oil around the gasket to ensure that it seals properly.
Oil filter gaskets are not the only gasket to watch for. The drain plug on some models of cars will have a gasket, it is highly recommended you replace the gasket with every oil change. Trying to reuse the little metal ring usually results in an oil leak. The metal becomes contorted from over tightening of the drain plug, and then won’t seal properly once removed and re installed. The shop I worked for required we replace any drain plug gasket, it just wasn’t worth the risk of a leak especially since the cost of the gaskets were so insignificant.
Don’t over tighten: Of course, plugs and filters need to be tight, but make an effort to not over tighten anything on your vehicle. The process of removed an over tightened anything can damage the vehicle. Often we’d get cars in where the owner could not remove their own drain plug after trying, but by the time they’d bring it to us the plug would be so stripped that it wasn’t possible to remove. We didn’t touch stripped plugs at all, the liability was too high. It was also not unusual to see an oil filter crushed from a do-it-yourselfer trying to remove it himself. Once the metal can is crushed, it’s very hard to remove because there is no way to get leverage around it.
Check manufacturer recommendations: Always check your manufacturer recommendations. This is simple, you shouldn’t guess how long your car can go between oil changes, you shouldn’t get the type and grade of oil it needs, and you shouldn’t guess how much oil goes into the car.
Synthetic oil is not a waste of money: If you can afford it, put it in your car. It’s cleaner and more efficient and you can usually go longer in between oil changes.
Make sure you don’t have a canister filter: Diesels and some European cars have what we would call an “upper bay filter,” which means the filter could not be reached from underneath the car. This also meant that usually, the oil filters were actually canister filters. To change a canister filter you need a special tool to remove the top, you then would slide the paper filter inside the assembly, install the lubed gasket yourself, and then reinstall the top. These filter’s can be a pain to remove, and can be hard to seal.
The final tip that I share with everyone is to know the value of their own time. If you are trying to save yourself fifteen bucks, but the process of changing your own oil is time consuming and stressful, the price you are saving may not be actually worth it. An oil change at a quick lube shouldn’t take more than thirty minutes (seven where I worked!). The process at home is much more time consuming because you have to lift the car, slide under the car, work under the car at a weird angle etc. At a lube shop, there are usually two-three people working at the same time, which makes for faster and more efficient changes. So know the value in your own time before starting on any project, oil change included.