The American drive-through mentality is a boon to the quick-lube industry. After all, we can sometimes get our fast-food fix and car's oil changed during our lunch hour. Convenience comes at a price, though.
Most people don't realize that they can often change their own oil faster than the quick-lube places. In populous locations, prime-time turnaround seems to be about 45 minutes. Granted, this includes other services such as tire-pressure check and squirter-reservoir top-off, but many do-it-yourselfers would rather save a little time and money-and have the satisfaction of knowing that everything is done to their liking.
As far as most people know, motor oil is motor oil. But, this isn't necessarily so. Just as different brands of gasoline have different chemical blends, "additive packages" in oil varies among manufacturers. One petroleum engineer told us that the average motorist can cut to the chase simply by picking one brand of oil and sticking with it.
Consult your owner's manual for recommended viscosity. This can vary by region. Heavier-weight oil provides great lubrication in warm weather, but it can thicken and make the vehicle difficult to start in the cold. Also, synthetic oils have generally proven themselves to offer superior performance over a longer period than "standard" fossil-based oil. However, this improved performance comes at a higher cost.
Regardless of oil style and viscosity, realize that this fluid serves two functions: lubricating and cleaning. Engine sludge is typically transported in the oil, then trapped in the filter-similar to how our kidneys clean our blood. The gist is that regular oil changes are the best way to increase an engine's life. Because the filter traps grit and also retains some oil, it should always be replaced when the oil is changed.
Consult your owner's manual for recommended oil-change intervals. Newer cars alert the driver when the oil needs to be changed, and the quick-lube industry has done an excellent job of promoting 3 months or 3,000 miles-whichever comes first-as a safe interval. For the do-it-yourselfer, an easy way to remember the 3,000-mile window is to change oil every time the odometer hits 3300, 6600 and 0000.
Auto parts stores are one-stop shopping for oil-change components. Oil is often cheaper by the case, plus consider buying multiple filters so you won't have to return to the parts store before your next oil change. You'll also need a filter wrench and a receptacle for the old oil. Other parts to consider are a magnetic drain plug or magnetic product that mounts to the oil filter. These will help trap the metal particles that result from normal engine wear and tear.
First, run the engine to operating temperature. Then lift and secure the vehicle using a jack and jackstands or ramps, apply the emergency brake and block the rear wheels with chocks. Place the drain pan under the oil pan and slowly remove the drain plug, being careful not to contact the hot oil. The longer you can let the oil drain and drip, the better. Inspect the drain plug for flaws, then reinstall it, taking care to not over-tighten the plug and strip the pan's threads. Wipe up any old oil from the plug and its surroundings.
Move the drain pan under the oil filter. Using a wrench, break the filter loose then spin it off by hand. Wear gloves, particularly if the filter it still hot. Don't be afraid to get aggressive with a filter that won't budge-after all, it's going to go bye-bye. Puncture, pry and/or "persuade" the filter as necessary, being conscientious of the mounting stud and other neighboring parts.
Prepare the new filter by coating its gasket with fresh oil. If the filter mounts somewhat vertically, pour some new oil into it to make the next engine startup less dry. Wipe the filter-mounting stud and area with a non-shedding rag or paper towel and install the new filter by hand, tightening it per its instructions (usually about 3/4 of a turn after the gasket contacts the mounting area).
Next, fill the crankcase with oil, following the owner's manual's recommendations. Using a funnel will minimize the chance of spilling. Check underneath for leaks. If leak-free, lower the vehicle and start it. Any oil-problem indicator lights should go off shortly after starting the car. Finally, check the oil level with the dipstick. Recycle used oil and filters at an approved facility.
Aside from usually saving time and money, changing your own oil often helps you recognize other potential problems (such as fluid leaks) before they become crises. Changing oil isn't always pretty, but it's usually pretty easy.