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Should You Change Your Own Oil?

Changing your own oil is a simple process that can save you money. Learn the basics and find out whether or not it's worth it for you.

change your own oil

If you drive a car, you probably also know that you need to change the oil every so often to keep things running smoothly. And as we discussed in this story, proper car maintenance begins with oil checks – give it a read for tips on when to know if it’s time for an oil change.

But how often should you be changing your oil? Is it something you can do yourself or do you need to pay someone else to do it? And what kind of oil and filter should you use? Here are the answers to these common questions.

How often should the oil be changed?

At one time, the hard-and-fast rule for oil changes was that you should change your oil every 3,000 miles or every three months. Although some people still adhere to this schedule, it’s really not necessary to change your oil that frequently. Engines and oil have advanced over the years, and many car makers recommend waiting 5,000 to 10,000 miles, or six to 12 months, between oil changes. Consult your owner’s manual for guidance.

Holding off on oil changes can add up to a nice yearly savings. If you drive 15,000 miles per year, for example, and follow the old adage of changing your oil every 3,000 miles, you’re looking at five oil changes a year. If you’re paying the average cost of $40 for an oil change (using conventional oil) at a garage, that’s $200 a year. However, if you drive 7,500 miles before changing the oil, that’s only two oil changes a year, costing you $80.

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If you don’t drive very much or only for short distances, you might think you don’t need to worry about regular oil changes. Unfortunately, it’s actually the opposite case. If you don’t drive on a regular basis, or if you go only a few miles at a time, the oil in your engine doesn’t heat up enough to efficiently burn off moisture. You’ll need to change it before you hit the mileage suggested between changes. For example, if your owner’s manual says you should change your oil every 8,000 miles, consider getting it done at 6,000 miles instead.

change your oil

Should you change your own oil?

Another way to lower the cost of an oil change is to do it yourself. Changing the oil is one of the more basic, and easiest, automobile maintenance tasks. After you’ve done it a few times, you’ll not only save money on each change – you’ll also save time waiting for your car to be done at the shop.

To change your car’s oil, you’ll need the following equipment:

• A wrench to remove the drain plug (consult your owner’s manual for what kind/size wrench).

• An oil filter wrench.

• An oil pan.

• A funnel.

• Latex gloves.

• Optional: Jack or ramps, depending on whether you can get under your car without them.

• Oil.

• Oil filter.

• Replacement plug.

The basic procedure for changing your oil is as follows:

1. Locate the oil filter and drain plug (consult your owner’s manual).

2. Wearing the latex gloves, drain the oil into the pan.

3. Tighten the drain plug.

4. Change the oil filter.

5. Add the clean oil, checking the level until you have added the correct amount.

Once you’ve added the oil, check the the level with the dipstick. You might notice the oil you’re adding isn’t dark like what’s on the dipstick, but instead more of an amber color. That could make you think your oil is dirty and should be changed immediately. Oil turns dark pretty quickly so the color isn’t a great indicator of its cleanliness. Sticking with the manufacturer’s recommended intervals for oil changes is the best way to be sure your oil is clean and doing its job.

By doing this task yourself, you’ll save between $25 and $75 per oil change, depending on the type of oil and filter you use.

Which kind of oil and filter should I use?

At first glance, synthetic oil would seem to be the no-brainer choice because it lasts significantly longer than conventional oil. However, many vehicles do not require expensive synthetic oil – check the owner’s manual or inside the oil cap on newer model cars to see the recommended oil weight. If you tend to drive short distances, really push your vehicle (such as pulling a trailer) or live in an extreme climate, then synthetic would be the better choice to extend the life of your motor.

When choosing an oil filter, select one that is rated for the mileage interval you are following between oil changes. In other words, don’t use a cheap filter with expensive synthetic oil – the filter won’t last, and you will have wasted money using the higher-end oil. The cost difference between an economy filter and a better-quality one isn’t great, so it is worth spending a little more to get a filter that will last. Consult with the clerk at the auto parts store, or check the filter manufacturer’s website for more detail about which filters will last longer, particularly if you’re aiming to go longer between oil changes.

Have more questions about how to change your own oil? Ask the Car Doctor

And if you’re still not comfortable with the idea of changing your own oil and would rather a professional do the job, click here to find a AAA Approved Auto Repair Facility near you. 

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