5 Things to Know Before You Change Your Oil

Maintenance is the key to keeping your car at optimal performance and getting the most out of your expensive investment. One of the most critical pieces of car maintenance is a regular oil change. Seems simple enough, right?

Best of all, an oil change is something that you can learn to do yourself and avoid the wait at the oil change shop. You’ll not only extend your car’s lifespan by thousands of miles, but you’ll also save money. Before you get started, here are five tips to help you tackle this task on your own:

  1. Choose the right kind of oil filter. Don’t skimp. Not all oil filters are the same. Consult your owner’s manual for recommendations. If your vehicle manufacturer recommends extended oil change intervals, such as every 6,000 miles rather than every 3,000 miles, you’ll need to buy a filter designed to go the extra distance.
  2. Select a high-quality oil. Follow your auto manufacturer’s recommendations for oil viscosity. You’ll need to choose both the weight and kind of oil specific to your vehicle. Then choose the brand. There are several different brands of oil out there, so do your research. Compare reputation, cost, and extra features. For example, if your vehicle is over 100,000 miles, kick up the extra money for products designed for high-mileage vehicles. And instead of buying individual bottles to refill your engine, save a few bucks by opting for the big bulk containers.
  3. Plan proper disposal. Draining the existing oil from your car is the messiest part of the process. Stop by your auto parts store or some discount stores to pick up an oil pan. They’ll be near where the oil is sold. As you buy your pan, be conscious of disposal. You can’t just dump the oil down the drain or in your backyard. In some areas, doing so could mean a hefty fine for dumping chemicals. Check online to find a recycling center to dump the oil later. Some auto mechanic shops will even let you dispose of your oil for a fee.
  4. Wait for the optimal temperature. If the car engine is cold, start the car and let the engine run for about five minutes before changing the oil. If the engine is hot, wait at least 30 minutes before changing the oil so you won’t get burned by hot oil. If you rush in with an engine that is too hot or too cold, you risk inaccurate fluid readings and the possibility of overfilling–or underfilling–your engine.
  5. Use the right tool. Novices often make the mistake of using the wrong tool. Don’t grab that adjustable socket wrench for this job. It may open the drain plug on your oil reservoir, but you may never get it tightened up again. Invest in a metric, box-end wrench for the drain plug. Otherwise, you could strip the drain plug and be unable to drive the car until you replace it.

If you are totally unsure of what you’re doing during an oil change, let a trusted technician handle this task instead. On top of the oil change, you may score some extras, like getting all of your fluids topped off, a free oil filter, or an early warning from the lube technician of budding mechanical issues. Whether you do the work yourself or enlist a professional’s help, staying on top of your regular maintenance will keep your car working at its very best.