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Subject:  Re: Oil Change Date:  12/16/2001  2:11 AM
Author:  hlupak Number:  32 of 47

I just bought my first car this year, and I'm learning about car care. My first project is to learn how to change the oil myself. I'd appreciate any advice.

Oil changing is pretty easy to do, but requires some preparation. First, if you're completely new to auto maintenance I'd recommend getting an introductory book - I'd imagine the "Dummies" series probably has a car care one published. Also useful is a tune-up manual for your specific make of car, which can usually be found at auto parts stores. Familiarize yourself with the basic parts of the engine, particularly the oil pan (and drain), oil filler cap, and oil filter.

First of all, in order for you to slide underneath you're going to have to get the car up off the ground - and more importantly, keep it safely up there while you're working. The easiest way to cover both bases is to buy a pair of metal ramps that you can drive the front wheels onto. Alternately, you can buy a pair of jackstands - these are like little adjustable metal tripods that support the car safely.

I can't stress personal safety enough when lifting a car. DO NOT rely solely on the jack to hold the car up - it's too wobbly. DO NOT use blocks of wood, spare tires, or anything else in place of good quality jackstands. If using jackstands, MAKE SURE that they're resting squarely on the ground and that the car is resting solidly on them - read the owner's manual to find the best place under the car to position jackstands. And finally, whether using jackstands or ramps MAKE SURE the car won't move - put it in park/in gear, put the parking brake on, and put blocks of wood behind the rear tires to ensure it doesn't roll away on you.

Okay, you'll need some tools as well. A good set of wrenches and/or sockets is necessary - and depending on where your car is made you may need Metric ones. You'll also need to buy an oil filter wrench - there's really no substitute for one (but I don't think they're that expensive). You'll need something to catch the old oil as it's drained - you could use a big bowl but you're much better off buying a purpose-built oil collector - the best of these double as carrying containers so you can easily take the old oil to be recycled. A big funnel, for pouring new oil into the engine, may also be necessary if your oil filler cap is in a weird spot. And if you plan on doing this a lot and want to be comfortable in the process, a 'creeper' is nice to have - these are the little wheeled things that mechanics lie on to roll under cars.

Now, supplies. First, obviously, is oil. Check your owner's manual to see what weight of oil they recommend - using other weights may void your warranty. And also check to see how many quarts/litres you need. As for the brand of oil, it probably doesn't matter all that much. Second, you need an oil filter. The simplest thing to do is to march into the auto parts store and announce, "I need an oil filter for a 19XX <insert car model> with a X.X litre engine".

Alright, so let's say you've bought everything you need and the car is safely up in the air. Here's another safety tip: DON'T BURN YOURSELF! Engine parts, and engine oil, get incredibly hot even after just a few minutes of running. So be careful!

So, once you're under the car, put the oil collector in place under the drain. Remove the oil drain plug with the appropriate wrench, and let all the oil drain out. Clean off the plug with a rag. Then put the plug back in. Simple, eh? Well, here are a couple of pointers. Make sure you don't cross-thread the plug - if it's not going in easily, something's wrong. And second, don't tighten it too much, or you'll strip the threads. Just make sure it's good and snug. Wipe any oil off of the oil pan while you're down there to prevent drips - and also make it easier to see if anything's leaking.

Now, put the oil collector under the oil filter and remove it with the oil-filter wrench. The filter's full of oil, so make sure you dump it out into the collector. Wipe any old oil off the spot where the filter was with a clean rag. Next, open one of the new jugs of oil, stick your finger in, and coat the rubber gasket on the new oil filter with a film of oil. Then put the new filter on. Hints: Don't put the filter on with the oil-filter wrench - it's unnecessary, hand power is fine. And don't tighten it too much - once the rubber gasket touches the engine, tighten it another full turn maximum.

That's all you should need to do under the car. Now, find the oil filler cap - and double-check that it is in fact the oil filler cap - pouring oil into the radiator or power steering pump is really bad news. Remove the cap and pour in the oil. When it's all in, start the car and let it idle. Look underneath to be sure that the oil drain plug and oil filter aren't leaking - if so, shut the car off, tighten a little, and start the engine again. After it's run for a half-minute or so, shut it off and check the oil. If the oil level's fine you're done! Lower the car and you're off!

It's a good idea to keep a log of all servicing that you do yourself, both for warranty purposes and to prove to prospective buyers that you really did maintain the car at recommended intervals. Keep the receipts as added proof.

Happy motoring,
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