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Cooley On Cars
Car Tech 101: How to change your oilCNET's Brian Cooley shows you how to change your motor oil, one of the last maintenance tasks you can still own.
Now, as you can see, we're gonna be using the old Country Squire as our oil change mule which you might say is a little outdated except it points up an interesting reality about oil changes. Doing them has not really changed since your old man was learning how to do so. It's still the same basic process. First of all, start off by idling your car from cold for a couple of minutes. No more than that or you're gonna get scalded. If the car has already been running, let it cool down a bit and then shut her down. Next, get your car up in the air, either on jack stands or, my preference, on ramps -- they're just easier -- or in a pinch, you can actually park diagonally across the curb and crawl in the gutter if it's dry. And don't forget to chock one of your back wheels. Okay. Now, your car is up on ramps, cooling off a little bit but staying warm. You get your stuff together. First and foremost, you need your oil, typically about 5 quarts. Your owner's manual in the maintenance section will tell you how much. We'll talk about grades and weights later when we actually fill the car. Next thing, make sure you get a funnel to pour it in with. If you don't have one of these, you're gonna make a mess all over the place when you're filling. A wrench to get the drain plug off the bottom of the pan, that's how the oil gets out of the car. And a filter wrench, this thing is what goes around the filter and takes it off. You don't use it to put the filter on; however, that brings us to the filter. Again, any name brand or one from the parts counter at your auto store. And you can change the oil without changing the filter? You can also take a shower without changing your underwear. I'll leave it at that. The oil goes into some kind of a catch container. You can use an open pan or one of these that seals up so it's easier to take it to the recycle place later and you have to do that. And finally, to keep yourself presentable after all this, a box of this nitrile gloves and a microfiber rag. You'll see why microfiber is important when we're busy filling up the car. Let's go. First thing you do is take the cap off the oil filler neck. It's gonna be a very obvious thing somewhere in the top center front of your engine. Put that away you don't lose it. You do this right off the bat because, otherwise, there could be a vacuum in the engine that prevents all the oil from draining out. And that's where we're going next, underneath the dirty party. Now, the first thing you want to identify is the crankcase, the pan underneath the engine here, to take off our drain bolts, but notice your car may have two like this one does because there's a valley in the pan to accommodate a crossmember and you gotta drain one at a time. I'm gonna start with the one on the back 'cause that's where the car is leaning. Here's the maxim about changing oil. No matter how long you leave this plug out, oil is gonna keep coming out. It's the dumbest thing. I don't get it. It's like going to the fountain at Lourdes. Now, some cars, they want you to use a new washer on this drain bolt. I'm pretty lazy. I normally don't and it seems to work just fine. Nice, clean, shiny drain bolt, that's what you wanna see. Now, carefully, you re-thread that drain plug back in. You don't want to cross thread or strip those threads. That's a real nightmare. Go ahead and snug it up. Don't go too far. You can easily strip these things. Snug is fine. Wipe away the excess oil so you can spot drips later. And now, I gotta go and do the front chamber. Okay. As we've emptied out our crankcase, we put both of our drain bolts back in and we cleaned up around them so we can spot leaks, but we're not done yet. We've gotta pull that filter off and it's got oil in it as well. Now, we're gonna use this filter wrench. This thing goes around the filter, grabs it, and unscrews it. You're gonna get the orientation right. I like these ones here that you attach your own ratchet to because it's a smaller apparatus to store. They're about third of the way down the body and then just turn this thing counterclockwise like anything else should loosen and it starts to come away from the block. Once you get it loose, pull the tool and you can do the rest by hand. Okay. Once you get this thing off, immediately tip it down into your pan here and drain it and just let everything sit there and do its nasty business. Now, right up here is where the filter attaches. You can see it's got this sort of threaded part in the middle and you wanna get that clean. Here's why I like microfiber rags because they don't leave big pieces of thread or lint in there that can cause the new filter to fail at the seal and you're ready for the new filter. Now, take your new filter, get some oil out of one of your new bottles, and smear it around this rubber seal right here. I've heard two stories about that. One is that makes it seal better when you put it on. The other is it makes it come off better when you do your next oil change. Whichever is true, just do it, it costs nothing. Let's put this guy on it. Don't bump it into anything dirty so the seal stays clean and thread it carefully, not cross-threading. Turn it 'till it just touches the mating phase on the block and then go three quarters of a turn by hand. You don't use the filter wrench and that's as tight as you need it. That's it. You're all sealed up. Do a quick check. Your drain bolts or bolts are in place and tight and clean and your filter is on, tightened by hand. Time to go back upstairs and fill her up. Now, let's talk about what kind of oil you wanna use now that we're gonna fill the engine. Frankly, it's an easier job to bring Israel and Palestine together than to broker the religious wars around motor oil, but let me summarize this way. First, look at the owner's manual. It will tell you what weight or viscosity to use. That's listed right here on the front, like this one says 20W50. Because of polymers that have been engineered into it, it can have two different viscosities at different temperature ranges. The 20W, "W" stands for winter, "20" is the cold weather viscosity of this oil, "50" is its relative viscosity when it heats up to operating temperature of 100 degrees Celsius or 212 degrees Fahrenheit. That's where they test it. Most cars today use a much lighter weight. It's more like 520 versus this 2050, but I've got an older engine here with a lot of miles, so a heavier or thicker oil is appropriate. Now, go on the back here and you'll find something called the API Service Rating. This one says SM, that's the second highest grade. There's also an SN, as in Nancy, which is kind of a latest best quality oil. They're all really good. "S" stands for spark ignition. It's appropriate for gas engines. If there was a C here, that means compression ignition or diesel engines. Make sure you get that right. Now, once you have done putting in the rated number of quarts, we're gonna seal this guy up, turn on the engine, and look for leaks underneath. Take a peek at your one or two drain plugs. Make sure they're not weeping. Look up around your filter. Make sure it's not weeping. It is time to get her off the ramps, down on the ground, check the oil level, and we're done. Now, here's your last step and it's very important. Get the car on level ground, turn the car off, pull your dipstick. You wanna make sure regardless of how many quarts you put in, that it's actually the right amount for the engine. Don't ever trust the number as much as you trust the dipstick. Take that dipstick out, clean it once. Don't trust the first pull 'cause the car has been running and that creates turbulence down there which will give you a false high. Then, pull that guy up and you wanna read right there where it's got those hashmarks that show you where you should be. Just about a full. Notice how nice and clean that oil is too. Later on, that's gonna be pitch black. That doesn't mean the oil has worn out, though. You're done and that goes right back in there. And we're done. Now, what to do with that old oil and filter? That's easy. Go to Earth911.org to find local places to drop it off. Don't dump it. Okay. So, that's an oil change. Once you've done it a couple times, it should be no more than 30 minutes from hood up to hood down. It's a dirty job. There's no way around that, but it's one of the last things you can do where you can really take charge of your vehicle's longevity in this high-tech age. It's kind of satisfying, though. Okay. That's it.