Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Short Attention Span Challenge | The Oil Changer

Some of my most vivid memories of childhood involve old cars.  I remember my parents always bought houses with a shop, to work on cars.  The first time I got carsick was on the way up to Yuba City in a Yellow 1965 Ford Mustang.  My mom used to drive me around Stockton in a Black 1969 Volkswagen Beetle with vinyl seats and no air conditioning.  We had a red ‘37 Ford Truck and a black ‘36 Ford Phaeton that we cruised for Graffiti Nights in Modesto.   

My first car was a 1979 Volvo.  It was cream colored, with red interior, no air conditioning and a manual transmission.  This was the 90's, and I remember the pride I took in having an older car.  It didn’t have the bells and whistles that many of my friends’ cars had (air conditioning, electric windows, or an alert when the keys were left in the ignition…guess how many times I wish I’d had that), but it had a whole bunch of character.  When I grew up, I married a diesel mechanic.   He’s a Chevy man.  That’s about as rebellious as it gets when you come from a Ford family.

I love cars.  The way they drive, the way they look, the history that goes along with them, but I have always regretted that I never asked to learn about how they really work.  How could I have grown up surrounded by so many cars and never learned how to even change the oil?  Even now, each time the oil light comes on my Toyota Camry, I tell my husband it’s time for an oil change and wait for him to do it.  But, why can’t I do it?  I have daughters and I want them to be independent and self-sufficient, even when it comes to their cars. 

The Challenge

So, it’s time for me to set a good example for my kids, and change the oil in my car.   Why is changing the oil important, you might ask?  Simply put, oil is one of the most important parts to keeping an engine running smoothly.  Literally!  It keeps your engine lubricated while working at extremely high temperatures.  After time, the oil gets old and doesn’t work as well.  What happens if you don’t change your oil regularly?  I suppose your engine will blow up.  Also, literally.

The Process

As I said in my first post, this blog has rules.  It would have been easy to say to my husband, “Hey can you teach me to change my oil?” but I would have been cheating.  So I checked out some books about car maintenance and set off to my task.

As silly as it sounds, what to wear while changing the oil in the car is actually quite important.  Car maintenance is a messy beast. 
Oil change wardrobe=something you don’t care to ruin.

Also, just an FYI, if you have long hair, put it up and out of the way.  Why am I mentioning this?  It hurts when your ponytail gets rolled under the dolly.  Trust me, I know.

The next step is laying out all the tools you will need.  My book contained pictures (thank you!). They are:

  • ·        Socket wrench (to remove the drain plug)

  • ·        Oil filter wrench (to remove the used oil filter)

  • ·        Drain pan (Not to be confused with the oil pan, which is ON the car)

  • ·        Funnel (to put oil in)

  • ·        Latex gloves

  • ·        Jacks, jack stands or ramps

  • ·        5 quarts of oil (What type will be indicated in your owner’s manual.)

  • ·        A new oil filter (Purchased at an automotive store.  Just go up to the  counter and tell them the make, model and year of car)

  • ·        A dolly and/or large piece of cardboard

First, get the car jacked up.  I did not have a car jack stand (as my book suggested) but instead used ramps.  I carefully lined the ramps up under the wheels and slid them very snugly in front of the wheel. I was careful to make sure the ramps, my wheels, and my steering wheel were straight.  For safety reasons, I had my husband direct me as I slowly pulled onto the ramps.  One important thing I will note is that you should not gun your car up the ramp.  Pull up slowly and push on the throttle constantly and with equal pressure.  If you let go of the gas, you will slide right back down.  Once on top of the ramps, I pushed in the emergency brake to keep from sliding back down.  Putting the car on the ramps was the tensest moment of the entire oil change.  I was scared I would pull too far forward and fall off.


The next step is to open the hood of the vehicle, then unscrew and remove the oil cap.  My book suggested this step because the air aids the oil in flowing out, and having the cap off reminds you to put more oil in after you have removed the dirty oil.

 This is where things start getting dirty.  I slid under the car on the dolly (pulling my ponytail…ouch) and located the oil pan plug.  The oil pan is directly under where you put oil in, near the front of your car.  I found it easily enough, but I don’t really understand why car parts can’t have labels.  It sure would make things easier (and be more organized, just saying).  Under the oil plug, I placed the drain pan.  This is where all the nasty used oil will goes when the plug comes off.  I used the socket wrench to remove the oil drain plug.  This was hard.  Part of my issue was my confusion of clockwise vs. counterclockwise while turned upside down under a howevermany thousand pound car.  The other problem I had was that every time I pushed the wrench the dolly moved along with it (and pulled my ponytail, AGAIN!).  I believe my neighbors (who all know my husband is a mechanic) think I am crazy now, after watching me screaming and rolling around under my car.  Finally, I got off the dolly, twisted the ponytail into a bun, and then gave the wrench a couple good whacks, loosening the bolt enough to turn it with my fingers. And yuck, a bunch of nasty oil came flowing out of the car and into the drain pan.  It flowed for about 5 to 10 minutes.  While it was doing that, I moved on to the filter


The filter on my car sort of looked like a plastic cup, upside down.  In order to remove it, my book suggested using an oil filter wrench that looked like a ring.  Supposedly, you put the ring around the filter, pull down to make the ring tighten, and turn counterclockwise to loosen the filter.  I was unable to do this, so instead, I used a pair of pliers I found in our toolbox.  I squeezed the pliers around the top of the filter and twisted and pulled as hard as I could until the filter started to budge and I could do the rest with my fingers.  Nasty dirty oil came out of the place where I pulled out the filter as well, and into the drain pan.  Warning: This didn’t happen to me (I swear!), but it would be very easy to not have the drain pan in the right place and spill out the oil on the driveway.

After removing the filter and waiting for all the oil to come out, I took out the new filter, rubbed a little clean oil around the ring and screwed it back into where I took out the old filter.   I screwed it in as hard as I could with my fingers.

Then, I put the drain plug back in.  I was very, very proud of myself.

So, with my empty oil tank and my clean filter ready to go, I started to pour in my new, clean oil.  Although really, to me, all oil is dirty and gross, but that is neither here nor there.

I poured in all 5 quarts, a little at a time, careful not to spill.  I will confess that my funnel was a big plastic one, and didn’t fit so I just poured it without a funnel.  This was pure laziness on my part.  I could have used a paper funnel but I didn’t want to move to get one.

I screwed the oil cap back on and VOILA…I was done!

Don't forget to dispose of your used oil responsibly!

The Result

Even though I have vowed to do all challenges on my own, my husband insisted that he check my work in this case.  A mistake would have been too expensive.  I will admit, even though I thought I did all the steps perfectly, I apparently did not tighten the new oil filter quite enough and the oil was dripping out a little bit under my car.  He tightened it a little more for me.

Even still, I am proud of myself for completing this task.  I don’t know why it has always intimidated me and why I was so scared to undertake this.   Other than the need for brute strength in a few instances, changing the oil in a car is not very hard.  Would I do it again?  Sure! Why not?  It makes me feel empowered to know that not only could I do this myself, but I could teach my daughters to do it as well.


  1. Brava, Tara!!! :D I change my own oil, too!! I feel proud and accomplished every time I do it!

  2. Great post! Good job on the oil change and also the very responsible picture caption reminding people to dispose of used oil properly!

  3. One of my previous boyfriends made me learn to do this. I kept asking why I had to learn and he said, "In case it needs to be done and I am not here." I assured him that I know exactly how to drive to the oil changing place.

  4. One of my previous boyfriends made me learn to do this. I kept asking why I had to learn and he said, "In case it needs to be done and I am not here." I assured him that I know exactly how to drive to the oil changing place.

  5. Empowerment makes you feel good. Good job!!