8 oil change dos and don’ts

Kyle Smith

It’s a small job that somehow became a rite of passage for gearheads: Oil changes. The draining and refilling of engine oil is the first task that many budding wrench-turners undertake, and its certainly an important one. Like any other task in the automotive world, there are some pieces of institutional knowledge that comprise the key dos and don’ts for a smooth oil change. So let’s put these lessons learned out in the open, with the mission of shortening the process for newbies. And perhaps to reinforce some best practices for you veteran mechanics?

Don’t go crazy with warm-up


Modern oils are pretty amazing at suspending particles and contaminants, but there is still some junk that sinks down to the bottom of the pan. It needs to be stirred up to ensure it escapes when you pull the drain plug. Starting the engine and letting it idle for a minute or two is perfect for that final circulation. Run it any longer and you’re rewarded with nothing more than scalding hot oil that does nothing more than burn you. Before you pull that (drain) plug, give the engine a minute after shutting down, allowing the oil to drain to the pan from the nooks and crannies higher in the engine. But before you get underneath the vehicle to do the deed, remember you must…

Wear disposable gloves

nitrile gloves
Nitrile gloves keep you from soaking up solvents and oils into your skin. I’ve found 7mil thick to be a nice sweet spot of durable and affordable. Kyle Smith

We all know the guy at the auto parts counter who has seriously gnarly hands from all the years being soaked in oil over decades of engine builds. That’s the visible damage. The invisible damage is sitting in your internal organs. All the hydrocarbons that get absorbed through the skin and are processed in our gut where they can’t be broken down. They end up accumulating in our body, which can cause serious health complications after years and years of chemical exposure. Preventing those issues is easy as putting on a pair of nitrile gloves. Use them even if it’s only for pulling the filter and drain plug, which you can do efficiently with…

The drain plug trick

Kayla Keenan

It’s not groundbreaking, but nothing feels better than the perfect pull on a drain plug to ensure you don’t get any oil on your hand. The trick is pressure, not pulling. As you unthread the plug by hand, push in–against the bolt as in comes out–so the threads act as a seal with the outer edge. With a little practice you can get the pressure right (while not rocking the plug in the threads) and can spin the plug a full turn to feel for the “click.” That click means the bolt overlapped the last thread. With a swift motion away from the direction of oil flow, remove that now-loose plug. Presto! This can make thin viscosity oil changes much cleaner, and thick stuff like 20-50 can sometimes be spotless. In your excitement of not having a mess to clean up after draining, make sure you…

Don’t over tighten the drain plug or filter

2022 Ford Lightning oil filter
Sajeev Mehta

It’s come to the point where stuck filters and stripped drain plugs are no longer a joke. Neither the filter nor plug require any real torque when installed properly. Use a small amount of oil to lube the filter’s rubber seal, then spin it into place. After the gasket seats on the housing, turn it only about three-quarter of an additional turn. Some applications might call for a full turn, but that is usually reserved for heavy duty equipment. Any tighter than what the filter manufacturers call for and you run the risk of deforming that rubber seal, which could cause oil to leak past the seal. That’s bad news. Any oil spillage is bad, so when you are filling…

Just use a funnel

Motor oil refill with funnel
Wikimedia commons / Dvortygirl

The oil fill port on most engines is in that perfect spot where it looks like you could pour directly into it, except that’s a lie. They seem to be ideally located, but cleaning up if you miss (by even the smallest margin) can be a major pain. Are we really going to work so hard to spot and address leaks, to keep our engines clean, and just ruin it while doing routine maintenance?

I’m not. A funnel all but guarantees I won’t have to do any clean up after filling, even if I’m distracted or letting my 7 year-old niece do the filling. Putting in that fresh oil feels good, but be careful and…

Don’t overfill

Rob Siegel - Spun bearing - IMG_1289
This shows the rotating assembly without the oil pan and it’s easy to tell how oil at too high of a level would be bad. Rob Siegel

Too much oil is just as bad as not enough. Seriously. The oil level in a wet-sump engine is carefully calculated to keep the rotating assembly from whipping through the oil. That action causes foaming, and oil foam pushed through the oiling system is the same as not having oil at all. I don’t need to tell you how bad that can be, so check the service or owners manual for the proper fill level. When done, look at the dipstick as a double check. Luckily, the empty oil containers you now have at this point are are perfect to…

Recycle your used oil

Freedom Oil Recovery

It’s never been easier to properly recycle used oil, so there is no excuse to do otherwise. Just about any auto parts store takes it, so they should be your first trip in your freshly serviced vehicle to “return” your oil. Be sure to capture oil in a non-contaminated pan so that the oil can actually be recycled. Coolant is the main enemy here, so be sure to flush your drain pan before the oil change. Luckily you don’t have to worry about how dusty or dirty the pan is, but other fluids can defeat the purpose of recycling. But before you make the trip to recycle the oil, be sure to…

Reset the computer (or write down your service date)


Modern cars have an oil life monitoring system. Whether you trust it is a personal preference, but for the sake of eliminating confusion, go ahead and reset it now. Most reset procedures involves cycling the ignition key and pressing the throttle pedal a certain number of times. The service manual will outline it, or a quick search to an online make/model specific forum will have the instructions. If your vehicles are of the manual variety, write down the oil change date in a log book. Or consider service tracker kept in the car or garage, as it keeps you from forgetting what’s been done. Not to mention thisa paper trail shows good stewardship to a potential next owner, which can mean an easier sale for more money.

In all, oil changes can be simple and rewarding for newbies and DIY enthusiasts alike. Following these best practices will not only keep your vehicle happy, but also make the experience better for you each time. Do you have something specific you add to this process? Let us know about it in the comments below.

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Read next Up next: Jeff Beck, guitar icon and hot-rod devotee, passes at age 78


    All great pointers. It may seem a bit silly, but I’ve made it a habit to roll around under the car on that creeper (or piece of cardboard) while the oil drains and give everything else the onceover. I’ve found loosening fasteners, small leaks, and even a missing part by just taking advantage of a few extra minutes while I’m already under the car. Those with lifts have NO excuse for not doing this! 🙄

    Well, I meant silly in the context of it not really being a tip about changing oil, which is the topic of the article. But truly, I doubt that most of us are taking many opportunities to just inspect under our cars (perhaps the most inaccessible places). We pop the hood and look things over quite often, but it’s a pain to crawl to an undercarriage inspection. It just seemed to me that I already had an excuse to be under there, so I ought to maximize the situation…

    You mean there are Americans males that don’t know how to change oil in a car? Really? No wonder this country is in trouble!

    Another HUGE point was missed here! Most D-I-Y oilchanges require a floor jack to allow you to reach underneath where all the drain and filter is….SO…..do NOT forget to add floor jacks to the frame of your car! You do Not want your car to fall on you, crush you, kill you. Nuff said …

    Follow what the manufacturer of your car recommends. 10,000 miles is too long to go between oil changes-even with a high end product like Royal Purple. Even though the lubricity of the oil would last a long time, the contaminants, dirt, etc. that make their way into your oil and are not captured in the filter can only be removed from your engine with regular and frequent changes.

    You totally missed the most important part! How many times does the draining oil miss the drain pan completely, and end up all over your driveway before you correct the angle, and keep correctly the position of the drain pan?

    Or forget to release the air bleed cap. Had the catch pan drain clear but forgot to open the air bleed. Pan overflowed and created a spill on the driveway to rival the Exxon Valdez. Fortunately the wife was not home at the time and a quick trip to the parts store for a couple of gallons of driveway cleaner saved me from an eternal Dumbass Award.

    I’ve been doing 10,000 mile oil changes for 25 years now using Mobil 1. All vehicles over 100,000 miles, two I kept to 175,000, never an engine issue. The two over 175,000 were both Ford 3.0 Vulcan V6’s in Taurus wagons.

    A lot depends on type of miles and engine condition as well as proper tuning. A car humming along at around 70 to 75 at under 2000 RPM on long trips is much less prone to contaminants like carbon or unburned fuel or even engine wear than one with the same amount of miles all stop and go traffic with many cold starts that can cause condensation build up. Newer cars with constant fuel air ratio adjustments will not have Gasoline dilution like an older carbureted one also. Some of my cars I change ever 3 to 5 thousand miles and fnd black dirty oil due to type of use others go 15000 and the oil is still nearly clear because of the type of miles they get. I keep that oil to reuse in oil cans or for treating wood because it is still so clean. Oil does not wear out it gets dirty and it is that dirt that causes engine damage.

    Oil is cheap, engines are not. Never go beyond 5000 miles or every six months. Most car usage is considered’severe use’. Oil doesn’t wear out (unless severely overheated) but in little used cars, oil picks up contaminants and moisture. Stored cars can go once a year.

    Perhaps surprisingly, how often also depends somewhat on your air cleaner. The air filter on my Sunbeam is a screen with a chunk of foam behind it. Not super effective. Therefore, every 3000 miles without fail. My Jag has a KN washable air filter so can go a bit longer. That’s how a lot of the dirt gets in after all.

    I just watched a test of air filter efficiency that confirmed what I’ve always believed. K&N filters pass more dirt than a stock paper filter. So your oil is going to get dirty with that filter faster than with a stock paper one.

    Not advice. Had a 2005 C 300. Hour commute everyday. Let the synthetic go 50,000 k. ( big factor- oil was never overly contaminated). Traded in car at 428,000 k( just happened to stroll into a dealership to buy my daughter a car. Ended up with two) Saw the 300 still on the road a year later. Oil companies sell oil. Unless your in a race car,a lot of money goes out the window.

    Oil USED TO BE Cheap, then someone told th oil companies, now oil is very expensive. $4 a quart x 10 quarts n th Gobner has his hand on my wallet, n my uncle Sam, n,,,

    I agree…. especially if you use Mobil 1. My Erie Ins. Co. sent the following out as old auto myths.


    Decades ago, many auto experts recommended that you should change your car’s engine oil every 3,000 miles. But the technology used in manufacturing both cars and engine oil has changed a lot since then – making the old 3,000-mile recommendation an extremely conservative estimate.

    These days, modern synthetic oils are designed to last up to 10,000 miles between oil changes. And most auto manufacturers recommend oil change intervals between 5,000 to 7,500 miles or more. To learn what’s best for your vehicle, be sure to check the manufacturer’s recommended oil change intervals. Following regular maintenance schedules is just one way to make your car last longer.

    But there’s also the problem of how long the oil FILTER lasts. A good synthetic may last 10k miles, but I doubt the oil filter will.

    I stored a car for over 20 years starting it about 4 or 5 times during that time. Just changed that oil after driving it a few miles. didn’t look bad. I can assure you the engine has no sludge because I was using a special high detergent oil back then designed for mechanical injection diesels. Where and how the car is stored makes a difference.

    As Allen says, do what the maker recommends. The recommendation for the ’60s era cars that I’ve owned is every 3,000 miles and at least once a year if you don’t drive that much. The main issue is acid buildup from blowby. When I owned light aircraft, the requirement was every 100 hours of operation or once a year if you didn’t fly that much, but manufacturers recommendations were every 50 hours or every four months. Acids build up much more rapidly if you only run the engine for short periods of time.

    Aircraft are a bit different. Some don’t even sport a filter at all, just a screen. And don’t forget, a large part of cooling an aircooled engine is the passage of excess fuel. And what is in 100 low lead avgas. Why of course, lead. It has been reported that avgas has 4 times the amount of tetra ethyl lead as regular leaded mogas had. Have you ever watched your A&P mechanic clean your spark plugs? If they are of the massive electrode variety, they use a small chisel on a vibrating machine to get it out. After a hundred spark plugs there is quite a little pile of the stuff under the plug cleaner. A&P IA mechanic of 35 yrs, retired.

    I don’t believe in going 10k miles between oil changes, even if the oil says you can. The problem isn’t that the oil has broken down because modern synthetic oils CAN last over 10k miles without its protective properties “breaking down”. The problem is that the oil still gets dirty over mileage, and 10k miles worth of contaminants is too much in the oil. If you could realistically change your filter after 5k miles, thus allowing for the contaminants to be captured by a new filter halfway through, then perhaps you could go 10k miles between full oil changes.

    Why does Toyota only recommend 10K miles for oil changes on their new vehicles? I lease mine and it seems they should still recommend every 5K miles.

    If you have a turbo charged car I’d change it every 4K miles, for all others about every 5K. The manufacturer wants their service intervals as long as possible because people view it as a big pain to take the car in.
    I had a 3 cylinder ecoboost Fiesta that had a 7500 oil change interval. I drove that car hard on hilly terrain. That little turbo would have cooked that oil.
    I changed the oil every 3500 to 4000 miles right up to 175,000 trouble free miles until a despondent deer totaled it.

    Quite a few years back, manufacturers started offering “free scheduled maintenance” and at the same time magically changed the recommended period to be about twice as long. This move cut the cost of the manufacturer providing the “free” service to the customer. When I bought my E60 off of another person’s lease, the first thing I did was change all of the fluids, then put the car on a preventative schedule that was a bit more conservative than the manufacturer.

    I keep wondering about this—my three British cars can get as few as 600 miles in a season—and never more than a few thousand. It can seem just a waste in a few ways. Even shipping & recycling the used oil takes energy, which (energy) should be reserved for useful things. None of my cars ever receives anything other than full-synthdtic oil, which, ipso facto, is manufactured to be more slippery in its molecules, providing quicker lube at startup, and a bit less wear on the road. I believe that semi-sythetics are a waste of money, and maybe a bit of a sales scam. What consumer knows the percentages of regular and synthetic oil?

    I change the oil once a year in my Chevy Blazer and use good synthetic oil (AMSOIL), I ‘ve had the vehicle 4 years and have 13 + thousand miles. I ride motorcycle in warm weather .

    If you’re doing an oil change outside on a breezy day, spread some cardboard around under the car. Once the stream of draining oil gets really thin, the wind can blow it to places you’re not expecting. Also, if your drain plug has a metal crush washer, go ahead and replace it. They’re cheap insurance against an annoying leak. And, if you have the car on jack stands, now’s a good time to give the front tires a shake looking for loose bearings, bad ball joints, etc. Check the brakes too. AND…if you car requires it, this is the time to grease stuff up. After all, the service at a garage used to be called the LOAF – lube, oil and filter.

    Wow, reading the term LOAF caused brilliant flashbacks to my days working in service stations as a young man. Pump the gas, wash the windshield, check and top off the fluids under the hood, and maybe even the tire pressures id requested. Alongside LOAF jobs, I also did innumerable brake adjustments, and more than a few brake and shock replacements. Less often, but still a regular occurrence, were tune-ups (typically plugs, points, condenser). Good Times!!! 😃

    Yep as a kid I worked that way for GOOBER at the Sinclair way before the Andy Griffith show captured that name and character! I worked off my gas, oil change and tires costs all through high school.

    You forgot to mention turning over the fan belt to check for cracks. You never know when the Gates Mystery Man might be stopping to reward you with five silver dollars. I managed to win it twice while working at a B A service station.

    Put as much oil in filter as it will take without spilling on installation.
    This will get oil circulating faster on startup

    many hears ago I stumbled upon a faucet-like thingy which replaced the drain plug. It was permanently installed and all you had to flip the lever and the oil was drained. No more oil on me or dropping the plug in the oil. Anyone remember these, what they were called, and where to get one again. They worked great.

    Hey Rick. It was called “Sure Drain” There was a SD2 and a SD3. Made by Fram. This has been discontinued tho.

    I have them on my vehicles, they’re manufactured by the Fumoto company. Very handy when it’s time for an oil change! 🙂

    Rick Bobick just found what I'm looking for on Amazon. Anyone interested look up EZ oil drain faucet says:

    Just found what I was looking for. EZ oil faucet
    Check Amazon.com Q10 Q10

    I use Fumoto valves on all my vehicles. Super easy to drain without pulling the drain plug. Never have to worry about cross threading when reinstalling the drain plug. You can even attach a clear drain tube to prevent splashing and wind sputtering around the drips.

    Not to be “devils” advocate here and I am NO mechanic, but what prevents the valve from opening if something brushes against it just right? All your oil goes out and you lose an engine.

    On aircraft we had oil quick drains but there was a provision to safety wire them shut. One extra step but still a time saver in the long run. Also a good bit of peace of mind.

    I saw a misspelled word on one of their advertisements and sent an email telling them so. They gave me a free valve.

    They are available from a company called Fumoto. Highly recommended for vehicles with cast aluminum oil pans as my Jeep diesels are equipped with.

    Even something as simple as on the oil change, I use a checklist. More than once I have seen someone forget to just add the new oil. Surprised you didn’t mention greasing the fittings. Lastly, oil can never be too clean. I have changed oil, even synthetics, every 3 to 4000 miles. I’ve never had an oil failure in any of those engines, my last 350 Chevy had nearly 300,000 miles on it and was still within 5% of the new spec for engine compression and oil pressure. Two extra oil changes a year is a small price to pay for never having to replace or do major lubrication work on an engine.

    First time I heard my son drop the F bomb when as a 16 year old new driver I was walking him through his first oil change. My fault that I went for a cup of coffee during the process. When I came back, he was on his 3rd or 4th quart of the fill cycle. When I jokingly asked if he put the plug in, the eyes widened and the Fudge word exploded from his mouth. Then he rushed for the garden hose and was about to rinse out the garage floor with it. The next lesson learned was to push the car out of the garage and show him how it was far better to use a squeegee and a snow shovel to get the majority of the oil in the drain pan. Then I handed him a bucket of hot soapy water and told him to start scrubbing. I have another story about me but I’ll wait till I’m asked. Quite funny actually.

    After you’re finished and have run the engine, let it sit and double check the oil level. That assures you used the correct amount of oil.

    Every 5K or once a year is a good interval. I learned the click trick from grandpa when I was six years old! LOF on a 1943 Willys Jeep… I keep a 5 gallon water jug stuffed in a milk crate to hold the recycle oil.
    I recycle it in a local marina where they have absorbent pads that work really good under the drain pan to catch those little spills that happen.

    I don’t know for sure how it happened. A piece of shop rag wound up in my motor and plugged the oil pick up tube causing the motor to spin some bearings do to the low oil pressure while my inexperienced 16 year old daughter drove it shortly after I changed the oil. Either it happened when someone had the intake off (on the Car Fax) before I bought it or someone sabotaged the filter I got from the local store. Department store filters are just in a paperboard box and easily opened and re-closed…maybe with something extra put in the filter! I now only buy Ecoguard filters from my local parts store because they have a plastic seal on the filter so nothing can get into it between the filter factory and me breaking the seal.

    When they first came out with plastic bottles for oil, one of the aircraft owners at our field dropped the plastic ring from the bottle cap into the filler tube. It cost him thousands to have that engine torn down and the ring removed.

    In commercial large Jet aviation we still use can openers with metal cans . No plastic bottles allowed on Jet engines. You would not believe how hard it is to find old school can openers.

    Agreed, also check the oil filter visually to make sure it isn’t damaged on the outside. And when placing the new filter on, do it by hand, not with any tools!

    Great set of rules to follow. I have been logging my DIY oil changes since I started in the early 1970’s. I am up to a little over 400 and have only one oil filter failure on a FJ45 Landcruiser in 1976. I have been using a oil testing service (Blackstone) where I send a sample for analysis. They keep a complete history of the car/truck and can spot problems before they become a bigger issue. It runs $25/test. I change my oil at 5K intervals and they consistently suggest that the oil additives are still present and to go at leas 7.5K. I still change on the 5’s as I so enjoy the process and the chance to carefully inspect the car while I am under it.

    You left out the most important thing about changing the filter is to make sure the OLD GASKET IS NOT STUCK TO THE ENGINE. Many a motor has been bricked by the failure of having two gaskets on the oil filter.

    Good point. Been there. I also like to let the oil drain for a long while. I work on something else for an hour or so. This will allow the filter to drain out enough so it does not cause a huge mess if it is mounted horizontally or in an awkward position. I just can’t trust the quick lube services. One left my filler cap off and oil covered the entire engine compartment. Another cross threaded my drain plug. Never again.

    Years ago, I changed the oil on my ’69 Camaro and when I started the engine, I had a major oil leak at the newly replaced oil filter. The old used filter had the gasket in place still and the new filter had two gaskets on it. Since then, I have always checked the new filters before installing them.

    Happened to me once. Luckily the gasket (s) blew out as soon as I started the engine. No damage, but a huge clean-up dumped most of the 9 qt oil pan in the driveway. The king of accident that will never happen to you more than once. … Gary

    Henry Ford stated “oil does not wear out, the wise man renders it unfit”.
    Our ‘30 Ford Model A sees oil changes at 700 – 1000 miles or, once a year depending on driving. Then again it does not have an air filter.

    The newer rides – I pull the the full synthetic oil at 4000-4500. Thanks for the article….. good reminders all around.

    Came here to post this. I have done a lot of oil changes, but not many recently. I know this needs to be checked, and didn’t l just last week. It’s something I will never forget again. It’s surprising how quickly dollars of oil pump out with two gaskets!

    Anyone else having issues recycling their oil? Gas stations are no longer taking it. The auto parts store is a hit or miss affair. Their tank is often full, l think because of the first condition.

    Check if your city has a dept. that will take used oil. Mine does, and its really convenient because they don’t mind if you just leave it by the door when they’re closed. They take the old filters and anti-freeze too.

    And make sure your drain pan is big enough. Words can’t describe the excitement of watching 10+ quarts of hot oil rush out of the oil tank of an air-cooled 911 into a 6 quart container. Don’t ask me how I know this.

    An additional thought on DIY oil changes on an earlier 911. Once one has drained both the dry-sump tank and the case and partially refilled the system, pull the coil wire and spin the motor a few times to bring up the oil pressure. Replace the coil wire and start the engine. When warm, use the dipstick to check the tank volume. DO NOT LET THE DIPSTICK POP OUT OF YOUR SLIPPERY FINGERS AND FALL INTO THE TANK! To quote many other readers, “Don’t ask me how I know this.” I suspect that I’m not the first one to do this. Fortunately, I had a spare dipstick, but the original is still down in there, and thus far hasn’t prevented the oil gauge sender from working. Some day I will pull the tank and get that damned dipstick out!

    The Corvair shown in the first two pictures would benefit by filling the oil filter with fresh oil before installation to minimize the time on start up that the car is running without oil pressure. The oil filter is positioned vertically in most Corvairs that aren’t air conditioned.

    here’s my two cents worth. a mechanic all my life, I’ve learned at 5000 miles their are black chunks of dirt crud under the valve covers. I change mine every 2000. the process of combustion makes dirt. you can pull the pistons and the rings will be stuck with plain old dirt, pull the rings clean out the holes behind them put it all back together and it quits using oil. the oil change interval is long because on the window sticker it says (annual maintenance cost) the marketing people think you will buy the car with the lowest maintenance cost. that’s why the 10,000 mile oil change. and they hope you’ll buy a new car every two years.

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