Changing a vehicle’s oil is the most frequent required maintenance activity for sustaining a car’s health. At least until Teslas take over the world. An oil change should happen about every three months or 5,000 kilometres (or thereabouts. Your owner’s manual should provide a recommendation). Don’t worry too much about keeping count though; almost every modern car will notify you when it’s hankerin’ for some new oil.
Oil change 101: the what and the why
What is it?
Well, it is exactly what it sounds like. An oil change involves draining a vehicle’s oil and replacing it with fresh oil. Fresh oil keeps the moving parts in the engine lubricated and prevents the buildup of sludge; its job is to dissipate heat and manage engine stress.
Why should I change it?
Engine oil is important to a vehicle’s health because it promotes the fluid movement of the engine’s parts. Without oil, your engine can come to a sudden stop (no one wants engine failure!). But as engine oil does its magic, it deteriorates and needs to be changed. Don’t forget that the oil filter should also be changed at this time. A properly operating filter holds onto the excess sludge and grime that gets caught while the oil is lubricating the engine.
You know you need an oil change when…
- Your oil is black as night. Fresh oil has a honey-like hue. The longer engine oil is used, the darker it becomes.
- You hear some loud, unusual noises coming from your engine. When your oil gets old, it’s hard for it to do its job of lubing up your engine. So the parts start rubbing the wrong way and that’s when things can start sounding ugly.
- The dreaded check engine on your dash doesn’t go away. The number one reason the check engine light comes on is due to something caused by bad engine oil.
Is it a DIY?
Many sources say changing oil is only slightly more difficult than hanging pictures in your living room, especially if you have no problems with getting your hands dirty.
You’ll need only a few tools plus the obvious materials—fresh oil and a new filter. Ten simple steps:
- Warm up your car (this ensures that you can drain all of the oil out of your engine block).
- Park the car on a flat surface and apply the parking brake (raising the car on jack stands will make things easier).
- Turn the car off. Open your hood and remove the oil cap.
- Remove the oil plug (it’s underneath your car).
- Drain the old oil out into something suitable for holding oil.
- Remove and replace the oil filter.
- Replace the oil plug.
- Fill your engine with new oil, replace cap.
- Start your car and let it run a bit.
- Dispose of your oil properly! Many municipalities have hazardous waste depots.
More of a visual person? See for yourself how easy it is in this straightforward video from Edmunds.com.
So, why do so many people still visit a shop to change their oil?
Well, it comes down to dollars and sense …sorry.
On average, the cost of materials for changing your own oil is about $20. You also need to purchase and store the required tools and figure out how to dispose of the old oil. For many, the convenience of a professional shop is well worth the extra $15 or so. No mess, no stress, you know?
Shops typically price between $30 to $45 for a conventional oil change (this is the cheapest type of oil.) A synthetic oil change will generally cost double, but the oil does last longer. We wrote about difference between synthetic and conventional oil here.
With RepairMatch, you are paired with one of your city’s top service centers at a guaranteed price, so you don’t have to worry about annoying upsells. We’ve seen customers score oil changes for $30 or less—so you can too!