Introduction: DIY Oil Change. Get Beat Up by a Kid With Polio.

About: Tim Anderson is the author of the "Heirloom Technology" column in Make Magazine. He is co-founder of, manufacturers of "3D Printer" output devices. His detailed drawings of traditional Pacific I…
Change the oil in your car. Do this every few thousand miles.

I learned to do oil changes in high school speech class. One of the boys worked in a garage. He gave a really great how-to demonstration/speech about changing oil. He gave another about rotating tires, but there isn't anything complicated about that. After each speech the teacher had the other students critique the performance.
I didn't understand one of the speeches given by a boy who had polio or cerebral palsey.
He thought I was unkind to his speech when I asked what it had been about, so he beat me up after class. My karate was not effective against polio-based techniques.

Read on to learn more...

Step 1: Stuff You'll Need

Here are the tools after the oil change. The tub is draining into the waste jug. The empty new oil jug is also draining to reduce the amount of oil that goes into the plastic recycling.

You will need:

strap wrench to turn the oil filter
wrench to undo the oil plug
tub to catch the old oil
jug to store the old oil in prior to disposal
sawdust to soak up spills
oil filter
oil - get it in the big jugs so you don't throw so much plastic away. Also the big jugs are useful.

A service manual or clerk at the the parts store will tell you the type of oil and filter you need.
A service manual will be especially handy if your car was designed on a computer. Such vehicles tend to have parts hidden in inconvenient locations. You may have to take covers off to get to the parts you need.

Step 2: Elevate Your Car

I got an early start. The pavement was slick with dew, so the ramps tended to squirt out from under my truck when I tried to drive up on them. So I tied rope to the ramps and drove over the rope on the way up. I still managed to almost miss the ramps as seen here. I tried again and did better.

If you don't have ramps, you can drive one or two wheels up on the curb. If your car isn't too low you can just crawl under it.

Do not trust ordinary ramps or jacks to keep your car off you. Use jackstands to keep it up.
These ramps are solid, so I didn't use have backup props.

If your car falls on you you don't save money by doing it yourself.

Step 3: Warm It Up

Oil doesn't flow well when it's cold, so run your car until it's warmed up. If you get your car fully hot, you'll have to watch out not to get burned by the hot oil. It will flow very well then, so the oil change will be more complete.

Step 4: Undo the Drain Plug

Position the tub under the drain plug. The oil will gush out and you need to be ready for it.
I put mine up on a milk crate so it would be closer so the oil wouldn't splash so much.

Use a wrench that fits properly. The looser the wrench the more damage it will do to the bolt head.

In Kenya I took my motorcycle to a garage with five employees. Their tools consisted of one pair of pliers, which they shared. I was worried they would mar my bolt heads. But honest work had made their hands very strong, and had smoothed the teeth on the pliers. They did an excellent job and I could see no marks on the bolts afterward.

Step 5: Catch the Oil

When you first pull the plug, the oil will gush out straight at you with some force. After a while it will trickle out like this. If you don't anticipate the changing trajectory of the oil it's very easy to miss the tub and make a big oil spill. Put the tub as close to the drain hole as possible.

My truck has a two-humped sump with a divot over front axle. There are two different drain plugs that have to be removed in the two low points. Before I found out about this my oil changes didn't seem very effective. The oil on the dipstick was black even after the oil change.

Step 6: Loosen the Filler Cap and Turn the Engine

Remove the oil cap on the top of your valve cover. That breaks any suction to make sure oil can fully flow out.
To get the last of the oil out run the car for a few seconds to pump the oil out.
In the high school speech he disconnected the coil wire so the car wouldn't start, and just cranked it over a few times. He'd brought enough parts of the car to demonstrate this in class.

My truck is a diesel so it doesn't have spark. And I thought I'd do an extra good job by running the car. Oil blew out in both directions from the two drain holes. It made a big mess under the truck.

Time for some sawdust on the oil spills. I wished I'd put a tarp or cardboard under the truck before I'd started. Or hung some rags over the drain holes before spinning the engine.

Step 7: Remove the Old Oil Filter

Use the strap wrench to loosen the old oil filter. The last person always put it on too tight.
When it's loose, spin it off by hand. Pretty often some oil will spill out of the filter. Be ready to catch it.

Don't throw the old filter in the trash. It's full of dirty oil. Give it to the nearest parts store along with the drain oil. They recycle them properly.

Step 8: Oil the New Filter's O-Ring and Install the Filter

Dip a finger into the oil on the old filter. Wipe some on the new filter's O-ring.
That keeps it from getting messed up when you tighten it down.
Turn it on until it's sort of tight.

The "Clymer Super Shop Manual" says:
13. Coat the neoprene gasket on the new filter with a thin film of clean engine oil. Screw the filter in place by hand until it contacts the mounting pad surface. Tighten California diesel filters an additional 1/2 turn by hand. Tighten all other filters another 2/3 turn by hand. Do not overtighten, as this can cause an oil leak.

Step 9: Replace the Plugs

Usually the plugs fall into the drain tub. Fish them out and wipe them off.
Replace the oil plugs and wrench them on. Don't over-tighten them. You're going to pull them again in another X000 miles.

Unless your car really burns a lot of oil. Then you'll never need to remove these plugs.
I once had a car that used so much oil I would collect the used oil from other people to put it in mine.
If your car is like that you don't ever have to change your oil. It gets changed by burning it.

Step 10: Clean Your Funnel. Guard Your Face.

Your funnel has sand in it.
Clean it well.

So how did that fight with the crippled kid go? Well, it was senior year of high school. I'd seen a lot of American movies. Some of them about high school. There were always fights. I'd never been in one, and I was starting to feel like I might not have the American Experience.
But fights weren't common. I went to school with some really nice people.
How nice were they? This kid with polio was on the football team. Pause to consider that.

Other schools had pariahs. My school loved pariahs so much they stopped being pariahs.
We had something called "pep-fests" that were supposed to make us interested in sports.
Classes were cancelled prior to a "Big Game" and we all filed into the gym to see skits put on by cheerleaders, coaches, and players. But they invariably turned into into pariah-cheering fests.
When the most insecure student walked in, the crowd went nuts, cheering and begging them to do whatever odd stunt they were known for. The next day they were sincerely congratulated in the halls for whatever they'd done next, maybe nothing. After a few weeks of this sort of adulation they weren't the most insecure kid anymore, and whoever was most mentally ill/insecure got the treatment. We used up all our pariahs that way and they turned into normal well adjusted successful people. Which at the time didn't seem like such a good thing to me. I felt like I was surrounded by way too much normal already.

Anyway, after speech class the crippled kid walked up to me in that laborious arm-waving way he had because his legs work right. He said I'd been way to harsh on him and of course I must have understood what his speech was about, so why was I out to get him? If I did any more of that he was going to kick my ass.
I didn't know then that diplomacy has limited use for the truth. So I protested that I really hadn't understood his speech, and that I didn't understand it now. That made him even madder, and he promised he would attack me. I saw that this was probably my opportunity to be in a real fight, and told him to go ahead. He said he would. That repeated several times.
By then I was totally nervous and jittery because I can't stand confrontations.
That's why I was never in any fights.
I'd interviewed other students who'd been in actual fights to find out how they'd done it.
First there's the yelling, then the pushing, then the punching.
Yelling and pushing creeps me out. Normal people won't try to hit you unless you do some of that first. If someone is trying to hit you without some yelling and pushing first, it's probably happening when you're not in the mood for it or aren't in a situation to do much about it.
But I had no trouble in karate classes, so I was pretty sure I was really tough.

The kid gimped over to a girl who was walking by. He handed her his watch. Then he rolled up his sleeves and gimped back. He was saying a bunch more stuff which I don't remember, because next he hit me in the left cheekbone really hard. My brain and half my vision turned into a crumpled sheet of tinfoil. I smelled blood in my nose. I was amazed. A fight was nothing at all like karate class. I was totally jittery and had no idea how or when to guard my face. He gimped back to the girl, got his watch and gimped off down the hall. All that crazy walking had made his arms really strong.

The girl grabbed me to keep me from falling over and helped me get to my next class.
No one ever teased me about it, because as I said, they were really nice people.

But that's the story of how I got beat up by a kid with polio.

Step 11: Over the Top

Orient the jug like this when you start pouring in the new oil. It's a lot easier to hit the target that way.
If you don't have the spout at the high point, oil will come glurping out and splash all over your engine.
The oil that gets on your exhaust manifold will make a burning oil smell and it will be harder to sell your car.

If you don't know how much oil to add you can check the dipstick to see when you've added enough. Don't trust it unless your car is level and you give the oil plenty of time to flow to the stick.
Your manual will tell you how much oil to add. It's usually 5 quarts. If your car takes more than that you are probably an evil person who drives a greedy fat dirty SUV that gives athsma to babies.

Some classic small vehicles have large oil capacity and other features that make them last forever.
Cars that last forever do not contribute to the "embodied pollution" etc. of new vehicle manufacture.
If you drive one of these, get a few bumper stickers that educate other drivers.

Step 12: Cleanup

I accidentally spilled some oil in step 6. So I dumped sawdust over it and scuffed it around with my feet to soak it up. The empty tub, container, and old oil filter get inverted over the waste oil jug to drain overnight. Then the oil filter and waste filter gets taken to the parts store for recycling.

Write the odometer reading of your car somewhere you can see it where you drive, so you can keep track of when you'll need to do your next oil change.

Step 13: Don't Do This

From "How Not To: Do Your Own Oil Change and Poison Mother Earth"
This is a picture of a bucket of old crankcase oil from someone changing oil in their car.
"So what?" you say?
You've just put yourself on the wrong team. Team Earth Poisoner.
It's going to rain. The rain falls in the bucket. Oil floats on water.
The oil spills out onto the ground.
Result: You just dumped your car's oil all over the ground.
You could have done that without making this nice bucket and the stuff under it all dirty also.
The right way to get rid of the oil is to put it in a closed container, write "used oil" on it, and leave it in front of a mechanic's shop in the dead of night while wearing a mask.
They have a tank to dump this stuff in and it's no problem for them.

You say "Please explain how I accidentally poisoned mother earth? Again?"
Oil floats on water. So if you leave a bucket of drain oil from an automobile oil change in the rain, the rain water sinks to the bottom and the oil pours over the top. If the oil has a lot of additives there will be some mixing and you'll get some brownish-grey petro-mayonnaise in your oil spill as well.

My pet peeves include: Other people. They're always doing something wrong.

Because I see this method of disposing of oil so much, I conclude that it doesn't take much technical expertise to change one's own oil. And that not every cheapskate bastard shares my values.

I haven't seen this behavior in poor countries. I think they save the oil and do ingenious things with it.

Step 14: Dispose Properly

In California, it's super easy to get rid of drain oil from an oil change. Or any other dirty oil.
Take it to any auto parts store and dump it in their recycling tank. Any place that sells oil is required to accept used oil for recycling.
Here's the back room at my local Kragen autoparts store. I come in with several 5 gallon jugs of dirty oil and a bucket of used oil filters.
The staff don't care at all what it is, how much there is, or where it's from.
I dump the filters in their filter barrel and dump the oil in their tank. There's even a place to put empty oil cans.

The sign says "Take your bags boxes and your containers home and please smile for the camera"

Step 15: Oil Can Bailer

Got a boat?
A bailer like this is just the thing for throwing water out of your boat.
This oil jug is so perfect for the purpose I suspect it was designed to be made into a bailer.
A nearly identical design has been used all over the Pacific since ancient times.

Here's a drawing of one from Malekula in the New Hebrides Islands, as seen in "Canoes of Oceania" volume 2, by Haddon and Hornell