Trucks 101

How to Change Your Oil

Never put a wrench on a truck before? Start here.

Nitrile gloves are a great idea, if you're worried about getting your hands dirty. (Robert Couse-Baker)

Are you intimidated to work on your truck yourself? You shouldn’t be—it’s often no more complicated than loosening and tightening a few bolts. The easiest place to start is the most frequent maintenance your truck needs: performing an oil and filter change. Give it a try and we promise you’ll be hooked on wrenching.

Why Should You Change Your Own Oil?

Because you’ll save money and do a better job. And because performing your own maintenance gives you an insight into how the various components on your car work, allows you to spot problems before they become catastrophic, and arms you with the knowledge and tools to fix them on the spot.

Oil lubricates the fast-moving parts inside your engine and absorbs heat, helping to cool them. All that motion and heat breaks down oil over time, making it thicker and filling it with debris. Together, that compromises its ability to protect your motor. So you need to change the oil regularly. Doing so is the single most important maintenance task you can perform. It’s also incredibly easy.

Having your oil changed by a mechanic starts at $40, plus oil and filter, at Jiffy Lube. It runs up to $500 if you have it done at a luxury-brand car dealer. Once you’ve seen how easy it is, you’ll never want to pay someone else to do it again.

Changing your own oil is the first step to learning how to perform your own maintenance.

The Tools and Parts You’ll Need

First, you need the ability to get underneath your engine. This can be as simple as laying on your back and scooting under there (heck, I can do all this sitting cross-legged in front of my modified Land Rover), or it may require lifting your vehicle. You should never crawl under a vehicle that’s lifted on jacks, so the safest and easiest way to lift a vehicle at home is with a pair of wheel ramps. If your drain plug is at the back of your engine, that should also help you drain the oil fully.

You need to remove three parts to perform an oil change. The oil fill cap can be removed by hand, but you’ll need a special filter wrench to remove the oil filter and a torque wrench to remove and replace the drain plug. On most vehicles, the oil filter is located in a convenient location: the front of the engine. But for packaging purposes in tight engine bays, some filters are tucked away and impossible to get at without a specialty tool. Subarus, for instance, require you to insert a special wrench over the filter from the top, like a giant socket driver. Consult your owner’s manual for the appropriate size and configuration of tools.

A note on tool purchasing: It’s worth buying quality tools. To keep the financial burden manageable, I buy what I need to perform a job, as I need them. Quality tools will last forever, so you only need to buy them once, and this approach allows you to assemble a kit of tools that you know work, you know how to use, and you know will last.

You’ll also need oil, a filter, and, depending on your vehicle, a new drain plug and crush washer. Your owner’s manual or the guy behind the counter at your local parts store will tell you how much, what kind, and whether it’s a good idea to replace your drain plug and washer with each change.

You also need an oil catch pan and a funnel.

The Job

First, make sure your engine is cool to the touch. If you’ve driven that day, give it an hour or two to cool down first. Next, remove the oil fill cap on top of the engine. Doing this first ensures that the cap isn’t stuck in place (potentially screwing your ability to complete the oil change) and allows the oil to drain quickly and fully.

Next, remove your old oil filter with the aid of the filter wrench, then set it aside. Note that it will be full of old, gross engine oil. Make sure the filter’s rubber gasket comes off with it. Fill your new filter to the brim with fresh oil, and wipe a little around its rubber gasket with your finger to ensure a good seal. Screw it onto the engine as tight as you can get it with one hand—do not use the wrench. You don’t want to overtighten it.

Place the catch pan under the drain plug and loosen the plug. The oil will initially come out with some force but will slow as the level drops. Remove the plug fully once the flow slows enough that it’s manageable, and set it aside. Consult your owner’s manual for the appropriate torque, and install your new drain plug (if required) accordingly. You may want to use a torque wrench to do this, or just tighten by feel if you’re confident.

Now, pour the correct amount (owner’s manual) of oil into the engine, minus the amount you poured into the new filter. Double check the oil level with the dipstick, and top up if necessary.

Note that car fluid bottles are designed to pour while being held sideways. They’ll glug less if you hold them in landscape orientation.

Replace and hand-tighten the cap. You’re almost done.

The last step is pouring the used oil into the bottles your new oil came in and returning that to where you bought it for proper disposal.

The entire job will take you 20 to 30 minutes the first time you try it. Once you know what you’re doing, it’s an easy ten minutes.

As with any job, it’s a great idea to watch a YouTube video for your specific year, make, and model of vehicle before you perform the work or buy the tools. Doing so will allow you to see where everything goes and get an idea of what problems you might run into.

See how easy that was? Other maintenance tasks might have more steps and require more tools, but there’s really not much more to them. If you can change your oil, you can work on your truck. And you can change your oil. Congratulations, you’re now a home mechanic.

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