Car Doctor DIY | How to change your car's oil yourself, and save money at the same time

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Changing oil
Changing oil
Carl Court

• Owners of out-of-warranty vehicles can change the oil on their vehicles themselves.

• Regular oil changes can prolong the car's engine's life.

• Changing oil yourself can save you up to R1000.

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Changing the oil on your car and the oil filter is easy and should take between 30 minutes and an hour, working slowly and methodically. An oil change should be done every 10 000km or so, or at least once every year if you cover less than 10 000km a year.

Most manufacturers these days recommend service intervals of between 15 000 and even 20 000km. Once your car is out of warranty, though, oil changes will become more frequent and significantly increase your car's engine's working life. It's an easy and cheap way of avoiding expensive bills once the car gets old. For example, my 1985 Volkswagen Golf GTI has logged over 350 000km without an engine rebuild, thanks to regular oil changes and servicing.

Most service stations will charge between R700 and R1000 for an oil change, and you can knock about R500 off that price by doing the job yourself.

oil change,mechanic,workshop
Apply a thin flilm of oil to the O-ring on the new oil filter to achieve a lasting seal.

Before you start

1. Note that when you change the oil in a car, you must always change the oil filter. Check the car's handbook to see what grade of oil is recommended for your car. And when you order the oil filter, always quote the exact make and model. Reputable spares shops sell good quality oil and filters to enable you to do this job yourself.

2. Check your car's handbook, or consult a dealer, to check what quantity of oil your car's engine takes. It will usually be between four and five litres.

3. Open the bonnet and locate the area where the oil filter is fitted. Some cars have remote filters housed in a canister at the top of the engine, but most cars have the oil filter - a single cylindrical unit made of light metal and usually painted cream or light grey - housed near the engine sump.

The sump oil drainage bolt, typically at the lowest point of a car's engine.

What equipment will you need?

Spanners: You will need a good quality ring-flat spanner to loosen the oil sump drainage bolt. Depending on the car, this bolt's size will usually be between 12mm and 15mm, so it is probably worth your while to buy a set of ring-flat spanners, ranging in size from 8mm to 19mm. These will always come in handy for other jobs.

An oil filter removal clamp: This is a fairly cheap, adjustable clamp that wraps around the cylindrical oil filter, providing leverage to loosen it. You only need this tool to loosen it. The new filter can be tightened firmly by hand. Oil filter removal clamps are available from all good spares shops.

A fairly flat tray to collect the oil. This tray must hold between four and five litres of oil without being filled to the brim. We particularly like the specialist oil trays, which can be sealed to form a container, making transportation to an oil recycling station easy.

Some rags to wipe up any drops of oil that might spill.

oil change,mechanic,workshop
You may need one of these oil filter removal clamps to remove the oil filter.

Doing the oil change

Step 1. Park the car on a level surface. Put the car in gear (if it's a manual) or Park, and activate the handbrake.

Step 2. Run the engine for a few minutes to warm the oil. It shouldn't be hot. Remember cold oil drains sluggishly, but hot oil can burn your fingers! In this regard, the engine should be slightly warm, but not hot. Note that you must drain the oil first before removing the oil filter.

Step 3. Make sure you can access the oil sump drain plug by sliding underneath the car, with enough elbow room to loosen the plug bolt with a spanner. The sump plug will be at the lowest point of the engine. If you can't easily access the sump draining plug, you may need to find an area where the ground slopes away immediately in front of the car. But keep in mind that you want that drainage hole to be at the lowest point of the engine, so all the oil can drain. So don't simply jack the front of the up to gain extra access without checking for this.

Step 4. As an oil change can quickly turn into a messy business if things don't go quite according to plan, it is a good idea to lay out sheets of old cardboard around the area you will be working. This is especially true if the car is parked on a smart paving area.

Step 5. Slide the draining pan underneath the drain plug, with enough space to the edges of the tray or pan. Allow for the fact that when you remove the plug, the oil may well start spouting out horizontally, to the side of the drain hole, due to the weight of the four-to-five litres of oil in the sump. As the oil drains, it will drain more vertically.

oil change,mechanic,workshop
Tighten the sump plug firmly, but don't over-tighten.

Step 6. Use the correct size spanner (typically 13 to 15mm) to loosen the sump plug in an anti-clockwise direction. It is better to use the spanner's ring-end if there is access for this, as the ringside will not slip. An incorrectly lined-up flat side of a spanner can slip and round off the bolt edges. So try to use the ringside to initially loosen the nut. After that, with the nut turning smoothly, you use the spanner's flat side, as it is often easier to slip this on the nut.

Step 7. Be aware when the plug bolt is almost fully loosened. At this point, you put the spanner aside and loosen the last few turns with your fingers. As the bolt loosens fully, oil will spout very quickly, with some force,  out the drain hole. It would be best if you withdrew the nut as promptly as possible (it is for this reason you want the oil warm, but not hot, as you will burn your fingers). Place the nut in a safe, clean place.

Step 8. Let all the oil run into your catchment pan until it stops dripping.

Step 9. Clean the threads of the drain plug, coat it with just a drop of oil, and screw it home by hand, and then tighten it with the spanner. You should not tighten it very tight, just tight enough to make sure it doesn't work loose.

Step 10. With the pan still in place, unscrew the oil filter. Sometimes you can do this using your hand, but often you will need to wrap it with the special clamp mentioned earlier, and unscrew it in an anti-clockwise direction. If the oil filter is located low down on the engine, make sure the pan is placed to catch the small amount of oil that will drip from the filter.

oil change,mechanic,workshop
With the sump plug bolt removed, the oil may initially spout horizontally before dropping to a vertical flow. Allow for this in your oil tray placement.

Step 11. Replace the oil filter with a new item with the correct part number for your car's engine. Run a thin bead of oil along the O-ring on the base of the new filter, so that it seals well when tightening it. This oil film will keep the O-ring sealing properly for a long time and orient it from drying out and leaking. Tighten the filter firmly by hand. With the O-ring seal, the tightening force you can exert by hand will be sufficient to prevent any leaks.

Step 12. Check once again, for safety sake, that you have remembered to replace and fully tighten the sump plug.

Step 13. Add the correct amount of new oil, of the correct oil grade, to the engine. Oil should be added at the top of the engine, in the valve-cover area. Pour in slowly, so you don't mess. According to your calculations, when you have almost added the correct amount, check it with the dip stick (after waiting 30 seconds or so for the oil to reach the sump and settle). Add a bit more oil if necessary and measure with the dipstick again. Do not overfill.

Step 14. Start the car, and check that the oil pressure is normal (the oil-pressure warning light should go off immediately after the engine starts).  Check that there are no leaks. You are done!

Step 15. Oh! Don't forget to transport the old oil to a recycling depot. Often your local workshop will be happy to accept your old oil. Never, ever dump the oil in the garden or down the drain. This plays havoc with the eco-system.

oil change,mechanic,workshop
This specalised tray for oil draining makes transporting old oil to the recycling depot easy.
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