I am going through a divorce, and I have never had to change the oil in my car before. I know it would be easier to have a mechanic do it for me, but money is very tight for me now. I don't mind getting dirty. I drive a 2000 VW Bug. Do you think this is something I can handle on my own? Do I just empty the oil and then replace it. Is this "safe" for me?
The first thing that I recommend is that you read the owner's manual that comes with your car. It will show you where all the key things are that you will need to know. For instance, you'll need to know the location of the dip stick to check the oil level, the location of the oil filler cap to add more oil, the location of the oil filter, and the location of the oil drain plug.
You will need to be under the car to be able to access the oil drain plug. With some cardboard on the ground (to catch any drips), place an oil catch pan under the oil pan. Now, loosen up the oil drain screw. Remember the "righty tighty, lefty loosey" rule. Turn right to make tight and turn left to make loose.
Slowly unscrew the drain screw. Before the screw is all the way out, you will notice some oil starting to come out. At this point, you can do one of two things: leave it like this (it will drain but will take more time) or carefully grab the screw with your fingers and manually turn in out the rest of the way. Please be aware that the oil behind it will want to push the drain screw out once it is free of the threads. Then, the oil will drain out very fast. This could get messy if your forearm gets in the way.
Now, while the oil is draining, you can remove the oil filter. On most cars, it is a spin on type of filter. You will need a tool specially designed for this job. There are several different types. There are some that are strap wrenches, some that look like big socket wrenches, and some are a specialty plier type. Any of these tools should be available at the store where you purchase the oil and filter. Ask the associate at the store for a recommendation. Personally, I recommend the socket type. However, there are many different size filters, so one socket will not work on all filters.
Now, one thing to remember when removing the old filter is that it probably still has some old oil left in it. Therefore, some caution should be observed while removing the filter. Once the old filter is out, look at the location where the filter came from. You should see a large tube with threads on the outside. The filter threads to this.
Then, if you look closer to the engine, you should see a smooth surface all the way around where the filter touches the engine. Make sure that all of the old filter gasket was removed with the old filter. If any is left, the new filter will leak.
Once you are sure the area is clean and ready for the new filter, take some fresh oil and pour some into the filter. Then, take some fresh oil and smear it on the gasket. This will help the gasket and prevent it from tearing as you tighten the filter. Don't over-tighten the filter. Follow the instructions on your owners' manual. Just for reference, pre-filling the oil filter helps avoid dry starts from an empty filter.
Once you have the oil filter in place, go back to the drain pan. By now, it should be completely empty. Wipe the area with a dry cloth and then screw in the drain plug. Use a wrench to snug it tight. Don't force it. Once the drain plug is installed, you can pour the new oil in to the engine. Make sure you read the owner's manual to find out the correct amount and type of oil.
Before you start your car and drive away, make sure you check the dipstick to double-check the oil level and take your oil pan out from under the car! Also, after you've run it for a few minutes, stop the engine and peek under it to look for any oil leaks that might have developed. If you find any, you'll need to either tighten the oil drain plug or oil filter.
Bob, The Auto Answer Man
If you have a question for Bob, send it to AskBob@stretcher.com. He's able to answer many of them personally and we'll include the best questions in future issues of The Dollar Stretcher.
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