Whether you are counting your pennies or just like doing things yourself, changing the oil in your car is a project relatively easy to master, provided you have the right equipment and follow the advice of experts.
Even if you don't have a mechanic at your side, there are plenty of resources that can take you through the multi-step process, from automotive repair books written for novices to popular Web sites, such as eHow, DoItYourself.com and Edmunds.com.
"Changing the oil every 3,000 to 5,000 miles has a direct impact on fuel economy," says Shelly Whitaker, spokeswoman for Advance Auto Parts, a Roanoke, Va.-based 3,400-store automotive aftermarket retailer. The company's Web site (http://www.AdvanceAutoParts.com) provides an illustrated guide to the oil change process. With fewer new cars being sold and consumers keeping their present vehicles an average of 10 years, "they have to do more routine maintenance to make sure their vehicles are safer, fuel-efficient and dependable," she points out.
"By far the most common maintenance activity performed is the oil change," observes Jesus Verdejo Jr., president of Do-it-Yourself Auto Repair, a Dumfries, Va.-based company that hopes to capitalize on the shift in car-buying habits. The company has opened the first of what it envisions as an international chain of franchised shops where car owners can do their own maintenance and repairs. Like its initial operation -- DitY Auto Repair in Kissimmee, Fla. -- the service centers will rent bays to do-it-yourselfers, have tools and instructions available and have an industry-certified mechanic on hand who can offer advice.
"This has been a dream of mine for many years, to tap into this market of the do-it-yourselfer," says Verdejo, a retired Army major and auto buff who observed firsthand the overwhelming popularity of the do-it-yourself auto repair facilities on military bases around the world. Retailers have been quick to pick up on the do-it-yourself market, but, notes Verdejo, "the one thing they are missing is, after you buy their automotive products, where do you go to do the work?" For most people, that translates into a driveway, the street or the family garage, where the disposal of used oil can be an environmental issue.
Doing your own oil changes can save you at least $100 a year, automotive experts say, even if it takes you twice as long as a professional to do the job. But besides the oil and oil filter, you may need to first invest in some basic equipment, such as an oil filter wrench and an oil container pan that can be closed to seal in the oil after it's drained. Jack stands or ramps that raise the front of the vehicle are a must. You also need old newspapers or flat pieces of cardboard to slide under the area where you'll be working to keep the garage floor or driveway free from oil stains. A bag of old rags also will come in handy.
Here's the basic procedure, but you will need some detailed guides to do the job right. The oil change process should take about an hour:
*Take the car for a brief spin to warm it up before moving it onto the ramp or jacking it up. It will make the oil flow faster.
*Put the pan under the drain. Open the plug, and allow the oil to drain completely.
*Shift the pan to under the oil filter, and remove the filter.
*Put a light coat of fresh oil around the new oil filter gasket for a tight seal when the new filter is installed.
*Install the oil filter, tightening it by hand until the gasket seals. Don't over-tighten it.
*Install the drain plug, again avoiding over-tightening, which could strip oil pan threads.
*In the engine compartment, remove the oil filler cap, and add the recommended amount and type of oil.
*Start the vehicle, and test for leaks.
*Dispose of the used motor oil by taking it to a local recycler. In addition to recycling centers, many service stations and auto supply stores accept used oil. Check the phone book, or go to Earth911.com.