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A mechanic is shown checking the dipsticks oil level after I googled "oil change near me."

Should You Change Your Own Oil or Consult a Professional?

“What do I do? Should I pop open YouTube and learn it myself, or should I pull up Google Maps and find a technician ready to do an oil change near me?” Great question; honestly, please do continue rambling on about your future goals and big oily dreams. When you’re done, I’ll be over here with my lubed engine idling on the checkered line.

Whether you’re set on putting as much DIY in your life as possible or just trying to save a couple of bucks, doing your own oil changes can be a great way to save money and learn more about your vehicle. Plenty of Americans change their own oil, but it’s not ideal for every car owner. Some of us can’t be bothered to spend the time to learn, and it does take an investment of not only time but money—for the right tools and the oil itself.

By the time I’m done talking, you might be convinced that it’s simply easier to get your oil changed by a professional—which makes sense; there’s a reason the qualified and experienced mechanics of our world are sought out, after all. But understanding the ins and outs of oil changes, whether or not you need to perform one yourself, will help you better understand your vehicle and become a better car owner—and it just might come in handy in the future!

Oil is shown being poured.

The Basics of an Oil Change

You might already think you’re hip to what an oil change is and how often you need it, but new and experienced drivers alike should always ensure they are fully aware of what a mechanic is actually doing to their vehicle. So let’s jump into the basics of what an oil change is and how it works—even if this is, to you, a mild refresher.

As elementary as it sounds, engine oil truly is the lifeblood of your vehicle, and you need it maintained, just like how a human body needs regular maintenance and check-ups. You will need to change your oil fairly regularly to ensure it does not cause problems in your engine—but how often that is is up for debate.

The old wisdom (which you may be familiar with) is that your oil must be changed every 3,000 miles. But is that adage still relevant in 2023? As with most car questions, the answer depends on the make and model of your vehicle, how much mileage you’ve put on it, and plenty of other factors. Consult your vehicle manual, check your dipstick measurements frequently, and, if you’re confused, you can always consult a local dealership.

As fickle as oil changes can be between vehicles, we want you to walk away with useful information. The 3,000-mile mark is still a good benchmark to go by if you’re unsure; some cars, trucks, and crossovers might have greater tolerance, but 5,000 miles is generally the upper limit of how long you should go between oil changes. Conversely, you might have less than 3,000 miles on your car since your last change, but cars that sit without being used for too long—or cars that have been subject to severe weather conditions—generally will need oil changes with greater frequency.

A Quick Guide on How to Change Your Oil

Unlike many car maintenance procedures, you don’t have to be a mechanical genius to do your own oil change. The first time through, it can be intimidating or challenging, but most at-home oil experts will tell you that it gets easier over time—and, soon enough, you could be doing it in your sleep. Changing your own oil can also be fun; you might find yourself becoming a gearhead while you’re under the hood!

Before you decide whether changing your own oil is right for you, you need to figure out what will go into the process. The first thing you need to do is figure out what kind of oil your car needs. Check out the “technical specifications” or “service” section of your owner’s manual; you can also contact your local dealership or repair shop to request such information about your specific make and model of vehicle. If you don’t know the answer or aren’t necessarily concerned with knowing, there’s always the option of using synthetic oil—which is ideal for some vehicles, but acceptable for most—although this really ends up being a choice about what you think is best for you and your car.

Should you continue venturing toward independence, you’ll need a small selection of tools in addition to your preferred oil selection. Head to your local store and pick up an oil filter and oil drain pan, as well as the appropriate wrenches to help with your assembly and disassembly. If you’re still unsure after consulting the owner’s manual, a store employee will most likely be able to help. It’s also crucial to have some sort of way to safely lift your vehicle—a ramp, a jack, a hoist, etcetera, preferably a combination of some—so you can slide underneath and get to work.

You’ll want your vehicle’s owner manual handy as you follow these next steps; as we’ve said, everyone’s car is different and will need slightly different procedures. But generally, you’ll start by getting underneath your lifted vehicle and removing the cover. Make sure you have your oil pan ready, for as soon as you unscrew your drain plug, a lot of oil will flow out. Switch out your old oil filter with your new one, making sure you don’t leave anything behind and keeping everything as clean as you can for ease of work. Then you can return all caps and covers, seal everything up, and lower your car. Finally, you’ll fill the car up with new oil from under the hood; the cap for this tank often features a little antique oil can logo with a plunger on top and a droplet coming out the spout.

Should You Change It Yourself?

Phew! Even our guide to changing your oil, meant to be quick and comprehensive, might be too dense for some people—and that’s okay! Most of us will not end up changing our own oil just for convenience’s sake. You can evaluate for yourself whether changing your own oil will be cost or time effective. If you’re experienced and have all your parts ready, you can change your oil in a matter of minutes, but that might drag on if you don’t have everything handy or are unsure of what to do. Time-wise, it might not be worth it if you have a speedy repair shop nearby that can change your oil while you do something else.

Economically, the cost of the parts and oil can end up costing you less than a mechanic visit—and you can always use your wrenches again, so it is a valuable investment—but you might not want to head to an auto store and fill out a whole shopping list, or you might not have somewhere to store your tools and oil when you’re done. Oil changes can vary in price but generally don’t cost more than $50. It’s up to you if the difference in price and time matter enough for you to change your own oil. Some will swear by it, and others will balk at the idea; in the end, you should do whatever’s best for you and your vehicle.

If you’re still on the fence, you can always try changing your own oil and see how you like it. If possible, bring along a friend who’s done it before to guide you through the process and share their experiences. As we’ve said before, it can save you time and money, and you might just find yourself liking it! If all else fails, it’s never a bad idea to take your car to a trusted dealership or maintenance bay to get your oil changed by a professional.