I decided earlier this week to take it upon myself to change the oil in my car myself. This is not something I normally do, primarily because it is worth the $10 overhead not to do it myself. My reasons for doing this are many:

  • My local dealership only uses 5W20, which my engine rapidly consumes, making the check engine light come on since it thinks the catalyst is shot.
  • I am currently boycotting my local dealership, since both the service manager and general manager are assholes and have pissed me off.
  • I had a very bad experience the one time I went to another dealership for an oil change: I had made an apointment in advance, which they couldn’t find. They then took an hour and a half to change my oil, while I was one of two customers there.
  • I prefer to use OEM-approved filters, so not using a dealership would require that I supply my own filter to an oil change place.
  • I called a local oil change place that offers my preferred oil (Valvoline 10W40 MaxLife) to see what they would charge. They offered a $2 discount for bringing my own filter off of their “low” price of $31.99. That makes the oil change $29.99, which is 5 bucks more than a dealership charges, and it doesn’t even include the cost of the filter.
  • I hate JiffyLube.

Ordinarily, any one of them wouldn’t have caused me to expend such effort, but they pretty much all came to a head this week, so I bit the bullet and settled on the idea. I already had the oil I needed in my trunk. The filter was easy to acquire; I bought it from the parts counter at the dealership (I know this goes against my boycott, but the parts guys are cool). I went ahead and purchased a trinity of filters: oil, air, and fuel. The air filter will soon need replacement, and the fuel filter definitely needed it long ago.

Today, I embarked on a supply mission to purchase the remainder of the essentials. I already had the consumables, and I have a decent set of ramps, so all I needed was an oil filter wrench and an oil drain pan. After a quick and necessary stop at Long John Silver’s for some chicken planks, I purchased both of these items for around $15 at the local Advance Auto. My first lapse in judgement came here. I had been smart enough to measure my filter before heading to the store, so selecting the wrench was easy. I then just picked the first decent-looking drain pan I found, not paying a whole lot of attention to how big it was. Let me tell you now: a 15-quart drain pan is OVERKILL. Lesson 1 learned.

Now that I had everything I needed, I guided my car onto the ramps with help from my lovely assistant. My first course of action (after setting the parking brake and chocking the wheels) was to kill the fuel pump to reduce the pressure in the fuel line so I could replace the filter with minimal mess. Crown Vics have an interesting switch in the trunk that cuts off the fuel pump in the event of an accident. A nice whack with my hand tripped the switch, and my fuel pump was rendered temporarily inoperable.

With that out of the way, I crawled under the car to scope out the drain plug and select an appropriate wrench. My initial size guess was right (not that I remember what it was), so I headed back under with my shiny new drain pan and an ample supply of shop towels. Removal of the plug was almost painless. It took a little effort getting it off, and when it finally did come completely out, I dropped it directly into the small hole in the drain pan, stopping the flow of oil into the chamber below. A quick pluck with my hand, and all was well again. I did realize, though, that I forgot to run my car until it warmed up to help the oil flow a little better. Not that I regret that, though, since I would have had to dip my fingers into nice hot oil.

The oil was taking its time draining, so I moved further back along the car to take care of the fuel filter. Removal of the lines was simple enough, although I’m always afraid I’m going to brake something like that. A fair amount of gasoline was dripping out of the lines (more than I expected), so I shoved a shop towel underneath to soak up the flow. That was my next mistake; the shop towels I have are the nice red cloth ones, and I’m not entirely sure how you get gasoline out of a towel without doing some pretty hazardous stuff. And since I didn’t want to blow up my roommates washing machine, the gasoline-impregnated towels are now in the trash. Lesson 2 learned.

Once the lines were disconnected, I could go ahead and remove the old filter from the bracked. As soon as I did, gasoline began to pour out. I expected a little bit to be in there, but I did not expect the entire filter body to be full. I soaked two shop towels with gasoline and still had plenty left over to pour out on the pavement (probably not the official way of disposing of excess gasoline, oh well). I later realized that, had I been smart about things, I would have cranked the engine a little bit after killing the fuel pump to use up any fuel still sitting in the filter or lines. Lesson 3 learned. Installation of the new filter went smoothly, as did reconnecting and securing the lines.

Next item on the agenda (after quickly reinstalling the drain plug) was tackling the oil filter. I crawled back under the car with my newly purchased filter wrench, and realized that this one might be difficult. Maneuvering the wrench around various bits to reach the filter was troublesome, as was finding any room to actually be able to rotate the handle and subsequently loosen the filter. I did succeed, and was soon on my way to unscrewing the filter by hand, being very careful not to pour oil into my eye. Once I had it off of there, I realized I had an even bigger problem: there was no easy way to actually get the filter out; none of the available openings were actually large enough to pass the filter. It was then that I remembered reading something in the shop manual long ago: the manufacturer recommends you turn the steering wheel all the way to one extreme (I believe it is to the left) to allow room to actually access the filter. Unfortunately, my front tires were on ramps, so turning the wheel wasn’t exactly practical. Next time, I will use jackstands to support the car. Lesson 4 learned.

I finally managed to wedge the old filter between a few parts, but getting the new one back in was even more difficult, especially since I was trying not to puncture it on the steering linkage. Man did ultimately prevail over machine, and I got the new filter in place and secured. Filled my engine with 5 quarts of golden new oil, started her up, and checked for leaks. Everything looked great, so it was off of the ramps and back into my parking space. Mission accomplished.

Was I satisfied with carrying this out by myself? Absolutely.

Was it worth the $30 I saved? Not a chance in hell. Although not having to deal with people who can’t understand simple things like “I only want an oil changed,” and “I inflate the front tires to 32 pounds, and the rears to 35,” (which just so happens to be the recommended pressures) was definitely worth something.

Will I do it again? Once I have the right equipment (hydraulic jack and jackstands), definitely.

Should I have taken pictures? Probably, although I didn’t do anything so terribly stupid as to be amusing.