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Could You Change Your Oil?

mini Going back many, many, many years – I bought my first car. It amazes me now that I had absolutely no understanding of motoring at all, I had passed my test (first time, smug) but about cars I knew diddly squat. Back then (the 70s) the obvious choice of first car was a Mini, so I bought a Mini. From the first garage I visited. Not a clue. I have no idea what mileage it had done. I can’t remember there being a service history. It looked quite nice, so I bought it.

At the time the purchase did leave me a little short of cash - in fact I think I had to get a loan, even though it was only a few hundred quid, but back then… you know the rest. So I decided I would service it myself. I had not tools; I borrowed some from my Dad. I had no garage; I tried to do it in the drive. I did buy a Haynes manual.

First job – Oil Change. So I bought some oil, at the time the ubiquitous Castrol GTX, and a filter and I got a couple of spanners and had a go. Long story short, I later had to go meekly to the local garage for them to do it properly – I just could not get the oil filter to seal, so the car dripped oil when running.

Undeterred, I have continued to change my own oil in the years since, and have got better at it. It’s really not that hard, though it may involve jacking up the car (mild peril involved) and it does depend somewhat on where your oil filter is located in the engine bay.

oil Here are just a few things I have learned:

  • If you have to jack up the car to reach the drain plug, do NOT lie underneath unless you’ve put an axle stand or two under the car.
  • Buy an oil catcher thingummy… I have one going back decades, it’s basically a plastic can with tray like side and a pluggable drain hole, because the oil WILL splosh everywhere when you remove the plug – this thing will catch the worst of it, and then pop in the plug and withdraw, easy peasy.
  • The drain plug will have a copper washer on it, which may be damaged by undoing it, consider pre-arming yourself with a new one before starting.
  • As for the filter, you may need a special tool to remove the cover, and you will almost certainly make a mess when it comes off, be ready with rags.
  • Depending on where the filter is, it is wise to empty the engine oil BEFORE you remove the filter, as it may well have largely drained and so less (but still some) mess.
  • There will be a rubber oil seal with your filter – so when replacing, smear this with oil on all sides before mating it all back together, this will help ease the sealing process – and don’t over-tighten the filter – it does not need to be really, really tight – you’ll thank yourself the next time you do the job.
  • Pour the new oil in SLOWLY – firstly because if you rush it will just overflow, more mess – and secondly because you want the oil to reach all the engine parts with no air pockets, slowly is best. Again, be ready with rags.
  • Check in the handbook how much oil you will need to refill the car – HOWEVER – my method has always been to check how much you took out (assuming the car was between empty and full on the dipstick) – and then put back in the same amount(ish). What you do not want to do is either under or over fill it. And remember if you do overfill, it can be tricky to get out again. oil
  • If you don’t fancy the whole jacking up and lying underneath thing, consider buying an Oil Change Pump Extractor. I bought one of these, it’s brilliant, it sucks the oil out of your dipstick tube, no mess, no possibility of death by crushing, well worth it. Some would argue that it won’t remove as much oil as ‘proper’ draining – and I would agree – but I am alive to tell you this, and looking much cleaner.
  • Check the dipstick and then run the car when everything is back together and check for leaks from the drain plug and the oil filter. Tricky to spot sometimes if you have made a mess earlier – very good idea to thoroughly clean up before you try this test so any oil you see if definitely from the car now, not from the oil change earlier.

Until very recently I had two cars – one proper useful not too old hatchback and one ancient sports car. The new one, still under warranty, I concede that in fact it’s best, if not required, to get the job done at service time by the dealer, no question. The old sports car – I’ve saved loads of dosh doing that myself. And it was almost quite fun to do.

How often then to do it? I have had cars when I did it every 3,000 miles – but that was in the old days. It depends on your choice of oil, there’s the old sort – mineral, or the new sort - synthetic or semi-synthetic. You’ll need to check your handbook to see what your manufacturer recommends – synthetic is expensive but probably worth it if you really cherish the car and plan on keeping it for a while. I reckon once a year, or once every 10 to 12 thousand miles of typical driving is about right.

And then there are the various ratings of oil, the SAE. Again check the handbook, though you also need to consider your location and driving habits to ensure full protection. So if you frequently make short trips, endure freezing or very hot conditions often, drive on dusty gravely roads, tow a trailer – all these things add up to more frequent changes of the correct good quality oil. But if you are a ‘normal’ driver, stick to what the handbook says, you’ll be fine.

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