The Ultimate Oil Change Guide: How To, How Much, & How Often

The Ultimate Oil Change Guide

An oil change is a routine form of maintenance that’s necessary for your vehicle. Changing your car’s engine oil at regular intervals ensures that the engine runs smoothly. 

If your car is overdue for an oil change, you can expect to see symptoms like loud noises coming from your engine and a burning smell inside your car. 

So how does an oil change work? 

An oil change is usually done by draining the oil first and replacing the oil filter before adding fresh oil to your engine. It is usually done every six months or after a certain number of kilometres. The recommendation will depend on your car’s make. 

As easy as that sounds, there are some things that you need to be mindful of if you’re planning a DIY oil change. Many people consider changing their own oil to save some money, but when it isn’t performed by a professional, it can cost you as much as a full engine replacement!

Since an oil change is usually part of your regular car service and repair routine, avoiding taking your car to the mechanic can also mean neglecting other critical maintenance tasks. With that in mind, is it worth changing your car’s oil yourself? All your questions about car engine oil and oil changes will be answered here, so you’ll be equipped to make this important decision. 

Read on to learn how to change your car’s oil. 

What is Motor Oil and What Does it Do?

Motor oil or engine oil is what your engine needs to run properly. Adding oil to your car serves many purposes, including lubrication, protection against corrosion, cooling, cleaning, and sealing. 

Lubrication is the primary purpose of motor oil. Combustion happens inside your engine, and that process involves friction. The base oil in your motor oil lubricates those moving parts, reduces friction, and reduces the wear and tear inside your engine. 

The base oil of your motor oil also cools your engine.  This is also important because it affects the performance and efficiency of your vehicle.

Motor oil usually comprises 95% base oils or base stock and 5% additives (such as zinc dialkyldithiophosphate (ZDDP), and magnesium sulphonates). Meanwhile, additives such as magnesium sulphonates help clean engine sludge, combustion residue, and impurities. The additives, particularly the ZDDP, prevent wear and tear and corrosion. 

However, engine oil doesn’t last forever. The oxygen involved in fuel combustion eventually oxidises or corrodes your motor oil, so it’s important to change your car’s oil regularly.

How Often Should You Change Your Car’s Oil?

You should generally change the oil every 7,000 to 15,000 kms or every six months – whichever comes sooner. Ultimately, it depends on your car’s model and make as well as your driving conditions. You will usually find the recommended oil change interval in the owner’s manual. 

Now, some people might not keep track of their car’s mileage or age. Some signs you need to change your oil are engine noise, an oil or burnt smell inside the car, and dark exhaust smoke, to name a few.

Why is it Important to Change Car Oil Regularly?

The most important reason to change your car’s oil regularly is to keep your engine running smoothly and avoid high repair costs. Low or dirty engine oil will affect your engine performance, lifespan, fuel mileage, and environmental footprint.

Engine oil keeps your engine cool, clean, and lubricated, which means that your engine can run optimally. Friction caused by debris (if there’s no lubricant) can make your engine run poorly. But with fresh engine oil, you’re guaranteeing a longer lifespan for your car and better fuel efficiency.

As for your environmental footprint, old and dirty oil produces harmful emissions. So, a regular oil change can help make your transport more eco-friendly.

What Happens if I Never Change the Oil in My Car?

Ultimately, if you never change the oil in your car, you’re setting yourself up for excessive costs – and setting your vehicle up for some serious damage. 

First, your oil consumption will skyrocket because the engine needs to work with sludge as its lubricant. Next, your engine will overheat because there’s no more motor oil to keep it cool. This could lead to gaskets blowing up and engine components warping and wearing out. Additionally, you’ll hear loud rattling noises when your engine is running. 

Eventually, the dirt build-up or sludge will solidify and lead to oil starvation in your car’s internal components, which usually means engine replacement is required. 

Given the consequences, changing your engine oil regularly is always the more cost-effective option! 

How Do You Know if Your Engine Oil Needs Changing?

Signs your car needs an oil change include: 

  • The engine oil is low. You should regularly check your engine oil using a dipstick. This is the easiest way to know if you should change your engine oil level. It should come up to the “full” mark on your stick. Otherwise, it may be time for an oil change. 
  • The engine oil is dark and dirty. When you dip the stick, it should come out quite clear, meaning you can still see the stick through the oil. If the dipstick is covered in opaque oil, then it’s time to change your oil.
  • There is a knocking noise. The engine oil prevents the components of your internal combustion engine from knocking or making noise, so if you hear metal on metal clanking, you should get your motor oil changed.
  • There is an odd smell. You may smell oil or something that’s burning. Remember that motor oil cools your engine and prevents high friction, so a burnt smell might emerge without it. Although this may also mean an oil leak, you should check your engine either way.
  • The check engine or oil change light is on. Ideally, you don’t reach this stage because sometimes your engine is already in really bad condition; that’s why the check engine light is on.
  • You’ve reached six months or the recommended mileage (whichever comes first). As part of your car’s regular maintenance, the engine oil needs to be changed at every certain mileage point, depending on your car’s make and driving conditions. Most of the time, every 7,000 to 15,000 kms, you have to get your oil changed.
  • There is dark exhaust smoke. Apart from low engine oil, this can also indicate other problems, such as oil leaks or broken engine parts.

How to Check Your Engine Oil

Here is the step-by-step process to check your engine oil: 

  1. Consult your owner’s manual for the best temperature at which to check your oil. Some cars recommend the engine off, but others recommend warming up the engine first to get a more accurate reading.
  2. Open your hood and locate the dipstick. Pull out the dipstick and wipe off any dirt.
  3. Completely insert the dipstick into the oil can. The oil should reach the “full” mark when you pull it back up. Make sure to check the viscosity and for any debris as well.
  4. Wipe the dipstick clean before putting it back. Then, close the hood.

How Often Should I Check My Car’s Oil Level?

It is recommended to check your oil level after every petrol fill-up. If you don’t fill up too often, then at least once every fortnight or before long drives. In older cars, once a week might be better.

What Colour Should Engine Oil Be?

Clean engine oil is amber, golden, or yellowish and slightly translucent. Over time, it becomes darker (from dark brown to black). 

Now, engine oil gets darker over time. That is normal because the oil is used in combustion, so it burns. So, the colour is not the only sign that you need an oil change. Make sure to watch out for other signs as well.

Should I Change My Own Oil?

It is possible to change your own oil, but it’s not always a good idea. You’ll need the right safety equipment (like a car jack stand) and the right tools (like the right size wrench for your oil drain plug). If you’re not feeling confident, the safest option is to have your oil changed by a mechanic.

If you’re a rookie, is it worth changing your own oil? Let’s face it, there will always be a first time for everything, but it’s not the best vehicle maintenance task for a beginner.

If you make a mistake, that might cost you plenty in engine repairs or replacements that could have been avoided with a professional oil change. Lifting your car can also be dangerous if you’re not 100% confident working in that environment. 

Your oil change intervals will also be very similar to the recommended service intervals for your vehicle. In addition to the oil change and filter change, a minor service involves plenty of checks to detect any issues with your vehicle early. 

If you change your own engine oil at home, but aren’t doing a thorough health check of your vehicle, this decision can also cost you hundreds (or thousands) in the long run. 

However, if you’re interested in changing your own oil, the first step is to learn about everything this involves. We’ve put together a step-by-step guide to oil changes below to get you started.  

How to Change Your Car’s Oil (Step-by-Step)

Keen to try changing your car’s engine oil? You’ll find the step-by-step instructions below. Remember, safety always comes first – so you should only attempt this process with the right skills and equipment. If you’re not feeling confident, an oil change is a job for a professional.

The exact method will also depend on your make and model, so consult your manufacturer’s manual first and foremost. However, these instructions give you an idea of what’s involved and what to consider at each stage of the process. 

An engine oil change involves these 11 steps:

  1. Prepare your supplies. Read what your car’s manual has to say about changing the engine oil. Also, prepare the materials, including the type and amount of oil you need, the correct wrench, oil filter, and a basin, bucket, oil reservoir, or oil drain pan to drain your oil. Prepare some gloves and rags as well.
  2. Warm up your engine. This will improve the motor oil flow when draining, ensuring that there will be little-to-no old engine oil left in your oil pan later. After about 5 minutes, turn it off.
  3. Lift your car. Use jack stands, ramps, or hoists to get your vehicle off the ground. The space underneath should be enough for you to get under your vehicle and work comfortably with your tools. Remember that the car should be level.
  4. Locate the oil pan and oil filter. For most cars, you need to remove the cover or undertray to access the pan and filter.
  5. Get ready to drain the oil. Use a wrench to remove the drain plug in your oil pan. Expect oil to start leaking out quickly, so make sure your drain pan is ready. Slowly unscrew the drain plug and let the oil drain for 5 minutes or so.
  6. Prepare to replace the oil filter. Use an oil filter wrench or your hands to loosen the oil filter, but don’t remove it yet. There will be oil leaks, so get your rugs ready. Once the leak subsides, unscrew the oil filter completely, including the gasket (or O-ring).
  7. Clean everything up. Wipe the oil drain pan plug, the oil filter, and any other components that got oil on them.
  8. Put the drain plug back on. Check the owner’s manual on whether you need a torque wrench and/or a washer behind the drain plug.
  9. Prepare to put the oil filter back on. Apply a light oil coating around the gasket first to ensure that the filter will be tightly sealed. Once the gasket is back, screw the oil filter back on.
  10. Lower your car and fill your engine with new oil. Make sure to reinstall the undertray before you get your car back on the ground. Then, open the hood and locate the oil can in your engine. Use a funnel to pour new oil in.
  11. Final checks. Wait a bit to let the oil settle into the pan – about 5 minutes – then check the oil level with a dipstick. Once that’s okay, start the vehicle and warm the engine, then check for leaks. If there’s a leak, then you have to go back and possibly screw the drain plug or oil filter tighter.

How Should I Dispose of My Old Oil After an Oil Change?

After an oil change, it is important to safely dispose of the used motor oil by sending it to a recycling facility. If you did the oil change yourself, that means putting the old oil into a clean and empty oil container that you need to seal properly.

You can find out where to recycle used motor oil near you online. Your local council website may also have information on where to dispose of sump oil. Local transfer stations, waste management centres, or landfill sites in your area may accept used oil for safe and responsible disposal. 

It’s important that you should never put used engine oil in your household rubbish bin or recycling bin. Oil is considered a type of hazardous waste, so keep it out of your wheelie bin. However, motor oil can be clean and recycled by the right facilities, which helps preserve this finite resource. 

Ideally, the oil you send through these recycling facilities is just motor oil, with no other automotive fluids mixed in. 

Also, try to get all the oil—including any leaks from the oil filter. Oil is harmful to the environment, especially the waterways. So, make sure you send it to recycling facilities.

What is the Best Motor Oil for Your Vehicle?

You can find out what kind of motor oil is recommended for your car in the manufacturer’s manual. The best motor oil for your vehicle is determined by your car make, the age of the engine, your location and climate, and your driving style.

Let’s talk about the types of motor oil out there and see which one is more suited for you.

The three types of engine oil on the market are:

  • Mineral engine oils are usually used by older or classic cars. They’re cheap and not performance focused. In fact, they have low viscosity at high temperatures. They also have a shorter lifespan.
  • Synthetic engine oils (also called full synthetic motor oils) are very common in new vehicles, premium car models, sports cars, and towing or hauling vehicles. They have good longevity and are good if you want to focus on performance. Synthetic oil is also recommended for places with extreme weather (very cold winters and very hot summers).
  • Semi-synthetic engine oils (also called synthetic blend motor oils) combine the benefits of both mineral (cheap) and synthetic engine oils (good performance). They are usually used by turbo-diesel engines.

Apart from the type, you may also see labels like SAE 10W-30 on your motor oil container. That determines the grade, weight, or viscosity and tells of the overall performance of the engine oil in cold and hot temperatures as determined by the Society of Automotive Engineers

The lower the first number, the better it is for cold climates. Meanwhile, the higher the second number, the better it is for hot climates.

Car Oil Change FAQs

How Much Oil Does a Car Need?

To know how much oil your car needs, make sure to check the owner’s manual. In general, though, it can be estimated by the number of cylinders of the vehicle. For instance, a four-cylinder engine needs about 3.5 to 4.5 litres, a six-cylinder engine needs around 4.5 to 5.5 litres, and an eight-cylinder engine needs approximately 5.5 to 7.5 litres of oil.

Can I Just Top up the Oil Instead of Changing It?

No, it is not recommended to just top up your oil instead of changing it. This simply mixes the new oil with old and contaminated oil, which isn’t good for your car’s long-term health. In addition, topping up the oil can cause other issues such as overfilling.

What Happens if You Put Too Much Oil in Your Car?

If you put too much oil in your car, you may have too much pressure that can cause warping or oil leaks. Lubrication in the engine may also become poor as the oil will become frothy. Other issues include spark plug issues (causing starting issues, petrol mileage inefficiency, or engine misfires) and catalytic converter issues (which can result in high replacement costs).

Is It Best to Change the Oil When the Car Is Hot or Cold?

It is best to consult the owner’s manual as some car models can be changed with the engine off. However, most cars need to be hot (with the engine warmed up). The logic behind it is the oil viscosity is thinner when it is warm, so it is much easier to drain completely.

Do I Need to Lift My Car to Change the Oil?

Yes, you need to lift your car with ramps or jack stands to change the oil. You need a comfortable (and safe!) working space underneath so that you can unscrew the drain plug and filter and put your oil drain under your vehicle. If you don’t have the right equipment, get a mechanic to change your oil. 

How Much Should an Oil Change Cost in Australia?

An oil change is typically included in the cost of servicing your car. The overall cost can range from $200 to $600 depending on your make and model, location, and whether you’re getting a minor or major service. If the main thing you need is an oil change, you’ll probably opt for a minor service. 


This article is published in good faith and for general informational purposes only. Shift Automotive does not make any warranties about the ongoing completeness and reliability of this information, and specifics will vary according to your vehicle’s manufacturer and model. This article is not intended to replace consultation with a qualified automotive service technician.