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Rudi Kiefer: Learn how to change your own oil
Rudi Kiefer
We all want our cars to run well, needing as few repairs as possible. Modern oils and regular oil changes can make engines last almost indefinitely. If you want to know exactly what type of oil is in the engine, you need to do this quick chore yourself. Any average home mechanic can do it correctly and in an environmentally responsible fashion.

Use a wrench fitting the drain plug correctly. Usually it’s a 14, 15 or 17 mm socket. Stores sell fancy plastic collection pans, but they get scratched and become hard to clean. My old stainless steel cookpot from the thrift store cleans up shiny every time. The old oil goes into a 5-quart bottle, for example one that came with motor oil in the first place.

The filter is easiest to remove by using an inexpensive oil filter wrench with scary large claws from a local tools supermarket. Oil filters are a disposable item. Draining the old one into the collection bottle for a few days before tossing it in the trash is a friendly nod to the environment.

Most modern oils are of the multigrade type, with the first number giving the viscosity (“liquid thickness”) at low temperature, with “W” meaning “winter,” and the second at driving temperature. So, a 10W-30 oil actually gets thicker as it heats up. Grandpa’s Plymouth wanted single-weight SAE 50, or the newer 20W-50, but that’s too thick for most recent engines. They are built with much closer tolerances now.

Some require oil as thin as 0W-20. Check the filler cap under the hood, or the user’s manual. If synthetic oil is recommended, one should spend the extra money because this suggests that the engine is built very tightly.

After draining the old oil, replace the plug and filter, and pour the fresh oil into the filler opening. What to do with a bottle of old lubricant?

The Hall County Recycling Center, located at 1008 Chestnut St. SE, accepts used engine oil. It may be even more convenient to drop it off at a local auto parts store for recycling, free of charge.

In no case should used engine oil be poured into sewers or on the ground, because it is highly polluting. It’s also carcinogenic, and a pair of disposable latex gloves provides good skin protection while handling the filter and the drain pan.

Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor at Brenau University, teaching physical and health sciences on Brenau’s Georgia campuses and in China. His column appears Sundays and at

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