Yes Virginia, You Can Change Your Own Oil

by Marie on December 20, 2012 · 10 comments

Perhaps it is just me, but it seems that a lot of us no longer do any type of maintenance on our own cars anymore – especially us girls!  If you have a vehicle and are strapped for cash, you can still care for your car well by handling a few fairly straightforward maintenance tasks yourself.

I’m a female, and when I was younger, my Dad taught me to do several diy tasks to maintain my old car – a 1963 Buick Special!

Granted, today’s engine compartments are packed to the gills and it can be hard to get to things these days. My Buick didn’t have air conditioning and a lot of other things we have nowadays so there was plenty of room to operate. Our old pickup truck was another vehicle I used to maintain – even rotating the tires myself.

Here are a few of the things I used to do (I gave it up when I started earning enough that it was more cost efficient for me to have someone else do it), along with suggestions for other things you could also do that I never got into.

Check your tire pressure.

An inexpensive tire pressure gauge and a couple of quarters are all you need to make sure your tires, including your spare, are inflated to the air pressure that is most beneficial for your car. Keeping them inflated properly will help you save on gas money and ensure a smoother and more even ride.

Oil and oil filter changes.

One of the very best things you can do for your car is to make sure you have enough oil and that the oil is changed regularly.

The only hard part I used to find in changing the oil was getting to the oil pan plug underneath the car (this may be even more difficult today with the low slung cars and the ‘improvements’ that hide the undersides of your vehicle.

Sometimes it was a little tough getting the plug unscrewed and the filter loosened, but other than that I had no issues that a little soap and water didn’t cure when I finished.

Edmunds has a very explanatory article posted about how to change your oil and filter.

Tire rotation/snow tire mounting.

Back in the day of rear wheel tires, it was critical to mount snow tires here in the Midwest.  Today, I insist on front wheel drive cars since they do so much better in the snow.  Now, it is not so critical to have snow tires here, but it is critical to get the best wear you can out of all your tires and one way to do that is to rotate them so that they wear more evenly.

I remember one year when I was a stay at home Mom with two little kids. I decided it was time to put the snow tires on and rotate the back tires to the front on our ’76 Chevy pickup. I corralled the kids, then jacked up the truck to change out the first rear tire, after loosening the lug nuts on it. I managed to lift off the heavy tire and roll it into the garage. I rolled out the snow tire and hefted it up onto the wheel and then slipped the nuts back on and tightened them up. No small feat for a 5/4” 120 lb non-muscular girl! Then I went so on and so forth around each wheel to replace each tire. By the way, the tires were already mounted onto the rims so I didn’t have to mess with that, and probably couldn’t have without special equipment.

The hardest thing about all of this, aside from the weight of the wheels was getting the dang lug nuts loose. If they have been tightened with power tools in a garage, they are super tight. One time the neighbor (a male carpenter) noticed me struggling and helpfully came over and got them started for me!

Cleaning and detailing inside and out.

Needless to say, keeping the exterior surfaces of your vehicle clean and waxed helps preserve the finish and makes your car look so much better. This basically takes nothing but time and a few cleaning products. I still do this little maintenance job as an almost 64 year old grandma.

Checking fluids.

Remember in the movie Back to the Future when Michael J. Fox first sees the filling station back in the 1950’s and all of the attendants are surrounding the car, checking oil, wiping the windshield, filling the gas tank and etc? Well, even though I was raised in the fifties and sixties, Dad taught me the importance of checking fluid levels and filling when needed.  Between hubby and I, we still do these checks ourselves – especially before taking a highway trip.

This is easy to do and takes little time and can save you big troubles. I used to check the oil level, brake fluid, transmission fluids, windshield wiper fluids, and battery fluids. Once again Edmunds comes to the rescue with more information on why you should make sure these levels are checked and how to do so.

Others that you may want to try to tackle.

Although I personally never did the following, hubby has done them and you can too.

Change the windshield wipers. When you see lots of streaks on your windshield when using your wipers, it may be time to change the rubber parts on them. Auto stores or auto care sections of many stores carry the replacements and they don’t cost a lot.

Change spark plugs. If you have more than 70,000 miles on your car or if it has trouble starting or idles roughly, you may need to change your spark plugs.

Flush the radiator. Draining and replacing the coolant in your radiator helps remove solid sediment that may have accumulated in it. Once or twice a year is sometimes recommended (but we don’t do ours this often).

Change the brake pads. If you have had your car awhile, your brake pads may have worn down. I know I wore our van’s pads terribly coming down the mountainside in Yellowstone National Park – they were smoking!

Change the fuel filter.  A completely plugged up filter will stop your engine cold.  A partially clogged one my cause your engine to sputter at highway speeds, never a pleasant experience!

Change the air filter. Twice a year may be the best schedule – although we don’t do ours this often. If not replaced your fuel economy goes down.

Here, from CNN Money, are ideas on how to do some of the above maintenance tasks.

What maintenance do you do (or did you used to do) on your vehicles? Any words of advice?

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Christa December 20, 2012 at 5:33 pm

I have helped change out a headlight, rotate tires, replace windshield wipers, and change spark plugs. My stepdad was a firm believer in women knowing a little bit about cars. But I never changed the oil or anything like that. He wanted to teach me, but I wasn’t all that interested. Now, my husband can do wonders on a car, yet I’m still glad that I can do some of the basics if in a pinch.


2 Marie at Family Money Values December 20, 2012 at 6:55 pm

Impressive Christa!


3 Financial Black Sheep December 23, 2012 at 7:20 pm

I love technology and working with computers, but when it comes to my car I would rather beat my head. lol. I just find it absolutely boring now and like you said too many small nooks and crannies, that makes it almost imposible to do some maintenance. (Ask my husband about his tiny Mazda Miata he used to have.) When I was younger though, I taught myself to change my tires and other things, because I was already spending an insane amount of time cleaning and waxing the thing. Had to show it off at school (haha), even if it wasn’t the nicest. (1st car used 1980 Ford Mustang, but taught myself on my 2nd vehicle, a used 1990 Ford Ranger).


4 Marie at Family Money Values December 26, 2012 at 6:06 pm

My first was a 1963 Buick Special!


5 Chris December 27, 2012 at 12:35 am

What have I done: Well some 15-25 years ago, everything. Literally even 20+ years ago replacing an engine and transmission (two different vehicles I owned – at different times). Brakes, almost without thinking.

What do I do now: Very little other than checking the fluids and tire pressure. As you said, once you achieve a certain level of income it almost doesn’t make sense.

Words of advice: If you are planning on changing an automatic transmission and weigh less than the transmission with a torque converter full of fluid, ABSOLUTELY rent a transmission jack. It kinda hurts dropping it on your chest so that it doesn’t fall straight to the ground and get damaged. Not to mention having to raise the replacement back up into the car and line up the bolts holding the transmission to the engine.


6 Marie at FamilyMoneyValues December 31, 2012 at 11:10 pm

Wow, hope you didn’t suffer permanent damage via a torque converter!


7 eemusings December 28, 2012 at 5:20 am

My BF and I share a car which he drives 99% of the time (I walk to work). Therefore I think it only fair that he take care of the maintenance :p He does most basics and sometimes slightly more advanced stuff if he can.


8 Marie at FamilyMoneyValues December 31, 2012 at 11:11 pm

Makes sense, but you might want to know how some day?


9 December 28, 2012 at 6:15 am

The title is so funny:). On a serious note, it saves time and of course money if we can do simple things like that by ourselves.


10 Marie at FamilyMoneyValues December 31, 2012 at 11:12 pm

Well, it is kind of about believing you can…(regarding the title, which is of course a take off of Yes Virginia there is a Santa Claus)


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