Just how complicated is an oil change?

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English: SIGONELLA, Sicily (July 1, 2009) Avia...

It’s not really. Unfortunately we get lazy and that’s when you get minimum wage goofies involved.

That’s when it can go completely sideways

As many of you know, changing the oil in what could be a daily beater, your prized possession or a mediocre family car, is not that complicated. Messy? Maybe. But definitely not complicated. The simplified version involves getting the vehicle up in the air, unscrewing the drain plug, draining the old oil out, replacing the drain plug and filling it back up with new oil. Pretty straight forward. Right? It should not be a traumatic experience at all.

You may notice that I used the words SHOULD NOT in that sentence. The reason for this is this. Not all of us are capable of changing our own oil and other fluids. And sometimes the circumstances make it a problem. This is where the local service centers get involved. They are more than happy to do this for a fee. Not really sinister at all. And there are a whole bunch of these quick service facilities littering the local landscape. The problem here is that in most cases the person actually doing the service is usually a minimum age, part time, young know-it-all that doesn’t have a clue. And even more alarming is that the car they are working on may be a $100 beater or a $80K Mercedes. Either way this could get ugly real fast if it is not done right.

NOTE Before we go any farther you may want to check out my blog entry – Walmart Oil Change goes wrong

The simple act of unscrewing the drain plug is by itself not the problem. It’s the screwing it back in that gets them all jacked up! Here’s where they get confused. First off it needs to be threaded back in correctly! I say it again, Correctly. With a new gasket. That means by hand to start. Finish with a hand wrench. The correct size hand wrench. Not cross threaded. And not with power tools! This is critical because many of the new oil pans are now aluminum or other soft metals that don’t take nicely to being over-torqued. The threads will be stripped in a heartbeat if you use power tools. It is because of this lack of knowledge not likely that the car I brought in in operational condition should now, all of a sudden, have the oil plug “develop a leak” or even “fall out”! Could it be a problem? You betcha! Ignorant gorillas under the car tightening the pan plug is the problem.

My advice here is if the vehicle has a non-steel pan pay close attention to where you take it for an oil change. You really need to know and trust your service provider. The cheapest is usually not the best choice.

A critical sidebar to this simple act of changing the oil is changing the oil filter. It goes hand in hand. And here to things can get silly really quick if you don’t pay attention. Just like the oil plug, unscrewing the oil filter by nature is no biggie. Usually the hardest part is getting your hand and the tool in a position to do so. Beyond that it is a similar scenario of screw the old one off and screw  the new one on. This screwing the new one on is where the unknowing neophyte gets it all wrong. First you a supposed to put some oil on the sealing ring so it seats nicely and doesn’t grab. Next is screwed down to contact plus a quarter turn.  Not two more turns! I can safely say those of us that do our own changes have, at one time or another, encountered a jammed filter. It was screwed on so tight it either left the base plate stuck to the seat after having the housing stripped away or  the ole “stab it with a screwdriver” removal technique was employed  in order to get it started. And of course, no one seems to know how it got that way. Most incidents are immediately after a trip to the quick service facility. Gee! What are the odds? Pretty good actually!

The re-emergence of the insert/canister style oil filter has created it’s own monsters with the handling of the filter housings or covers. Once again the wrong tools and techniques could be fatal to your engine. Caution is the keyword here.

My advice is the same here. You gotta know who is under your car for stuff like this. And if you don’t consider yourself warned. It has always amazed me that oil change business owners continually populate their staff with unskilled goofies knowing that if it goes sideways because of them the owner is responsible. Apparently they are avid gamblers.

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