Rather than go to a mechanic to get oil changes for my cars, I always do it myself. It is faster, cheaper, and I can ensure that I get better quality oil this way. Since I just changed my 2001 Toyota 4Runner’s oil last week, I figured I might as well take some pictures and blog about it here since there can be some tricky things with changing the 4Runner’s oil. In fact, the first time I changed the 4Runner’s oil after I bought it I almost resolved to never again do the 4Runner’s oil change myself – simply because I could not get access to the oil filter! Well, now I know better and can give some tips here about doing it yourself. After doing it a few times, you will be very quick at it (this takes me about 20 minutes now), and you don’t have to wait around at your local lube shop!
Here’s what you’ll need:
- New oil (my 4Runner takes 5.5 quarts of 5W-30)
- Oil pan to catch the oil when you drain it
- Paper towels or shop rags to clean up small messes
- Socket wrench with an extension for it
- Sockets: 12 mm for skid plate, 14 mm (or 9/16 in) for oil drain plug
It always helps if you take your vehicle for a short drive first to warm up the oil, which will thin it out and make it drain faster and more completely. After that, park the vehicle on a level surface, open the hood and remove the oil cap. The oil cap looks like the one in the picture to the right. You want to remove the cap before you drain the oil so that air can get in and the oil will drain in a steady stream and not "chug" out (like a gallon of milk turned upside down, chugging out and making a mess everywhere).
The next step is optional, but it will save you time. Remove the skid plate (you’ll need a 12mm socket and also a 3- or 6-inch socket extension). There is a hole in the skid plate just for draining the oil, but there is almost no access to the oil filter and it just makes everything easier. Additionally, removing the skid plate will help you check your vehicle’s other fluids for any leaks (I had 2 leaks when I checked!) There are 8 bolts holding the skid plate on that you will need to remove – see the picture to the right.
I just mentioned that there is almost no access to the oil filter. In fact, you absolutely cannot get to your oil filter unless you either remove the skid plate, or gain access through the driver’s side wheel well. The fastest way is through the wheel well (it is also surprisingly easy!) I’ll describe how to do this below.
Draining the Old Oil
Put the oil pan under the drain plug so that it will catch the old oil. Then remove the oil drain plug. I believe this is supposed to be a 14 mm socket, but I didn’t have one. I used a 9/16-inch instead, which fit almost perfectly. Wait until the oil has finished draining, which could be anywhere from 5 – 10 minutes.
Check Other Fluids for Leaks
While you are waiting for the oil to drain, check your vehicle’s other fluids to see if there are any leaks. First, check the fluids’ levels in their respective reservoirs. Then, look at all the hoses around the engine, especially at the ends of the hoses, to see if there are any leaks. I had some leaks! Interestingly, it looks like my transmission fluid hoses are leaking coolant (Impossible! Coolant doesn’t flow through tranny fluid hoses!) It turns out that the hoses weren’t leaking, but the brass fittings at the radiator were leaking. A few turns of the wrench tightened the brass fittings right up.
Removing the Old Oil Filter
After the oil has drained, gain access to the oil filter through the driver’s side wheel well (see pictures at right). Accessing the filter through the wheel well is fast and is actually very easy. Just turn the wheels all the way to the left, lift open the cover flap shown in the picture (you might have to remove some clasps first), and voila! Access to the oil filter! Remove it either by hand or by using an oil filter socket attachment. Be very careful, the engine’s filter mounting design is terribly messy because the filter is installed upside down! You will inevitably spill some oil down the side of your engine, but if you are quick to unscrew the filter and then turn the filter open-side-up then the mess will be very minimal.
For me, after unscrewing the filter, it was easier to get it out by passing it down to my other hand down through an opening where the skid plate used to be.
Installing the Drain Plug and New Oil Filter
You need to drain the oil out of the filter so that you aren’t polluting the environment when you throw the filter away. You can drain the filter by holding it upside-down over the oil pan that you already used to collect the old engine oil earlier. I had a mesh thing nearby that I propped on top of the oil pan so that I wouldn’t have to hold the filter while it drained. After the filter has drained, turn it back upright again, put some paper towels over the opening, and then put it in a small box (like the box from your new oil filter) and then throw it away.
Use some paper towels or clean shop rags to wipe away any old oil and debris from around the locations where the oil drain plug and the oil filter get installed. Then install the drain plug. You might want to inspect the drain plug first to see if it needs to be replaced (in case it is rusty or damaged).
Next, put some new oil on your finger and smear it all around the rubber seal on the opening of the new oil filter. This will ensure that you have a correct, leak-free seal when you install the oil filter.
Next, install the oil filter through the wheel well opening described earlier. As you screw the filter on, take note at what point you feel the rubber seal make contact with the engine. After it has made contact, you should continue to turn the filter an additional 3/4 turn (see picture at right).
After finishing up with the drain plug and the new filter, reinstall the skid plate.
Filling With the New Oil
Most cars take 4 – 5 quarts of oil. Most small trucks and SUVs take 5 – 6 quarts. Larger vehicles can take even more. My 4Runner takes about 5.5 quarts. The best way to tell how much oil you need to put in is by measuring how much came out (the old oil that is now sitting in the oil pan). You can do this by putting the old oil into the empty oil bottles as you fill up your engine with the new oil. Fill your engine with oil by pouring the oil in where you removed the oil cap at the very beginning. After you are done, re-install the cap.
Checking the Oil Level
After you are done installing the drain plug, new oil filter, pouring in the new oil and replacing the oil cap, start the vehicle and let it run for a few minutes. Then turn it off and let it sit for another minute or two.
Check the oil level by pulling out the oil dipstick, wiping it off with a clean paper towel or rag, reinsert it into the engine, and finally remove it again and check that the oil level is in between its markings that show "low" and "high" levels. On the 4Runner these are two small bumps (see picture at right). Next, take your car for a 5 – 10 minute drive so that the oil can heat up (this is a good opportunity to dispense of the oil as described in the next section). When you are finished driving, check the oil level again. It will be higher now because the oil is hot, so just make sure that its hot level is around the "high" level markings. Some vehicles have separate sets of markings for "cold" and "hot", too, but not mine.
In the picture at the right you can see that my oil levels look slightly low when cold, but much higher when hot. Both levels were in between the dots, so the oil level is just right!
Dispensing of the Old Oil
You can’t just throw away the old oil – that would be very bad for the environment, including polluting many sources where your food and water come from. Most auto parts stores will accept used oil for free. I live next to Autozone and NAPA – Autozone takes my used oil no problem (call first to make sure their tanks aren’t full), but NAPA won’t take my oil unless I originally bought the oil from them. Many local car repair shops will also accept your used oil – just call first to check.