Time Needed: 30 minutes, Difficulty: Beginner, Cost: $20-100-plus, depending on how much oil you need
By: Tony Markovich
In forums, on social media, and in your favorite search bars, inexperienced car owners are asking the question, “How do I change synthetic oil and how often do I need to change it?” It’s not complex, but to the millions of car owners who have never seen a dipstick or felt the slick black stuff on their hands, it’s a necessary starting point.
Because the oils are labeled differently, it could seem like a synthetic oil change might be different from a conventional one, but that’s not the case. The location of the oil filter or the drain plug vary slightly from vehicle to vehicle, but the actual process of changing your oil remains the same no matter what type of oil you’re using.
Still, it’s good to know the differences between synthetic oil and conventional oil and why the two coexist in the automotive fluid landscape. The Car Bibles editors want to clear up any confusion, so we’ve presented some key information, and instructions for performing an oil change, below.
How Is Synthetic Oil Different From Regular Oil?
Synthetic oil is an invention made by humans with the hopes of creating a better, and longer lasting, version of regular oil. Essentially, synthetic oil is a lubricant produced by pairing molecularly designed base oils with additives determined by the manufacturer.
For a more detailed definition, visit our previous article, What Is Synthetic Oil?
Are Synthetic Oil Changes Different From Regular Oil Changes?
Regardless of whether you are putting synthetic oil, high mileage oil, oil derived from natural gas, or plain and simple conventional oil into your vehicle, the process will be the same. So, no, the process of doing synthetic oil changes is not different from the process of changing regular oil. However, the timespan or mileage between oil changes will differ if you use synthetic versus regular and synthetic oil costs considerably more.
What’s the Difference Between Full Synthetic and Synthetic Blend?
Synthetic oil can be broken down to two different classifications: full synthetic and synthetic blend. Because there is no universal governing body that specifies exactly what synthetic oil is or has to be, oils from different brands vary, as each company has a different process and can use the phrase “full synthetic” how they wish. The difference between synthetic and synthetic blend comes down to the chemical makeups of each, and straight synthetic is theoretically more pure than a synthetic blend.
Synthetic oils tout advantages of fewer contaminants and more consistent molecule sizes over conventional oil, and synthetic blends fall in between the two. So, synthetic blends do feature some of the positive traits of synthetic oils, just not to the fullest extent. That means synthetic blends typically will still have some contaminants, and the molecule sizes will be less consistent. By playing both sides, it is priced in between synthetic oil and conventional oil, as well. For more information about how oil is refined and how it is produced, read our full article, What Is Synthetic Oil?
How Often Should You Perform Synthetic Oil Changes?
Back in the day, the rule for changing conventional motor oil was about every 3,000 miles. For today’s vehicles, that’s awfully wasteful and unnecessary. Each manufacturer has different recommendations for how frequently you should change your oil, and you should stick to those recommendations. You can verify factory recommendations for your car with a simple Google search, just make sure you specify exactly what trim, year, and engine type your car is and double check with a couple of sources if you don’t have your owner’s manual anymore.
However, as a general rule, it’s a good idea to change your oil every 5,000-7,500 miles. Some manufacturers even say you can change your oil every 10,000 miles or longer.
How To Find and Buy the Right Oil and Oil Filter
There are multiple ways to make sure you are buying and using the right motor oil for your vehicle. The easiest route is to use an online configurator or drop-down menu on an online auto parts store that will ask you for your year, make, and model, and will spit out the type of oil and oil filters you need. This is often available on motor oil websites, as well.
If you’re an instant-gratification person and want to pick up your oil and filter at the store, then most automotive shops like AutoZone, O’Reilly, Napa, and Advanced Auto Parts will have large books that will tell you the information you need. At the store, you also have the perk of asking somebody for help if you’re still confused.
Lastly, your owner’s or service manual has information on oil type, oil filter type, and oil capacity required for your car. You know, that thing stuffed into your glove box that gets in the way of all your important candy bar wrappers.
How Much Oil Do I Need?
There is no uniform amount of oil you need when performing an oil change, it varies from car to car. You can find this information in your owner’s manual, or just Google it. But if you search online, make sure you check a couple of sources and confirm you’re looking at specs for your car exactly. Look it up before you place your order or go to the store so you make sure you have enough.
Is It Worth Spending the Extra Money on Synthetic Oil?
It depends. If you have a modern car that specifically calls for synthetic oil, it’s a must. If you plan on keeping your car for a long time, synthetic oil can typically provide better protection than conventional. Because good lubrication goes a long way to improving engine longevity, we would recommend this small splurge. However, If you’ve got an older car that doesn’t require synthetic, and you don’t mind changing your oil often, it might not be as big of a deal.
The Safety Brief
Working on a car is inherently dangerous, even for simple jobs like changing the oil. Make sure you have these necessary safety items to keep your skin clear and your insides inside.
Extra safety note: Do not perform an oil change immediately after the car has been running. The engine and oil will be hot! Be sure to give your car time to cool down before attempting any oil changes.
The Tools & Parts You Need
You’ll be doing oil changes for the rest of your life, so make sure you have the proper tools, the right safety gear, and the correct oil for your vehicle.
- A lift or jack
- Jack stands
- Car ramps if you don’t use a jack.
- Wheel chocks
- Ratchet and socket set
- Torque wrench
- Oil catch pan
- Oil filter wrench (optional)
- Shop towels or rags
- Oil filter
The Job: How To Perform a Synthetic Oil Change
It’s no different from a conventional oil change.
- Park the car on a level surface and allow the engine to cool down.
- If using a jack, put the car in park, engage the parking brake, and jack the car up. If using wheel ramps, drive onto the ramps, then put the car in park and engage the parking brake.
- Place your jack stands underneath the vehicle and place the wheel chocks behind the rear wheels.
- Pop the hood and remove the oil cap.
- Slide an oil catch pan underneath the vehicle.
- Get underneath the vehicle with your ratchet and remove the oil pan plug with the catch pan under the plug. Be careful with the plug, as it is easy to drop into the oil pan.
- While the oil is draining out, place some rags around the oil filter to sop up spillage and remove the oil filter. There will be oil inside the filter, so dump that into the catch pan and place the oil filter aside. Some filters will be self-contained, others will have housings.
- Once the oil is completely drained, remove the catch pan from underneath the car and stow the oil for proper disposal later on.
- With the new oil filter, use your finger to rub some new oil onto the new filter gasket (Ed. Note: I drop a little oil into the filter, as well).
- Reinstall the new oil filter with your hand, with a socket wrench, or with an oil filter wrench.
- Once the filter is back on, put the drain plug back onto the oil pan. If the plug washer is damaged, replace it. When tightening the plug, use a torque wrench to tighten it to manufacturer specifications, which can be found in your owner’s manual.
- Using a funnel, pour the manufacturer-specified amount of new oil into your engine and put the oil cap back on.
- Return the car to level ground, start the car up for a minute, then turn it back off.
- After the car has cooled again, check the dipstick to make sure you have the proper amount of oil in your engine. If you need more, add more.
The Car Bibles Questionnaire
Car Bibles answers all your burning questions!
Q. Is synthetic oil more expensive than conventional oil?
- It is, but part of the price difference is recuperated because you typically perform fewer oil changes when using synthetic oil.
Q. Can you use synthetic oil and conventional oil together?
- We don’t recommend it. Stick to one type.
Q. Does synthetic oil improve performance?
- A. Not in the way you’re thinking. Technically, synthetic oil has fewer impurities than conventional oil, and it is designed to handle temperature fluctuations better while offering improved protection and lubrication. It’s doubtful you’d notice a major difference in your driving experience, however.
The Video Tutorial
Learn more from this visual aid from Advanced Auto Parts.
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