Save more by changing your truck’s oil.
By Tim Walton
I don’t always work on trucks, but when I do, some things are actually easier. It’s true that engine bay work often requires a stepladder to reach inside, but there is usually plenty of room compared to the import cars I see. For the DIY mechanic some maintenance tasks like oil changes can be easier because there is more room underneath a truck.
Oil is the life-blood of any engine, and big pickups are no exception. While their larger stature can be a bit intimidating, they’re virtually the same as a car for basic maintenance such as oil changes. In fact, their higher oil capacity means a greater opportunity to save money on an oil change when you do it yourself.
There are some differences when it comes to doing an oil drain, filter change and refill on a large vehicle. For example, you need to make sure the drain pan you’re going to use has enough capacity so you’re not fighting with an overflowing, sloshing container of oil.
There are also a few tools that will make the job easier. Depending on the clearance underneath your truck, you might be lucky enough to access all you need by crawling under or, better yet, rolling under with the aid of a creeper—something which is almost never true of an oil change on a car or lower vehicle. If you do need extra clearance you can utilize a jack and jack stands or wheel ramps. Be sure that jacks or ramps are heavy-duty and rated for the weight of your truck. Follow all safety precautions listed with the jacks and ramps.
Whichever method you use, set the parking brake and use chock blocks to ensure nothing moves.
Depending on how tight the oil filter is, having a filter wrench to assist with removing it can be key. Filter wrenches come in a variety of designs. Filter cap wrenches are designed for a specific filter. Plier and gear style wrenches tighten down to fit different size filters using a metal band, rubber strap or chain to cinch down on the filter. They all have their different applications that work well, but take into account how much room you have to access the filter.
In a pinch, you can drive a screwdriver through the walls of the filter near the bottom to gain more mechanical advantage to spin the filter off. This method almost always proves to be messy, and if you’re going to continue to perform your own oil changes, investing in an oil-filter wrench is well worth it.
It is very important that you get the proper fitment of oil filter for your vehicle. Just because a filter screws on doesn’t mean it’s correct. Make sure you’re purchasing a filter that is specific for your vehicle. There are other thread pitches and sizes that are close enough that the filter will thread on and feel like it’s tight but could come loose once the full oil pressure of the engine is applied to it, especially combined with the heat and vibration of a running engine.
Tightening the new oil filter shouldn’t take a specialty tool. In fact you risk breaking the oil filter or the mounting post if you overtighten it. Each filter has specific instructions based on the gasket construction. Instructions often say something like “screw until gasket contacts mounting surface and tighten an additional quarter of a turn.”
Replacing the crush washer is cheap insurance for avoiding an oil leak at the drain plug. You should be able to buy a replacement washer for your truck at an automotive parts store. Tightening the drain plug itself is important and you want to crush the washer to ensure a seal. However, overtightening can potentially strip the threads in the oil pan, which could be a big hassle to repair so be careful when tightening the plug.
While you’re at the store picking up supplies, a funnel isn’t a bad idea to add to your cart. The one I have actually threads into the filler neck where the cap goes. It also has a rubber seal to ensure you’re not going to lose oil from the funnel while you’re refilling.
My Ford F-250 Super Duty has a 7.3 Liter Diesel Engine that takes 15 quarts of oil, and taking care of the oil changes myself has saved me a ton of money. Here’s how I get it done on my truck.
I start by removing the oil fill cap so the oil drains faster. Once you’re underneath the pickup, start by loosening the oil pan’s drain plug using a wrench.
Once the drain plug is loose, you can screw it the rest of the way out by hand, applying some upward force to minimize oil leakage.
Quickly remove the plug once it’s unthreaded to avoid pouring an oily mess down your arm. Once it’s removed, allow as much oil to drain as you can.
If your oil drain pan is large enough, you can move it to cover the drainage from both the oil pan and the filter at the same time. Loosen the oil filter with a filter wrench.
The oil filter is full of oil so be careful to pour it out it into the oil pan, which is probably the messiest part of the job.
Once the oil filter is removed you can see where it mounts to the engine. I take this opportunity to clean it as well as check that the O-ring/rubber seal on the top of the oil filter isn’t still stuck to the engine; if doubled up on accident you’re almost always ensured a nasty oil leak.
With oil filters in a vertical configuration, such as this one, I like to add some oil to the filter itself before installing. This makes sure there is less of the engine without oil on the first start after the oil change. Also take this opportunity to add some oil to the O-ring/rubber seal on the filter before installing it.
After you have the filter ready and have cleaned up the area, you can reinstall the filter. I generally put them on as tight as I can by hand.
Replace the crush washer on the drain plug and screw it back into the engine oil pan. Make sure it threads in easily and take care not to cross-thread the plug. The fitment of the washer to the thread is more important than the material of the washer.
Tighten the drain plug so it crushes the washer for a good seal but don’t go overboard unless you want an entirely new project of fixing the oil pan threads.
This handy thread-in-funnel is specifically designed to help avoid spills when refilling.
Refer to your owner’s manual for capacity and grade of oil to use. I like to use a quality synthetic oil which is more expensive but offers better protection for my diesel engine. The larger gallon or 5-quart containers of oil are handy for engines with large oil capacity.
I check the level with the dipstick once it’s near capacity to avoid overfilling the engine. You’re almost never going to get all the oil out when you drain it so the refill capacities aren’t exact. Once it’s close, run the engine for a short period of time and recheck to get a true level of oil. Add more if needed. If the front of the vehicle is elevated you may have to lower it back down to be level to get a true reading.
Make sure to replace your oil filler cap and tighten it. If it’s equipped with a rubber seal, make sure it’s in place and not damaged. The oil filler drains to the crankcase, which can be connected to emission-related systems on the vehicle.