“The life of your engine …”

I recall as a young boy hearing my grandfather say time and time again, “Your oil is the lifeblood of your engine, Cary. If you want an engine to last, you have to stay on top of your oil changes.”

He’s been gone for a number of years now, but I’ve heard his words of wisdom lately every time I hopped into Smokey and turned the key to see the dash light up with the telltale “change oil” alert. So, what better use of your free time, than to refresh your engine’s vital fluids? And, while a simple oil change is child’s play for many, there still are some folks who lack the basic knowledge to save themselves from paying as much as $70 (if using synthetic fluids) for a task that can be accomplished in about 30 minutes in their driveway.

Here, then, is a quick rundown of the basic steps involved in changing the oil in any 2007-2011 Jeep JK Wrangler powered by the 3.8-liter V6 engine. The steps, however, can easily be adapted for any motor vehicle application.

Materials/tools needed:

  • Vehicle ramps or lift
  • Wheel chock(s)
  • 6 quarts, 5W-20 oil
  • Oil filter
  • 13 mm box wrench
  • Oil drain pan
  • Oil filter wrench (optional)
  • Funnel
  • Shop towels

Step 1: Position Jeep for the job

While owners of lifted Jeeps might be tempted to simply complete the oil change without putting his or her vehicle on ramps, I prefer to lift my vehicle’s front end to make sure all the old, contaminated oil can easily drain from the vehicle. To that end, place the ramps in front of the front tires and pull forward until the front wheels are correctly centered in the flat area of the ramps. (Make certain your ramps are rated to support the weight of your vehicle. The ramps used in this tutorial are rated for three tons.)

Once the Jeep is on the ramps, activate the parking brake and place at least one chock behind a rear wheel to prevent unexpected slippage.

Step 2: Drain used oil

Position the drain pan under the vehicle to catch the used oil. Then, using the 13 mm wrench, loosen and remove the oil drain plug. Allow the contaminated oil to completely drain. (Here’s a helpful hint: Your oil will drain much faster and make less mess if you first lift the hood and remove the oil fill cap to create an entry point for air as the oil exits through the drain.) Once all the oil has drained, use a shop towel or paper towel to wipe off the surface of the oil pan and the drain plug.

IMG_3345Next, use a finger to lightly coat the threads and washer of the drain plug with fresh oil. Replace the drain plug, and use the 13 mm wrench to make it hand tight plus one-quarter to one-half turn.

Step 3: Remove used oil filter

With the oil pan resealed, reach above the front axle to remove the oil filter. Make sure to position the drain pan to catch the inevitable drips from the filter. I’m normally able to remove Smokey’s oil filter by hand, but this oil change came as I was recovering from a cold, so I chose to use a filter wrench to simplify the job of removing the filter. Once the filter mount has finished draining, wipe it clean and lubricate the threads and O-ring of the new filter with a little clean oil. Spin the new filter on, taking care to ensure you don’t cross-thread the new filter as you put it on.

IMG_3348 (1)A note on oil filters: My intention is to keep Smokey as long as possible, so when the time came to purchase my first oil filter, I upgraded to what multiple Internet searches suggested was the best filter in my price range. Not long thereafter, I began to notice a brief clackety sound on startup, especially on cold mornings — a sure sign of an unlubricated engine. Further research suggested the cause was oil-return holes in aftermarket filters that were too small. It didn’t make much sense to me, but you can see from the side-by-side filter that the OEM Mopar filter does indeed have larger return openings, though its predecessor’s ports are greater in number. More importantly, when I switched back to a Mopar filter, the clicking noise stopped. I can’t swear as to the reasoning, and I never would’ve thought a cheap OEM filter would be the preferred choice, but the proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

Step 4: Add fresh oil

Once you’ve finished underneath the Jeep, it’s time to add the new oil. Having a Jeep up on ramps makes the oil fill cap a little to high to comfortably reach, so I like to pull Smokey off the ramps. With the ignition key turned to accessory (DO NOT start the engine without oil — EVER!), put the transmission into neutral and use your left leg to push the vehicle down off the ramps. Put the transmission into park and turn off the ignition. 

Place a funnel into the oil fill port (make sure you clean any dust or debris from the area) and add six quarts of 5w-20 motor oil. Having been unable to locate my funnel in the disaster that currently is my garage, I cut the top off a clean two-liter drink bottle and used that to improvise a spill-proof solution.

Step 5: Resetting oil-change indicator

IMG_3353With the oil change complete, you’ll want to reset your dashboard oil-change indicator. This can be accomplished by turning your ignition key to the accessory position, then fully depressing the throttle three times within 10 seconds.

That’s it!

Make sure you dispose of your used oil properly. Using your funnel, pour it into the empty bottles in which your new oil came. Then, take the filled bottles to any local auto parts store for free disposal.

Total time to complete

About 30 minutes (plus cleanup)

Total project cost

$41 ($36 for oil — conventional oils will be much less costly than the full synthetic I’ve chosen for Smokey; $5 for oil filter)


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