Oil Changes for Dummies Novices

by Keith Tanner

So you want to learn how to fix your Miata, but you've never done any work on it before? An oil change is the best way to start. You don't need many tools, it's quick, and there's a minimum of bloodletting. Oil changes are fundamental to good maintenance, and offer a great opportunity for bonding with your little car.

You need:


  1. Get the oil warm. It doesn't have to be at full operating temperature. That's actually a little painful. If you can't touch the engine, you won't want to touch the oil. It's likely going to run down your hand, wrist, arm and end up in your armpit. The hotter the oil, the more likely it is this will happen! Warm oil will drain better than cold, however.
  2. Get the front of the car high enough that you can slide your drain pan underneath. On some Miatas, that's pretty simple. On others, it's a serious challenge.
    Ramps work well - you'll feel better if you have someone to spot for you. If you know how to slip a clutch just inch your way up, hanging out the drivers door and looking at the front wheel.
    I use a jack and jack stands. You could also simply use the Miata jack to raise each front wheel and put a couple of bricks underneath - that should be high enough to get your drain pan under a stock car. Make sure there's no way that car will roll or slip off whatever is holding the front up. I also like to put a big sheet of cardboard under the car to catch the drips and make it more comfortable to wiggle around under the car.
  3. When you look under the car, you'll see a big flat plate of plastic at the front. Behind that, in the center of the car, is a ribbed plate made of aluminum. That's your oil pan, and it should be warm to the touch if you followed step 1. There's a big bolt sticking out of the edge on the passenger's side. There's your drain plug. It is the only 19 mm bolt on the bottom of the engine.
    Still not sure? Then follow the dipstick tube to the oil pan, then look for a 17 or 19 mm plug in the pan.
  4. After you break the drain plug loose with your 17 or 19 mm wrench, undo the drain bolt. Begin unscrewing it with your hand. Remember 'righty tighty' and 'lefty loosey'! It should turn without resistance unless someone before you stripped it. Use your index finger to keep the plug pushed up against the drain pan while you unscrew it with your thumb and middle finger. Once it is fully unscrewed, quickly move your hand AND THE PLUG out of the way and let the oil stream into the pan. Watch out! When this comes out, the oil will follow. It won't just oooze straight down, either. It will arc out to the side. And it's hot. Ow ow ow. Try to aim the drain pan so that it catches the arc. The key is to not drop the plug into the pan - unless you like to stick your hand in 4 quarts of warm oil and fish for it. Some drain pans have a little grille in them so that this is not a problem.
  5. Open the hood and undo the filler cap. Oil will continue to pee out of the drain pan for a couple of minutes. The longer the better.
  6. Remove the filter. This can be a real pain in the butt, depending on who put it on last. It's the most likely step to give you problems. The filter is hidden down at the side of the engine, on the passenger's side. Look under the intake plenum (the big cast aluminum "pipe" beside the top of the engine), and you should spot the filter below it. It will be the same shape as the filter you bought to replace it with, but the colour will depend on who did the last oil change.
    If you can't reach it from above, try turning the wheels all the way to the left and reaching up through the wheel well. The dishwashing gloves will give you a bit of extra grip on the old filter.

    Some people have had good luck using an oil filter wrench. One suggestion: Shop Craft Oil Filter Wrench item number 86663. It is great in a crowded place, such as under the intake manifold. It works well left handed and from under the car. It is made of thick steel so that it will not deform. The tigher you turn the #86663, the tighter it grips.

  7. When you do get it off, it's going to pee all over the place. Turn it so the hole is at the top as soon as you can, then throw it in the drain pan to empty. They hold an amazing amount of oil. Wipe the mess off the side of the engine, including the pipe the filter attaches to. Some people just knock a hole the in the filter, drain it into a bowl, then unscrew in order to contain the mess.
  8. Pre-oil the new filter. Fill it up with new oil, and let it absorb into the filter. Repeat. This will cut down on clatter, and make you feel better. Put a bit of fresh clean oil on the rubber ring around the edge of the filter, and screw it in to the side of the engine. Hand tight is fine. Those gloves will come in handy again.
  9. Put an optional new washer on the drain plug, and screw it back in. You don't want it coming loose, but you're also not trying to set a world record. Get it snug, but DON'T strip it.
  10. Pour about 3 litres of oil into the fill hole at the top. Don't do this until you've replaced the drain plug! Check the dipstick. Now keep pouring and checking until you've got the right amount in place. You've probably figured out where the funnel comes in to play here. Put the filler cap back on when you're done. Seems obvious, but....
  11. Clean up. Put kitty litter on any spills, and pour your old oil into a container that's labeled. Pour it in old bleach bottles or something similar, take it to wherever you bought the oil, and tell them you wanna recycle it.
  12. Go for a drive. Check the oil later to make sure the level is right.

There! You just bonded with your Miata, and it's happy for another 3,000 miles or more.


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7 May, 2014

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