Changing your oil: An earth-friendly guide for do-it-yourselfers

Change your own oil

More than half of motorists change their own motor oil. It is important to recycle the used motor oil and filters that come from your car, truck, motorcycle, boat, recreational vehicle, or lawnmower. If you take your car to an automotive service outlet, you can be fairly certain that they recycle the oil that they change. But if you're not sure, ask.

Oil doesnUsed motor oil is a valuable resource. Oil doesn't wear out, it just gets dirty. The used oil you take to a collection site can be recycled into new products, burned for heat or the production of asphalt, or used in power plants to generate electricity. Burning just two gallons of used oil in a power plant can generate enough electricity to run an average household for 24 hours.

Used motor oil can contain toxic substances such as benzene, lead, zinc, and cadmium. When used motor oil is improperly disposed of (thrown away in the garbage or dumped on the ground or down a sewer system) these pollutants may reach our lakes, rivers, or the groundwater and contaminate our water — that's no way to treat the “land of 10,000 lakes.”

Doing it yourself? Do it right!

If you change your own oil on your car, truck, motorcycle, boat, recreational vehicle, or lawnmower, be certain to work carefully and dispose of the used motor oil and filters properly. Follow these steps for a clean oil change that prevents pollution and conserves energy for a safer and healthier tomorrow.

Grizzled oil changerStep 1: Drain the oil

  • Drain the oil into a pan that can hold twice the volume of oil in the engine's crankcase.
  • Drain the oil when the engine is warm to ensure that any sludge flows out smoothly. Caution: the oil will be hot! Keep draining until the oil has slowed to an intermittent drip.
  • Replace the drain plug and carefully move the oil pan to a location where you can safely pour the oil into a container. Wipe up any drips with a paper towel.

Step 2: Carefully transfer the dirty oil

  • Using a funnel, pour the oil into a clean, leak-proof container with a tight-fitting lid — a rigid plastic container such as a plastic gallon milk jug works well. Be careful not to overfill the container!
  • Don't put used oil in containers that held chemicals like bleach, pesticides, paint, or antifreeze — they can contain residues that contaminate the oil. Avoid paint cans and other metal containers.
  • Seal the bottle and label it as “Used Oil.”
  • Power steering, transmission, and brake fluids can also be brought to used oil collection sites in separate containers (not mixed with used oil).
  • Never mix solvents, gasoline, or antifreeze with your used oil. Once contaminated with these products, it is difficult or impossible to recycle used motor oil. If your oil does become contaminated, label the container and take it to your local Household Hazardous Waste collection site for disposal. Don't take it to an oil recycling site where it could contaminate the tank, making the contents impossible to recycle and expensive to dispose of.

Drain oil filters!Step 3: Drain the oil filter

  • Put the used filter hole-side down to allow the oil to drain into a storage container for recycling. Allow the filter to drain overnight or at least 12 hours to remove all the oil.
  • Stop oil leaks! Place the old filter in a leak-proof container (coffee can with lid or resealable plastic bag). The oil filter may retain 2 to 8 ounces of motor oil even when drained!
  • Replace the old oil filter with a new one. To support recycling programs, purchase oil filters from those businesses that accept used oil filters for recycling.

Step 4: Take your used oil and oil filters in for recycling

  • Find a designated collection site in your area. All places that sell motor oil in Minnesota must post a listing of used oil collection site locations or a toll-free phone number with that information.
  • Many service stations with repair facilities and oil change shops will accept your used oil, sometimes for a fee.
  • In addition, communities and counties often provide collection tanks for used oil.
  • Don't leave used oil and oil filters at a collection facility if it is not open for business unless there are specific instructions at the site that allow you to do so. This is considered illegal dumping.

Buy recycled: Re-refined oil

Used motor oil can be re-refined into lubricating oils that meet the same certifications and specifications as new or virgin motor oil. Recycling oil consumes less energy than pumping and refining oil from the ground, and buying recycled means helping reduce the need for foreign oil.

API SealThe API Certification Mark "starburst" identifies engine oils that meet the most current requirements of the International Lubricant Standardization and Approval Committee. Re-refined motor oils with this seal are the same quality as non-recycled.

  • Cost. The price of re-refined oil is comparable to virgin oil. In some cases, it costs less.
  • Performance. Test after test has shown that re-refined oil is just as good, if not better, than virgin oil. Look for certifications from the American Petroleum Institute (API). API-licensed re-refined oils must pass the same cold-start, pump ability, rust-corrosion, engine-wear, and high-temperature viscosity tests that virgin oils do.
  • Warranty. Major auto and engine manufacturers such as Ford, GM, and Detroit Diesel agree that the use of API-certified re-refined oil will not void warranties, which are based on performance criteria. If the oil meets the warranty requirements, the warranty must be honored.
  • Who's using it? For years, re-refined oil has been used throughout the United States with great success. The U.S. Postal Service has been using re-refined oil for nearly a decade in its fleet of almost 73,000 vehicles, and Minnesota's state Motor Pool has been using it since 1998. Even Mercedes-Benz uses re-refined oil in its factory-new vehicles.

Ask for re-refined oil at your next oil change! If your service center doesn't carry it, let them know you want them to.

For more information

For more information on collection programs for used motor oil and oil filters, contact your county solid waste management department.