Tami Parker Other Duties as Assigned

An Oil Change


So a few weekends ago I changed the oil in my car for the first time.

To some of you, this is a pretty boring topic, I realize. For me, however, it was the first time I’d ever even CONSIDERED doing it, and it was … interesting.

It’s all my mom’s fault, really.

So I mention that I need an oil change. Mom says, “Hell, I can do that for you.” And I think to myself, “She sounds pretty darn confident, and I am not feeling the motivation to go into a shop.”

“Let’s do this thing.”

Famous last words?

So we stop at an auto parts store and buy 5 quarts of oil and a filter.

The guy recommends the oil. Mom is thinking the price seems a little steep (and I still don’t know if it was. He said he gave us a deal on the fifth quart, but the bottle said it was the lowest tier of oil and the overall price was pretty close to what I remember paying for an oil change at a shop … eh, I dunno.) The filter is definitely a nice filter.

We get home (after noodling around birding for a while. There are a great many hawks in the area that are probably still baffled by a little white Juke that keept creeping up on them), Mom lays out these plastic rampy things, and I drive the car up so that his nose is pointed somewhat more skyward than usual.

Then, we wait.

Lesson the first – driving makes the oil HOT. But if you haven’t driven the car, the oil won’t be hot enough. You’ve got to Goldilocks this thing, where the oil is warm but not burning. Because you WILL get oil on you and you do NOT want skin-searing oil on you while you’re trapped under a behemoth.

We lay a cardboard box down on the driveway and Mom and I scootch under.

“This,” she says, pointing to something that looks like a turtle shell on the passenger side of my car’s delicate underbelly, “is where the oil is. You can feel how it’s still too hot.”

I touch the turtle shell and murmur as to how I agree it seems more warmish than not warmish.

“This,” she says, pointing to a palm-sized cup hanging off the side of the turtle shell, “is your filter.”

I nod, feeling myself growing wiser by the second.

“And that,” she says, pointing to a bolt at the front of the turtle shell, “Is what you’re going to remove so that the oil drains out.

This all sounds very reasonable.

  1. Remove the bolt
  2. Wait for it to drain
  3. Remove the cup (filter)
  4. Replace the cup with the NEW cup
  5. Replace the bolt
  6. Fill it back up with oil

What could go wrong?

So, let’s take a look at step 1, shall we?

Or, if we may, step 1/2. Because I am NOT changing the oil in my car in my nice jeans and shirt, no sirree bob. So mom digs out her “painting clothes.”

You guys. I love my Mom. I do. But these … these are not even worthy of a rag bin. There’s a sweatshirt that has nearly as many holes as it does fabric. I think it used to be a Christmas themed shirt? You can’t even tell anymore because it’s so stained.

Then there are a pair of shorts that have seen better days. The less said about them, the better.

It’s fine though. I mean. I’m changing the oil in a car, not heading to a movie premier. I’m no stranger to dressing for work, and pride is a stupid thing to ruin good clothes over.

So, the next thing is to find something to put the OLD oil in. Because you can’t just let that stuff into the wild. It’s bad for the environment and I’ve seen enough Captain Planet to know better.

Mom found … some kind of metal bin. God only knows from where. Maybe it used to be part of a stove? We put it on a rolly cart that she also got from some mysterious place. The cart has a handle. The handle doesn’t actually pop up, so the bin is resting on the folded handle at an angle.

However? It actually works pretty darn well. Fit under the car at just the right height and the wheels meant I could position it easily.

So then I take THE LARGEST WRENCH IN EXISTENCE under the car with me and find the matching sized … um … socket? Whatever. To match to the bolt. Then I turn.


So I turn the other way.

Still nothing.

Did I mention the wrench is magnetic? So every time I awkwardly brandish it, it slams itself in a random direction, CLANGING as it hugs whatever metal thing I got too close to.

“Turn it towards the passenger side,” says Mom helpfully.

I try. Nothing.

So I throw my weight against it and WILL THE BASTARD TO TURN.

It works. He turns a little, then slips easily open the rest of the way. Dark oil slides out of the turtle shell in an even pour, I got a few drops on my fingers, and all is right with the world.

We wait. A LONG time. (Like, to the point where mom was getting worried). But finally the pour turns into a drip, which stops.

So I go under the car, new filter in hand, and unscrew the old filter. It (and the oil inside of it) drop into the pan without resistance. I can only assume my mighty wrench skills scared the stiffness out of it.

One finger wet with old oil, I grease the grooves to the new filter and screw it in place.

Then I use THE LARGEST WRENCH IN EXISTENCE to put the … thingy back on the thing. The nut? Bolt? Whatever. You know what I mean.

Mom checks my work to make sure it’s tight enough. All good. I am feeling pretty damn fine right about now. Lookit me, a woman of the world, changing my own oil.

Two small drops of oil mark the spot, a piddly amount. Pride, thy name is Tami.

We roll the cart out from beneath the car and I realize that we have accidentally avoided a disaster.

You see, the bin was at an angle on the rolly cart.

Had the bin been at the OPPOSITE angle, the oil would have easily fled the bin by way of two pencil-sized holes.

I mean, a disaster averted is still a good thing, but it was a little alarming to see how close we came to a giant mess. VERY carefully, we move the bin to the side. Mom says a lot of auto parts stores will take the old oil for free and recycle it or something.

But our adventure is far from over, dear readers.

“Ready to pour the new oil in?” “Yup!”

Handily, I note that there is a funnel already in place, so I take the first quart and start pouring.

After the smallest of pauses, I hear the pitterpatter of liquid hitting cement.


“Mom?” I call out in what surely sounded less like a scared little kid in reality than in my memory.

Her eyes widen and she checks under the car. (Later, she tells the story and includes her perspective, which is that OIL IS COMING FROM EVERYWHERE, WHAT THE HELL DID WE DO TO THIS CAR?! but from my perspective in the moment, she gave a strangled little sound and said “Well, that’s not supposed to happen.”)

Turns out the funnel wasn’t QUITE in place, and I needed to pour slowly because the funnel never would quite perfectly seal the entryway into the turtle shell below.

Fine. Right. I mean. I had no way of knowing, but there’s a small flood of oil beneath the car now and things are FINE.

Cardboard box is sacrificed to try and soak up some of the mess for now.

I add the rest of the oil without mishap.

Interestingly enough, NEW oil looks like golden syrup. OLD oil looks like something that would turn you into a supervillain. Mom says that’s how you know it’s doing its job — it catches all the dirt and grime and stuff and keeps it from hurting the engine. BUT, it certainly makes me feel more motivated to make sure oil changes happen on time. Old oil is very clearly old oil, even when it’s only a LITTLE bit past the point where the window sticker says you need an oil change.

Right. Anyway, with the oil change officially done, I grab some kitty litter and drizzle the oil spots.

That, my friends, is when the delightful and wonderful neighbor lady, Gail, comes over to introduce Mom and myself to her son, the world traveler.

Need I remind you that I currently look like a hobo? And not just ANY hobo, but one slightly more hard on her luck than usual? Sidewalk dirt in my hair, oil on my hands, wearing clothing no self-respecting rat would use to line her nest?

I introduce myself as the homeless person my mom is helping out. Mom and I theorized that they were going to invite us to dinner at the local bar, and I scared them off. We’re both only half-joking.

They escape (very politely and without any overt signs of horror in their eyes, which is awfully nice of them. My legs are so pale they probably couldn’t even see past them to realize how shredded my shirt was).

I am granted permission to shower and change clothes. (Cleanliness is next to godliness, folks.)

Our story winds down as my brother stops by later that evening. As an ACTUAL mechanic (like, who does this kind of stuff for a living, but on gigantic big rigs instead of wee little fellows like my Juke), he gets a giggle out of the whole situation, declares the entire engine area doused with oil, and says I can expect burning-oil-smell and dripping off for a few days. Because I really did kind of get it EVERYWHERE.

And he was right. Tiny spots as I pull out of parking lots for the next few days, but no disasters.

I tell you, though, there’s an interesting sort of stress that comes with working on your own vehicle. I had a three hour drive home, and was at least a LITTLE worried the whole way that the car might explode. Or catch fire. Or catch fire, THEN explode.

So that is how I learned to change the oil in my car, horrified the neighbors, terrified myself a little, and saved about $25.

(I will be more than happy to let a professional take care of my next oil change, you guys. Just sayin’)


Tami Parker Other Duties as Assigned