Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Changing my plane's oil

Because it needs to be done every 50 hours, and it was time.

Wanting to get to know my plane better (and save some money), I decided to change it myself.

The mission had three objectives:

1. Do the job without going to get help from the FBO guys;
2. Do the job without making a mess;
3. Get the job done without any leaks.

That said, I was careful. To prevent spills on the ramp, I went out and got a 4'x4' piece of cardboard and put it under the front wheel to keep any drips off the ramp.

Then I started.

Step 1. Start engine and run it for a couple of minutes to heat oil.While engine turns over, go get wrench for filter from car.

Step 2. When half way to car, realize that plane is leaving because you did not set the parking brake. Chase plane across ramp, stop it, and hope that no one at the FBO or in the tower saw that. Taxi plane back to parking spot, set parking brake, and go get wrench from car.

Step 3. With engine warm and turned off, find drain plug on bottom of engine block.
It's the blue plug between the red hose and the back pipe. Attach hose to plug, run other end to milk jug, and open plug.
This is easy!

Step 4. Congratulate self for not spilling single drop of oil, even on cardboard. Cut safety wire from filter and remove filter discover that your adjustable wrench isn't up to the job. Go borrow better wrench from FBO guys, scratching objective #1 off list. Remove filter. Place garbage bag over filter while unscrewing to catch oil that comes out when filter is removed and congratulate yourself again for being all smart. Then drop slippery filter into bag filled with oil, lose grip on everything, and get oil shower from bag hitting ground and residual oil pouring from filter connector on engine. Curse loudly And yep, the FBO manager saw THAT all right. Fortunately oil spill is limited to the cardboard that you put down because you're smarter than the average bear. No harm, no foul.

Step 5. Pour half quart of new oil into new filter, lubricate filter gasket with oil, and screw filter onto engine block connector drop filter onto cardboard because it's all slippery and because your one injured wrist really isn't useful here, Jump back to avoid falling filter and kick open oil bottle over, spilling most of remainder onto the tarmac. Curse like a sailor and scratch objective #2 off your list.

Step 6. Get filter into place, tighten down, and safety-wire it into place. Admit to self that safety-wire job looks like a special-needs kid did it blindfolded, but at least it's tight.

Step #7. Start engine and run for 60 seconds. Check for leaks. Do happy dance when you realize that there are none. Yay! Look over to FBO to see if anyone saw happy dance.

Step 8. Clean up mess, which by now includes oil on tarmac, oil on plane wheel pants, oil in hair, on face, arms and shirt. Change shirt.

Step #9. Update engine log to reflect oil change. Make note to self to get price for next oil change from Airframe and Powerplant shop across field. Whatever they charge for the job, it's gonna be worth it not to have to go through this again.

But it's done, and it's done reasonably well. Objective #3 was accomplished.


  1. Congrats on 1 out of 3 ... I suspect that's better than the average bear, doing it for the first time. Next time will be better. Right?

  2. There are days, and then there are DAYS... sigh... And yeah, just pay the man! :-)

  3. I used to do ALL my own maintenance on the motors in my "fleet".
    Now I just follow Old NFO's advice!

  4. I'm gonna swim against the current here and chime in with RP - it would seem a waste of lessons learned to let someone else do it next time - besides, there's a certain satisfaction from knowing the job was done correctly.

    Also, a plug for AeroShell Synthetic: Several years ago on a pheasant hunting trip in NW KS, my Dad's V-tail was tied down outdoors for the weekend in -10°F. When the weather broke enough for us to return home, it was a balmy 0°. Just 20 minutes of propane preheating, and 3-4 pull throughs, and that IO 520 roared to life just like it was a warm autumn day.

  5. At least it is done.

    Did you have a safety wire pliers or was it a twist by hand job?

  6. If at all possible, change the oil over concrete, not macadam. Concrete can be cleaned with a high grade oil absorbent, blacktop not so much. I just ran out of my old stock, from when I drove a tow truck years ago. If I can find it, I'll post the name or material that's used.

    Problem with blacktop is it is similar in constitution to oil, so you can do some damage with some cleaning methods.

    Why isn't the drain plug safety wired/restrained? Or did you remove it before photo?

  7. There are many different designs of "sockets" to fit oil filters. If possible, use one to hold/drive the new one into position. If necessary, change filter brands to work with whatever socket you can fit in the space.
    How do you safety wire the filter? Hose clamp around the body to connect the wire to? Or, are the rims drilled for aircraft rated filters?

  8. Alternative method. Fly to remote location, park plane in grass area, dig hole for oil to drain into and cover up. This is the environmental choice. You see oil comes from the ground so you are in fact recycling it back....everyone's happy.

  9. @ Will: The filter has little metal rings welded to it to facilitate the safety wire. As for the drain plug, it isn't meant to be removed. It's a spring-loaded device where you push it up and turn it to release the oil. It doesn't twist off.

    MrsS: It was a "twist by hand" day.

  10. We live in an age of specialization. I, for example, am the greatest fighter pilot of my era (please disregard cacophony of other claimants). I recognize my lack of mechanical skills therefore I respect and compensate people who professionally maintain my aeronautical steeds. I don't expect them to pilot, they don't expect me to do engine fiddling things.

    We both benefit from the division of labor (a basic of civilization.)

    Old NFO is right! Again.

  11. I agree wholeheartedly with those who say I should leave this to the professionals from now on. I wanted to see how it was done, I've seen it, and I've already gotten a price from the local shop that I'm willing to pay to avoid doing that again. So that was two oil changes there--my FIRST and my LAST.

  12. I know there's no point in trying to change your mind, but if you should need to change your oil again and the FBO is closed, here's a slightly easier way to do it:

    1. Go fly somewhere on a nice calm morning.
    2. After landing and tying down, start the drain. Alternatively, start the drain the night before the oil change.
    3. Go get food. Take your time. Go for a ride or something.
    4. Come back, shut off theto drain, pop the cowl, and stick a wad of paper towels under the filter. It will have drained until only a quarter cup of oil is left -by less if you let it set overnight.
    5.cut the safety wire and take it off, put somewhere it won't cut you. Take off oil filter, catching last bit of oil with paper towel wad.
    6. Write tach time on oil filter, so you have a reminder when to change it.
    7. Lubricate (I use a lube instead of oil, to each his own), do Not prefill with oil, spin on. Torque to spec and safety wire.
    8. Add oil. Remember that the filter is dry, so the really high level in the dipstick will shortly fall.
    9. Clean up.
    10. Go fly again, just do a runup to test, or leave that for another day.
    11. Stick the oil filter upside down on a block of wood in a bucket to drain for a few days. Cut open, clean with brake kneel, and inspect at leisure.

  13. @ Wing: Thanks for the tips. While I'd rather not do this again myself, I definitely want to know how, just in case.

  14. Duke,

    Are you on the waiting list for a hanger? If so it will make your maintance easier as you can keep tool's and such on site. I'm shopping for a used plane myself and hanger fee's are scary, if you can find one.