The mentor: Luke Walker

The m entor: Luke Walker

Bona fides: Attended automotive career center in high school; worked five years at Clintonville Auto Repair Service; took over ownership of a service garage, now called Luke's Automotive Services, last year

I'm clueless under the hood, and I've never crawled beneath a car except to search for dropped keys. So I visited my buddy Luke Walker's service garage to learn how to maintain my vehicle. He taught me lots, but the most essential skill was a basic oil change.

The oil should be a little warm, so we ran Walker's car for about five minutes first.

After popping the hood, I pulled the dipstick out of the engine and wiped it off with a rag. I dipped it all the way back in, retrieved it and saw the oil was dirty and below the designated level - time for a change. We lifted Walker's car with a hydraulic jack, but you can buy ramps for about $25 at auto parts stores.

I put on rubber gloves and slid underneath to drain the oil. I positioned my oil pan under the tank, wrenched off the cap (righty tighty, lefty loosey) and let the oil gush out. I wiped away excess oil and screwed the cap back on firmly, but not tight enough to strip the bolt.

I also changed the oil filter, a white plastic structure that resembles the cap of an aerosol can. Using a special oil filter wrench, I finally got it loose, making sure the black rubber gasket didn't stick to the engine. I dipped my gloved finger into the oil pan and greased up the gasket of the new oil filter, then screwed the new filter on tightly.

We lowered the car. The oil cap on top of the engine informed us which grade of oil to use - these days it's usually 5W-30. After checking underneath for drippage, I poured fresh oil into the engine through a funnel. Most engines need between 3.5 and 5 quarts, so I poured the minimum, checked the dipstick, then topped it off. Overfilling can result in foamy oil that wears on the engine.

The verdict: Though I'm not handy with a wrench, I feel confident enough to change my own oil now.