Oil Recycling: How to Dispose of Motor Oil

There are many great reasons why a vehicle owner may prefer to handle their own oil changes. To start with, oil changes are relatively easy to tackle, even for those who are brand new to DIY car maintenance. Changing your own oil can save you a lot of time and money, especially over the long haul. Learning how to take care of your vehicle can be really empowering as well, especially if you'd like to get to know your car a little better. However, knowing how to change your own oil and making it a point to do so is only part of the equation. It's just as important to know how to dispose of car oil responsibly, and recycling is the best choice for many reasons.

Why Should You Recycle Motor Oil?

If you already handle your own oil changes (or have considered starting), you’ve most likely had someone tell you how important it is that you recycle your used oil. Is recycling really that important though? What’s the worst that could happen if you just toss it in the garbage or dump it down the drain? Surely one person’s choice not to bother doesn’t make that big a difference, right? Actually, one batch of oil from a single oil change can make a massive difference one way or the other. Here’s how:

  • As anyone who’s ever dealt with oil knows all too well, it sticks to pretty much everything it touches, including water. Pouring your used oil into the gutter, down a storm drain, or anywhere else it shouldn’t go can contaminate bodies of water like lakes, oceans, and rivers. It can also harm or kill the animals and plants that call it home.
  • The amount of oil involved in just one oil change has the potential to affect up to a million gallons of water.
  • It’s actually illegal to dispose of your used motor oil incorrectly, so insisting on doing so could carry serious repercussions. You may be fined, face jail time, or be held responsible for any clean-up costs. Those can definitely cost a pretty penny.

Learning how to recycle motor oil isn’t just about avoiding the possible negative consequences of doing otherwise either. Recycled motor oil can be refined and redistributed pretty much indefinitely. Two and a half quarts of clean, user-ready motor oil requires a whopping 42 gallons of crude oil to produce. However, that same amount of clean oil can be repurposed from just a gallon of previously used motor oil. Naturally, recycling is significantly easier on the environment, not to mention a powerful way to reduce your own carbon footprint.

The process of recycling used motor oil is actually pretty simple. Here’s how you can go about doing a thorough job each and every time your ride is due for a fresh batch.

Needed Products

How to Recycle Oil

  1. Contain the oil

    The key to successful, responsible oil recycling is making sure you capture it all. Lay down a tarp or plastic sheet underneath your work area. Then position a proper container on top of your tarp and underneath your engine to catch the oil as it drains. (A drip pan that comes complete with a spout is going to be your best pick.)

  2. Empty the filter

    Make sure you include your oil filter in your efforts! Start by puncturing a small hole in the dome of your filter and allowing it to drain thoroughly into your drip pan along with the rest of the oil you’ve collected. Then seal the filter into a plastic bag. Even after you’ve drained it, it could contain many ounces of residual oil and can be recycled as well.

  3. Get your oil ready for transportation

    When you’re done, you may need to transfer your oil from your drip pan to another container for storage and transportation, but it’s important to select one that’s appropriate. Don’t use milk cartons, empty juice containers, or any other random container you may have lying around the house. If you happen to have the original container the oil came in, you should use that. Otherwise, you’ll want to use something made of polyethylene or another plastic deemed suitable for the purpose. Also, some oil pans are made such that they can be sealed closed. These pans make it easy to contain and transport used oil.
    Motor oil that’s been mixed with other fluids (either accidentally or purposefully) isn’t recyclable, so take care not to let yours mingle with washer fluid, gasoline, or any other liquid (water included). Make sure your storage container has never been used to store other fluids at any point, even if it was a long time ago.

  4. Storing used oil

    Once your used oil has been properly contained, keep your container in a place that’s cool, stays dry, and where it won’t be disturbed before you have a chance to hand it off to a recycling facility or an AutoZone near you.

What Should You Do With Successfully Collected Oil?

Depending on where you live, you may be able to turn your used motor oil in via your city’s curbside recycling program. If your city does allow for this, make sure you carefully research packaging requirements and protocol. (Never simply toss a container of used motor oil into your standard recycling bin.) If curbside recycling for motor oil isn’t a possibility in your city, then you’ll need to make plans to drop it off yourself at a participating recycling center.

Don’t worry if you’re not quite sure where to take your oil or if the nearest recycling center is a little off the beaten trail for you. Most AutoZone stores accept used motor oil, as well as other sensitive recyclables (like batteries). Get in touch with your friendly neighborhood location today for all the details. When you’re done dropping off your used oil, you can pick up a fresh jug of new engine oil while you’re there. Get started today!

Advice, how-to guides, and car care information featured on and AutoZone Advice & How-To’s are presented as helpful resources for general maintenance and automotive repairs from a general perspective only and should be used at your own risk. Information is accurate and true to the best of AutoZone’s knowledge, however, there may be omissions, errors or mistakes.

Be sure to consult your owner’s manual, a repair guide, an AutoZoner at a store near you, or a licensed, professional mechanic for vehicle-specific repair information. Refer to the service manual for specific diagnostic, repair and tool information for your particular vehicle. Always chock your wheels prior to lifting a vehicle. Always disconnect the negative battery cable before servicing an electrical application on the vehicle to protect its electrical circuits in the event that a wire is accidentally pierced or grounded. Use caution when working with automotive batteries. Sulfuric acid is caustic and can burn clothing and skin or cause blindness. Always wear gloves and safety glasses and other personal protection equipment, and work in a well-ventilated area. Should electrolyte get on your body or clothing, neutralize it immediately with a solution of baking soda and water. Do not wear ties or loose clothing when working on your vehicle.

FREE Loan-A-Tool® program requires returnable deposit. Please note that the tool that you receive after placing an online order may be in a used but operable condition due to the nature of the Loan-A-Tool® program.

Related Posts