Answers for Pilots

Fix it yourself

March 1, 2003

Try some simple maintenance chores

Psst! Want to save $50 and learn more about your airplane? Do your next oil change yourself.

If the thought of opening up the cowl for more than a preflight inspection sends shivers up your spine, know that you can not only reserve some cash for bigger maintenance bills by performing certain preventive maintenance tasks allowed by FAR 43.7 — but you also can learn more about your airplane. "It makes the pilot more familiar with his or her aircraft and some systems, and more comfortable knowing what's ticking under the cowling," says Andrew Lobenstine, aviation technical specialist in AOPA's Aviation Services department. Lobenstine should know — he managed an aviation maintenance facility before joining the AOPA team.

There are 32 owner-performed maintenance tasks outlined in the regulations that an aircraft owner with at least a private pilot certificate can accomplish without supervision. One of the most common owner-performed tasks is the oil change. If this is your first time changing your own oil, says Lobenstine, be smart about it. "Ask a local mechanic to walk you through the first time and show you anything specific about your airplane." The maintenance technician also can point out any airworthiness directives that need to be complied with by an A&P at the same time as the oil change.

As for the task itself, you need certain tools, most of which (screwdrivers, wire cutters, an oil filter wrench) you can pick up at a local hardware or automotive store. You may need to consult with an aviation specialty retailer for safety wire pliers, and the folks in AOPA's Aviation Services department are happy to help steer you to a reputable source. Before you perform an oil change at any given airport, check with the airport manager to ascertain the best location to set up shop.

"You need to do a log entry in the engine logbook," says Lobenstine, and a recommended sign-off is provided in AOPA's Pilots' Guide to Preventive Maintenance, available in booklet format or on AOPA Online (see " AOPA Web Resources," below). You also should consult the appropriate service manuals and manufacturer's service publications before getting your hands dirty.

The savings add up: For a single-engine airplane, an oil change costs roughly an hour of labor plus parts, or between $45 and $90, depending on the region of the country in which you live. You should budget at least two hours for your first oil change; as you become more proficient, the job will go faster.

As an AOPA member, you have access to the best resources anywhere for information and answers for pilots. AOPA provides information for its .embers through a vast array of communications technologies. You can reach experts in all fields of aviation via AOPA Online (, the AOPA Pilot Information Center (800/USA-AOPA), and e-mail ( [email protected]). Aviation technical specialists respond promptly to member requests while AOPA Online provides members with access to information and resources 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The toll-free AOPA Pilot Information Center gives you direct access to specialists in every area of aviation. The center is available to members from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday.

AOPA Web resources

These subject reports provide answers to frequently asked questions. The AOPA Aviation Services department (800/872-2672) answers more than 100,000 calls a year from members needing assistance with a variety of aviation-related issues.

Pilots' Guide to Preventive Maintenance is intended to assist the aircraft owner and pilot in determining which maintenance items are appropriate for him or her to perform, and how to find out the necessary information needed to complete them safely and effectively. In this publication AOPA's technical specialists discuss tools, supplies, and procedures for common tasks.

From the October 2001 AOPA Pilot, "Airframe & Powerplant: Preventive Maintenance Primer," by Steven W. Ells, gives owners some straightforward guidance on how to begin a preventive-maintenance schedule for their aircraft.

Julie Walker

Julie Summers Walker | AOPA Senior Features Editor

AOPA Senior Features Editor Julie Summers Walker joined AOPA in 1998. She is a student pilot still working toward her solo.