Friday, August 18, 2006

Outsmarted again

I wish I was half as smart as the guy that keeps outsmarting me, who ironically turns out to be... me.

The latest incident of applying either way too much thought, or not quite enough, to a task came up last night with my oil change. For years I've been trying to come up with a process for changing the oil (more specifically, the oil filter) that doesn't involve spilling black, nasty smelling oil down the back of the engine and/or the firewall. Once that happens, no matter how much of it I wipe off with towels and rags, I'm guaranteed to be cleaning that nasty gunk off of the airplane belly for the next 10 - 15 flying hours.

Here's the process I attempted this time around:

- raise the tail of the airplane so the majority of the oil trapped in the filter will drain out along with the sump oil through the quick drain valve.
- lower the tail so the remainder of the oil in the filter will move towards the back closed end of the filter, then carefully remove the filter using a cut-in-half plastic milk jug to catch whatever leaks out.

Lifting the tail was no big deal, other than the aching back (for those of you that haven't met me, I'm somewhat slight of stature and the single-handed lifting of the tail plays havoc on my lower back). I left the oil to drain overnight a couple of days ago, and went back last night to finish the job. After setting the tail down, I started to remove the filter. When I got it to the point where it could start to leak, I grabbed the catch can fabricated from an old plastic milk jug. The jug was too large to fit back behind the engine because of all of the wires, cables, and other obstructions, but no worries: it was thin and flimsy enough that I could scrunch it up and get it back where I needed it to be. I removed the filter and let the ensuing oily mess drain into the milk jug.

Ok, does anyone see this coming? If you think far enough ahead, you'll realize that a milk jug that needed to be scrunched up to fit into the spot behind the engine is more than likely going to require an equal amount of scrunching to get back out. Now what do you suppose happens to all of that oil when the container gets scrunched up? Well, you're right. It comes out of the container and spills all over the back of the engine, the cables, accessories, wires, and firewall.

Of course, there was no way of keeping the old filter in the container during all of that, so I quickly removed it and set it aside on the hangar floor. Upon finally removing the container sans oil, I carried it over to the trash can, where I found the old filter had tipped over and expunged itself of all of the oil that didn't drain out before. Sigh. Pressing on despite my now pretty foul mood, I added the required 7 quarts of new oil, carelessly tossing the emptied plastic oil vessels into the cardboard box they came in.

That box was equally carelessly placed in the back of the Subie for later disposal. In retrospect, it should have been obvious that oil bottles enjoying an ambient temperature of 90+ degrees were likely to drip a substantial quantity of residual oil into the cardboard box, which was unlikely to be able to contain fluid of such minimal viscosity. Bad things come in threes - the mess of oil in the back of the Subie was the third big clean-up job of the night.

In the immortal words of Curly Stooge, "I'm tryin' to think but nuthin's happening!"


  1. You need a screwdriver to punch a hole in the top of the oil filter. Use that to twist it 180 and let the oil filter drain into a funnel and then into a bag. Works great - did it multiple times on our Cheetah. Good luck!

  2. Here's what you need to prevent the hassle and mess of oil changes. It's called Form-A-Funnel (

    It was invented by an airplane owner who went though the same stuff you did.

    I love your blog!