Home » I Made The Ultimate Oil-Change Mistake And Nearly Ruined My Girlfriend’s Toyota Yaris

I Made The Ultimate Oil-Change Mistake And Nearly Ruined My Girlfriend’s Toyota Yaris

Almost Killed Yaris
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I’m lucky enough to have a partner who’s incredibly supportive of my stupid car obsession. That is, to be specific, my obsession with cars that are stupid – like fussy BMWs and old unexceptional Mercs. She doesn’t share my obsession, though, and instead chooses to get around in a 2007 Toyota Yaris. It is a car that recently made a fool out of me. For that crime, I’m not sure it can ever be forgiven.

I take care of our cars as a matter of course. My partner’s Yaris was due for an oil change, and so naturally I set about doing it myself. It’s normally a pretty easy job. Toyota has stashed the oil filter right at the bottom of the engine bay, just behind the front bumper. You can literally leave the car on your driveway, drop the plastic undertray, and spin off the oil filter, no problem. Access to the oil pan is also easy, you just undo the bolt and drain the oil. Replace the bolt, replace the filter, top up with fresh oil, and you’re done! You’re done in 30 minutes flat without even rushing. Maybe a quarter of an hour, even.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

And yet, I had to turn this simple task into an absolute boondoggle. Why? Let me show you these pictures.  See if you can guess.

Sumpyoil

Sumpyatf

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Got your guess locked in? Alright, let’s go.

So there I am, laying on the driveway, cheerfully removing the undertray. I grab my oil drip tray to collect the old oil, and as I unbolt the sump plug, it starts flowing out freely. Only, it’s a bit different than usual. It’s … red, almost purplish somehow. I start wondering if there’s something wrong with the car, some kind of leak. My partner, not at all a car person, is much more switched on this particular weekend, and has a different idea. “Isn’t it usually on the other side?” she asks.

She’s pretty smart. In my haste, I’d foolishly dumped the transmission fluid instead of the engine oil. Hence the color. I put it down to the fact that I was looking for a bolt in a black stamped-steel tray, and I found one. It was just the wrong one.

I decided to interview my girlfriend to get the real scoop on what had happened on that fateful day of foolishness, from her perspective. (My bosses David and Matt are always demanding we be real journalists, after all).

“The last time you changed the oil, it was on the other side of the car,” she said. “Also, the liquid was kind of purple.” Apparently, I kept at the job until she reiterated the note. “I was pretty sure I was right, but you were very confident about where you were letting the liquid out from,” she laughs. “I was trying to be a bit gentle about it, but I didn’t think that was the right thing.”

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Image140
I just wasn’t thinking, that day.

Most of my own cars have been rear-wheel-drive, so this has never come up before, because the transmission is never sitting next to the engine. Normally, when I get under the front of the car, the sump bolt is right there, and the transmission pan is significantly further back. I’m not used to having to disambiguate between the two because they’re usually more clearly separated than in the Yaris.

This is, of course, very much my fault. I’m putting my hand up and owning this one. It was a silly mistake and it cost me $70 in transmission fluid to make it right. [Ed Note: Transmission fluid has gotten EXPENSIVE since the pandemic, for some reason. Or maybe that’s everything. -DT]. Perhaps the small victory is that my partner’s auto transmission has now had a nice refresh and might last longer. “I wasn’t mad,” she chuckles. “Even though it ended up being wrong, I knew you’d fix it.” A nice vote of confidence, then.

Really, though, it’s a Toyota. It probably would have lasted forever anyway. If anything, by messing with it, I risked upsetting whatever magic it is that keeps these things animated for hundreds of thousands of miles from the factory.

The best thing, though, is that we caught it. If I hadn’t been paying attention, I might not have noticed the fluid in the black plastic drain pan was reddish rather than dark brown. I might have put the bolt back in and poured in liters of additional oil, only to notice my mistake when the dipstick was reading well over full. I never miss the latter step, so it’s not like I’d have started it in that condition. But if I did, significant damage could have resulted. Either to the engine itself from excessive oil, or to the transmission from running with zero fluid.

[Ed Note: I’m not sure the transmission would have worked at all with no fluid, as line pressure is needed for it to function properly. -DT].

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In any case, no major harm was done, and my partner was forgiving. Much to my surprise, they still insist I perform all minor services going forward, which must be some kind of endorsement of my abilities. Even if I’m the kind of naughty, lovable scamp who reuses bolts in direct contravention of BMW’s binding German edicts.

Toyota Yaris 2008 Wallpapers 2
The digi-dash that Aussie models got is kinda neat, but it’s not a comfortable interior for me. Note this image is of a manual-equipped car; I’ve only driven the auto.

I’m going to use this as an opportunity to rag on this Yaris a bit, if only to distract you from how big of a fool I was with the transmission fluid thing.

This embarrassing debacle is far from the only reason I dislike the Yaris. You might assume I’m going to follow this up with some cheesebag lines about how big engines are better and “penalty boxes” are garbage and all that tired old noise piped out by bloviating tryhards. But no, I’m a big fan of small cars and affordable hatches overall. It’s just the Yaris has certain peculiarities that chafe me so.

Most of all, it’s the frustrating ergonomics. The Yaris has a largely upright seating position. It combines this with an accelerator pedal position that requires me to to come down upon it from above. I have to bend my foot upwards at the ankle to just tickle it if I want to maintain a constant speed. Typically, I’d get around this by rolling the seat back, but alas, no. The steering wheel doesn’t telescope, so it’s not really practical to do so.

Combine the ergonomics with the total lack of cruise control, and it’s a difficult car to drive long distances. The 2007 Yaris simply was not available with cruise control in any trim in Australia. In contrast, some U.S. models did come with cruise. For those that didn’t, it’s easy enough to hack in with some minor mods. But the Australian cars, and the European ones? No such luck.

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Some people will tell you a Yaris is too slow, too small, or too underpowered to handle a road trip. All this is nonsense. The Yaris has plenty of power to merge and to keep up with traffic at 70 mph on the highway. Heck, I’ve happily road tripped a 1987 Mazda 323 with a busted carb for hundreds of miles without issue. If it just had cruise control, it would be fine. But when the car is forcing me to unnaturally bend my limbs to drive it for hours at a time, I’m sorry to say it’s just not workable for me.

To be fair, the Yaris isn’t so bad if I’m only driving it for twenty minutes at a time. It’s also the perfect car for my partner. She fits in it perfectly, and it never gives her cause to worry about faults or maintenance. As long as she keeps it serviced regularly, perhaps by somebody more competent than me, it should last her another decade with minimal trouble.

Ultimately, it just seems that there’s a fundamental incompatibility between the Yaris and myself. Will this ease, or fester into a diehard enmity over time? Let’s find out together.

[Editor’s Note: Just a reminder to readers who are now convinced this is a blog about the Yaris’ ergonomic deficiencies: Lewin pulled the wrong drain plug; I haven’t forgotten! (even if I’ve done similarly stupid things). -DT]. 

Image credits: Toyota, Lewin “Lewinberg” Day

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TOSSABL
TOSSABL
3 months ago

Automotive Confessions would be a good occasional feature.
-I think I have more than my fair share… 🙂

The Clutch Rider
The Clutch Rider
3 months ago

i mean you could have caught this when the level on the dipstick was way way too much.

Angry Bob
Angry Bob
3 months ago

My brother and I did the exact same thing to his VW Passat. And there was no excuse since we had the car on our Dad’s lift.

Worse on the VW, there’s no fill hole or dipstick on the transmission! You have to fill it through the drain plug! We had to tow it to a dealer to have it refilled.

JShaawbaru
JShaawbaru
3 months ago

I almost did the same thing to a friend’s 199X Escort GT sometime in the early 2010s. I was starting to loosen the bolt and something seemed off, and I realized it was the wrong pan before any fluid actually escaped.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
3 months ago

Saturns (at least a certain 2000 SW2 ) had a very handy spin-on transmission oil filter that was quite prominent when surveying underhood. Eh, at least it was cheap.

The actual engine oil filter is cleverly tucked under the ps pump at the back of the transverse engine. Bastards.

Andrew Vance
Andrew Vance
3 months ago

Next blog idea: we need an inflation-adjusted plot for the relative prices of motor oil, trans fluid, gear oil, and of course blinker fluid.

ProudLuddite
ProudLuddite
3 months ago

Transmission Fluid has gotten expensive” When I drained and filled the old Lexus I did a lot of research on the fluid to use. Cheapest was factory quarts from the Toyota dealer, I think it was $6-7 a quart a couple years ago.

Shane
Shane
3 months ago
Reply to  ProudLuddite

I wonder if he’s used AUD. Changed the spelling of litre to liter and km to miles but may have left the currency as AUD.

Last edited 3 months ago by Shane
ProudLuddite
ProudLuddite
3 months ago

Don’t feel bad, I am a pretty experienced wrencher and I had a brain lapse and did the same thing on my wife’s Infiniti J30 many years ago. I had no “it’s front wheel drive” excuse. Homer Simpson “doh” moment. Seems like for some reason the fix was more complicated than just topping up with fluid, I ended up pulling the transmission pan for some reason. Anyway it all worked fine after.

The other fun with fluids story, some idiot marketed, and another idiot bought, oil in a five gallon container the same color as Peak anti-freeze packaging. Predictable hijinks ensued. I really prefer to get the separate quarts for a variety of reasons, mostly because it is easier to store leftovers and keep track of how much oil you put in the car, but also to prevent stupid human tricks.

World24
World24
3 months ago

 [Ed Note: Transmission fluid has gotten EXPENSIVE since the pandemic, for some reason. Or maybe that’s everything. -DT].

The ZF 8 & 9 speed fluid has always been expensive though. Service fill on either or is always greater than 8 quarts, and at $35 a quart (MSRP from Ma Mopar), that’s easily about $300 with tax for fluid.

Angrycat Meowmeow
Angrycat Meowmeow
3 months ago

This happens all the time on Audi’s. I swear, every week someone posts in a FB group that they took their Audi to “QUICK STAY IN YOUR CAR 5 MINUTE OIL CHANGE AND LUBE JOB” and “now my transmission won’t shift and I’m getting a “please remove oil” warning”. Yeah, zero transmission fluid and 16 quarts of oil will do that. Not to mention the aero on the bottom is huge and held on with myriad fasteners. No doubt those never go back on the way they came off at “Lube Express”.

I bought an oil extractor and it’s a game changer.

Mr. Asa
Mr. Asa
3 months ago

[Ed Note: Transmission fluid has gotten EXPENSIVE since the pandemic, for some reason. Or maybe that’s everything. -DT].

Its everything, David. Except for me. Somehow I’m still worth pre-pandemic pricing.

Alan Christensen
Alan Christensen
3 months ago

I did the same thing with my wife’s 4Runner. Didn’t ruin the car but totally destroyed any cred I had as a guy who knew about cars.

Phuzz
Phuzz
3 months ago

I’m sure I’d have done this if I’d ever owned an auto.
I did once completely mess up an oil pan by turning the drain plug the wrong way, until it stripped the threads and got stuck. Had to remove the entire pan full of oil, and fit a new one to fix that. It was my first ever attempt at changing oil tbf.

Eric W
Eric W
3 months ago

You missed the most obvious dig at a Yaris/Echo, the middle placement of the gauge cluster. I know its a cost thing for LHD/RHD but I’m the driver, I do not share my gauges.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
3 months ago
Reply to  Eric W

I’ve always felt the same way about this trend. They often try to justify it as promoting better visual awareness of the road, but I dunno.

My Focus has its radio display on top of the dash in this rally car gauge pod-like thing. At the time, Ford used the visibility justification, but I’ve always thought you cowards just say it’s b/c you people like cheesy racecar inspired stuff on your economy cars!

Last edited 3 months ago by Jack Trade
VanGuy
VanGuy
3 months ago
Reply to  Jack Trade

My Prius has it, and personally, if nothing else, I like that nothing is blocked by the wheel. In my old Econoline, depending on the exact seating and wheel position, the wheel might block certain indicators.

Fourmotioneer
Fourmotioneer
3 months ago

When I did this on my friend’s wife’s Honda Fit, I didn’t notice my mistake and preceded to double fill the engine with oil. I got a call to come fix it, and after realizing my error and refilling trans and correcting the oil level, I guess I didn’t sufficiently tighten the oil drain plug.

Happened to be in the car a week later when that let loose.

Friend played his cards well, got a new engine under warranty.

Tom Herman
Tom Herman
3 months ago

I had the same problem with the throttle in my ’87 VW GLI. After a long time I got the idea to remove the stop from below the throttle and adjust the linkage a couple inches. It made a big difference.

Dar Khorse
Dar Khorse
3 months ago

I did the same thing on my VW Passat once. Luckily I noticed the color immediately and jammed the plug back in. Especially lucky because the Passat has no trans dipstick at all so there’s no way to add fluid without special equipment.

After that, I got one of these and never loosened a drain plug again on any of my cars: HT Moto Oil Extractor. One of the best automotive tools I ever bought and it works great for automatic transmission fluid too, if you just want to pull out a few liters and put some new stuff in to keep it fresh (provided there’s a dipstick for the transmission).

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
3 months ago
Reply to  Dar Khorse

Never liked the sound of oil extractors, for the same reason I change my oil piping hot.

Frederick Tanujaya
Frederick Tanujaya
3 months ago

Just detected a leak off a loose CVT Drain bolt on my friend’s Honda Brio, the weird thing is that, the CVT Fluid, has a goldish-new-ENGINE-oil color to it, as the car just had its engine oil replaced just 2 days ago, i thought it was a loose engine oil pan plug, and the leak was coming from the right side of the engine bay where the CVT was housed, so i was initially confused as what the leak would be, the thought of engine oil vs Cvt fluid really boggled my mind and boy i was wrong, it was the CVT Fluid with the drain plug HAND-LOOSE, like i can pop it off just by turning it by hand, imagine if the car had gone on a few kilometers and that plug gave way… The CVT will go boop.

Robert Stanley McLaughlin
Robert Stanley McLaughlin
3 months ago

Stamping the word OIL on the bolt would break them I guess

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
3 months ago

Or even on the pan itself. Esp. given how many people go to the qwicky lubze.

CUlater
CUlater
3 months ago
Reply to  Jack Trade

Gotta give Honda credit, on my CR-V they embossed “Oil” and “Trans” and arrows on the nearly side by side pans.

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
3 months ago

[Ed Note: Transmission fluid has gotten EXPENSIVE since the pandemic, for some reason. Or maybe that’s everything. -DT].

It is everything, but automotive fluids specifically(not just ATF) are extra bad. Gear oil is super duper expensive, good gear oil is pretty much liquid gold, and synchromesh manual transmission fluid is astronomical.

Deathspeed
Deathspeed
3 months ago

You all are so lucky! Over the last 40 years I’ve changed oil on at least 20 different cars and transmission fluid on at least eight, domestic and foreign, model years 1972 through 2013, and I have seen only one drain plug on a transmission pan! (76 Monte Carlo with a TH350 if you are curious; my dad thinks the plug was aftermarket). All of the trannies were drained the way God intended – loosen the pan bolts and spill fluid down your arms and all over the driveway no matter how big your drain pan is and how careful you are.

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
3 months ago
Reply to  Deathspeed

Dodge minivans of some years and many import cars have automatic transmission drain plugs. Of course manual transmissions have a drain normally.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
3 months ago
Reply to  Deathspeed

Thanks: I just flashed to a Polaroid my then-wife got of me looking like a survivor from a horror film just after I dropped the pan to change fluid on my very first slushbox (87 S10 Tahoe: she had a Mustang, I had a VW Westy—and we lived on a mountain with the baby due in January)

Knowonelse
Knowonelse
3 months ago

When I was doing oil changes every 10 weeks when I was commuting, I installed a Fumoto quick-release valve in place of the drain plug. Another way to distinguish engine from trans oil.

JDS
JDS
3 months ago
Reply to  Knowonelse

I was going to post the same thing. I put a Fumoto valve on my old WRX so I could do oil changes more easily. Worthwhile purchase, although I’ve since bought an oil extractor. Now I can change the oil in my Benz E350 DD in about 20 minutes without even having to look underneath.

Knowonelse
Knowonelse
3 months ago

My truck has a leaky autotrans and it just doesn’t like to shift when the fluid is low. It can get comically low before I notice however.

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
3 months ago

“I just wasn’t thinking, that day.”
So was it a “Lewis” Day?
Yeah, that’s all I got…

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
3 months ago

Well on the original Mini and on the original Lamborghini Muria the engine oil and transmission oil were in the same sump, so if your girlfriend had one of those you would be fine. Very fine if she had a Muria,

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