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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Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
4 months ago

I did something similar but worse.

Removed the correct plug, drain the right fluid, then pour fresh engine oil into the transmission.

It was an expensive oil change. 🙁

Brian Michael
Brian Michael
4 months ago

Holy shit I had a friend that did this to his Echo back in our early twenties and we still make fun of it 15 years later. He fully committed to the mistake though and put oil in the motor and drove it with the engine double filled and the tranny empty, with predictable results. He also once did a tune up on his Ranger while I looked on, starts it up when he was done and exclaimed “she’s purring now, brotha!!” as it misfired horribly. I asked him how the put the wires on and he said “1 to 1, 2 to 2…” and so on. So yeah, clearly he had no idea what he was doing with cars but also no fear of working on them.

Lost on the Nürburgring
Lost on the Nürburgring
4 months ago

“Nearly” is doing some heroic work in that headline…

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
4 months ago

Hey Lewin so you thought that this would go away after a day or two after posting? As the young older people say NOT. This will be remembered for the rest of your time here. However I don’t get how you post I could have been killed? Ruin the car yeah but no death. Now accidently mounting a tire with reversed lug nuts yes kill. I was lucky as I still cared for her at the time. Now 40 years looking back not sure it was the best outcome. I would never Intentionally cause harm but fiancé/best friend hook up and ghost you? Not regretted.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
4 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

The car is saying “I could have been killed”

BigThingsComin
BigThingsComin
3 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

I suspect the girlfriend would have been doing the killing, if she wasn’t so kind.

10001010
10001010
4 months ago

I’ve done plenty of this kind of stoopid before. Based on the lessons I’ve learned I would take a paint pen and label those two bolts to prevent future me from doing stoopids.

Ted Fort
Ted Fort
4 months ago

I did the same thing with my Saab 900. Things get disorienting when everything is backwards!

Carlos Ferreira
Carlos Ferreira
4 months ago
Reply to  Ted Fort

Correction: Everything in the Saab 900 is correctly oriented, it’s the Universe that’s backwards.

Brandon Forbes
Brandon Forbes
4 months ago

Did the same thing to my wife’s Sienna a year or so ago. I was super mad too because I had just had the trans fluid changed a month or so prior to that, and on those getting the trans fluid level right is quite an involved process. I said screw it, looks to be about a quart that came out and just hope it is close enough. Hasn’t grenaded yet…

Brandon Forbes
Brandon Forbes
4 months ago
Reply to  Brandon Forbes

I will say though, I realized it the second the red fluid came out and stopped it pretty quick.

Stevadoo
Stevadoo
4 months ago

Oil change mistake story: My first car was an ’83 VW GTI and I would change the oil at my grandmother’s house. Her garage had a very steep driveway; at the top it leveled off at a sharp angle so I would pull the front wheels right up to that edge. It was a lot steeper than ramps so getting to the filter and drain plug was super easy. Did I turn the car on and check for leaks after the oil change? No, I did not. I started driving to the auto parts store to get rid of the oil, and about 5 minutes later the oil pressure light and horn went off which is something you never want to experience. Turned off the engine, coasted into someone’s driveway. Got under the car (by now it was raining cats and dogs of course) and looked for the problem. Turns out there is a rubber flap that covers the back side of the radiator, the car was tilted so far back that it got caught between the filter and filter housing. Apparently I left a 2 mile long oil slick from Bradley Beach to Belmar, NJ. I unscrewed the filter, moved the flap out of the way, and tightened the filter down again. Put the used oil back in and proceeded to the auto parts store to buy 4 new quarts of oil. The engine was no worse for wear, thankfully. Needless to say, I am now a strong advocate for checking for leaks after service…

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