When you think of working on a car in DIY fashion, one of the most universal images is that of a person laying underneath a vehicle moving back and forth on a mechanics creeper to change their oil. You may envision some grease on their arms, socket wrenches strewn about, and six or seven quarts of oil waiting patiently to be poured into the motor when the time is right. You may also envision floor jacks or jack stands positioned neatly under a vehicle, suspending it in the air. What you may not envision however, is an oil drain pan, most likely because this sits deep underneath the car, most often out of view. But, during an oil change a good oil drain pan can be an unsung hero in that it saves you significant clean up time.
That said, picking the wrong oil catch pan can also wreak havoc on your garage floor in the form of spills that can seep into your floor and cause ugly stains (and angry significant others). For this reason, it is extremely important that you select the best oil drain pan from both a quality and utility standpoint. As such, we have written some thoughts to help you choose.
What is an Oil Drain Pan?
An oil drain pan, also often referred to as an oil drip pan, oil catch pan, or oil drain container is an open topped container that you place underneath your car to catch your oil as it drains out, thus preventing the oil from spilling all over the floor. Some are as simple as four sides and a bottom, whereas others have more sophisticated features such as mesh screens to catch your oil drain bolt, pour spouts to make oil transfer easier, and sealing lids so that they can double as a used oil storage device.
What to Look for in a Great Oil Drain Pan?
When it comes to actually catching oil, there is little difference between the actual part of the pan that catches the oil. Injection molded plastic will hold oil just as well as a metal oil pan. The main differences are dimensions, capacity, and extra features like pour spouts. There are also differences in quality.
From a size standpoint, you will want to find a pan that can hold at least as much as your engine. We usually recommend that you upsize by a minimum of 50%. This is to say that if your engine oil capacity (which can be found in your vehicle user manual) is 5 quarts you will want a drain pan that can hold 7.5 quarts.
From a dimensional standpoint, this largely depends on the type of car you have. We typically like to err on the low side of the height range as it fits underneath a wider variety of cars. If you find an oil drain pan that’s low enough that you don’t have to jack your car up, this is a bonus as it saves time and makes the whole process slightly safer. You can get a feel for what kind of height dimension you can get away with by taking a peak under your car to see how high off the ground the lowest point under your engine is.
From an extra features standpoint, we suggest looking for a pan that has a mesh screen. While it doesn’t happen often, you’ll be glad you went the extra mile and got a screen the first time you drop your oil drain bolt after unscrewing it. There is nothing worse than sifting through used motor oil to find a lost bolt…we know from experience. We also suggest looking for a pan with a top that closes so that you can use it for storage (the empty containers from your new oil or a well rinsed milk jug make great alternatives if you have to improvise). Finally, look for one that has a pour spout. If you are using a Tupperware container or a bucket and try to pour, oil can get really splashy and make a pretty big mess.
Best Oil Drain Pans
While there are tons of options out there, these are a pair of our favorites.
Matrix M28 6 Quart Oil Drain Container
Matrix Concepts really put a lot of thought into this drain pan. The first thing you’ll notice is that this oil pan is translucent, which is a departure from the usual black that most oil drain pans sport. This allows you to quickly visualize how full the container is without having to shake it or pick it up. The pan holds 6 quarts, which should be enough for most 4 and 6 cylinder cars. If you have a larger motor or particularly thirsty car, you may need to upsize. The M28 is a relatively low profile oil drain pan, which means that it will fit under most types of cars. It also sports a nice carrying handle which makes transportation when full pretty easy.
When it comes to the pour spout, the M28 has a spout that can be capped, so you can store your oil until you are ready to dispose of it properly by dropping it off at your local auto shop. Further, the surface that you drain onto has the hole positioned near the top (when the pan is set on end during storage), which minimizes the chance of leaks. When it comes to oil storage, leaks are the bane of oil drain pans so it pays great dividends to have all openings oriented at the top. Lastly, cleanup is a breeze. Just wipe the top surface down thoroughly and call it a day. Overall, this pan offers a great all around package and we highly recommend it as our all around favorite.
Lumax 15 Quart Drainmaster Oil Drain Pan
If the Matrix Racing pan above is a little too small, we recommend going with a pan that is a little more traditional. Our favorite of these is the Lumax Drainmaster. The capacity is 15 quarts, which should handle everything from trucks to SUV’s to cars with V8’s and larger. An 8 inch opening with a mesh screen sits atop this pan, which means that there thankfully isn’t much to wipe down after an oil change. Simply screw the cap on and tighten it against the leakproof seal after you’re done and you’re all set. Additionally, this pan is outfitted with two carry handles which makes moving it around rather effortless.
The overall quality on this pan is decent as far as oil pans go. It is resistant to leaking and is made in the good-ole USA. The pour spout is right at the top, which allows for mess free transfer of fluid into other containers should the need arise. Finally, although it’s not relevant to function, the red caps look pretty slick. Overall, if you need a high capacity oil drain pan, you can’t go wrong with this one.
So hopefully this guide has been helpful in aiding your decision to choose the best oil drain pan. While these are our favorites, don’t be afraid to take a look at some other offerings on the market by clicking here. Happy wrenching!