Thunderbird 3.8, and if you have one of these iconic symbols of American luxury, we bet you’re doing your best to keep it running. At-home oil changes are a great way to maintain your throwback vehicles, but first you’ll need to know your engine oil capacity. In this case, it’s 5 quarts, or about 4.7 liters.
A 1997 Ford Thunderbird with a 3.8L V6 needs 5 quarts of oil.
Ford recommends that you use SAE 5W-20 synthetic-blend motor oil in your ‘97 Thunderbird.
You can save money by changing the oil in your 1997 Ford Thunderbird at home.
The 1997 Ford Thunderbird 3.8 is powered by a 3.8-liter V6 engine that requires 5 quarts (or about 4.7 liters) of oil.
But how can a 3.8-liter engine hold 4.7 liters of fluid?! Well, the 3.8 label refers to your engine’s displacement—or the amount of oil taken up by the cylinders while the engine does its job. Oil capacity describes how much oil you’ll need for each change. The two numbers are never interchangeable!
It’s also important not to confuse the ‘97 Thunderbird 3.8 with another Thunderbird. In 1997, a Thunderbird equipped with a 4.6-liter V8 engine was also available—and this model will have a completely different oil capacity.
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What kind of oil does a 1997 Ford Thunderbird 3.8 need?
Ford recommends using SAE 5W-20 synthetic blend motor oil in your ‘97 Thunderbird 3.8.
It’s important to go with your manufacturer’s suggestions because not all engine oils are created equal. In fact, they have varying viscosities, or thicknesses, and can significantly affect how well your engine works.
“SAE” stands for “Society of Automotive Engineers,” the organization responsible for assigning oil grades after determining their viscosity. In an oil grade, the “W” stands for “winter.” The number coming before the W articulates the oil’s viscosity in colder temperatures, while the number coming after the W indicates the oil’s viscosity in higher temps.
Finally, you’ll get to choose between conventional oil, full synthetic oil, and synthetic blends. Ford recommends synthetic blend oil for the Thunderbird, but full synthetic oils should be fine, too.
If you’re using synthetic or synthetic blend oils, experts recommend changing it every 7,500 to 10,000 miles. That can be as seldom as once a year if you don’t use your Thunderbird very often, or about twice a year if you drive an average amount of miles annually.
If you do opt for conventional oil because it’s cheaper, remember that you’ll need to change your oil more often—about every 3,000 to 5,000 miles.
Of course, the only true way to know if it’s time to change your oil is to check it on a regular basis. We recommend checking your oil levels at least once a month, keeping an eye out for the following signs that it’s time for a change:
Dirty oil that is dark brown or black in color. (Clean oil will be a light amber color.)
Dirty oil that feels gritty or coarse
Unfamiliar noises or smells coming from the engine, especially if it includes smoke and/or burning
To perform an at-home oil change, you’ll need a socket wrench, a drain pan, and a filter wrench designed to remove the old oil filter. (And don’t forget to purchase a replacement filter and five quarts of synthetic blend 5W-20 engine oil!)
You’ll want to begin by running your Thunderbird for about five minutes, until the engine reaches its normal operating temperature. (In colder weather, this might take a big longer.) Then, turn the engine off, jack up your car if needed, and get started.
Here are the basic oil change steps:
Unscrew and take off the oil fill cap
Crawl beneath the engine (this is where the jacks come in handy) and remove the oil drain bolt and washer, draining the old oil into the drain pan
Remove the old oil filter and continue to let the oil drain
Install the new filter
Replace the oil drain bolt using a new washer and tighten it to 15-25 lb-ft
Refill the engine with your new oil and replace the fill cap
Remove the vehicle from the jacks if necessary and turn it on. While the engine is running, check for any leaks, and—after a few moments—use your dipstick to ensure you’ve added enough oil to the engine. (Feel free to top things off if needed.) If you’ve done everything correctly, your dashboard’s
Finally, make sure to clean up responsibly! Pour the dirty oil into a sealed container and take it to a local recycling center—never dump dirty oil onto the grass or ground, and never dispose of it in your normal trash.