I need to preface this by saying I was an assistant manager for an auto repair shop for over 3 years. So I really do know what I’m talking about, I promise. Many lists I have seen on how to save money include changing the oil on your car yourself as a way to save money. That’s bollocks. Let me tell you why.
Most auto repair shops that also do other work like brakes, tuneups, and tires use oil changes as a loss leader to get you to come to their shop for more major repairs and maintenance. The regular price for an oil change at the shop I used to work at is currently $18.90. You can often find coupons for $14.90, and occasionally they have coupons for $12.90. They are set up to do oil changes very quickly, with an oil pit down below or at least on a lift. The guys that worked the oil change bay frequently could complete an oil change in about 5 minutes most of the time. Now, even if you have several cars in front of you, that’s still pretty fast timing. If you can hit the shop when there’s nobody in front of you, you can be in and out in about 15 minutes, most of the time.
Compare that to changing the oil yourself. You have to buy ramps to drive your car up on, an oil wrench, plus you have to buy the oil at about $2.50 per bottle (I’m not 100% certain on this. I haven’t bought oil by the bottle in over 7 years, but my husband who drives a car that has a slight oil leak says this is what oil costs) and an oil filter for between $6 and $10. Consider that the average car requires about 5 quarts of oil and just the oil and filter is going to run more than the coupon price.
Plus, it takes time to change the oil yourself on your car. And, if you mess up and strip the threads on the oil pan bolt, it’s you that has to deal with fixing that. If the repair shop does so, they have to fix it, not you. And then you have to take the used oil for recycling- seriously, it’s more time than it’s worth.
You’re not going to save money if you don’t go to the right sort of shop. The shops that do oil changes only are typically more expensive, charging between $25 and $30 for an oil change. And I have no idea what dealers charge for their oil changes, but I expect their prices are in line with the rest of their prices. That is to say, expensive. The type of shop you want to choose is the sort that does all kinds of work. Watch out for coupons that come in the mail and take your car in to try the place out.
A bonus of taking your car to one of these shops for regular oil changes is you get to know the shop before you have to bring your car in for more major work. There are many unscrupulous shops out there. It drives the honest shops and auto technicians wild because people tend to assume that all shops are shady, based on the actions of a few shops. But you can get a good feel for what a shop is like based on how they handle oil changes. If they explain things carefully and tell you how seriously you need an item (I always instructed my technicians to make sure to differentiate between an item needing replaced by mileage/time vs. actual need), then you can assume they’re probably an honest shop. But if they act like everything is needing to be replaced on your car, unless everything really does need to be replaced on your car, they’re probably unscrupulous. Keep shopping around until you find a good shop, and then recommend them to your friends and family as well. Good shops get a lot of business by word of mouth.
Some maintenance items that are totally worth doing yourself is the air filter, PCV valve, and, with some technical knowledge, tuneups, plug wires, and distributor caps. Air filters, especially, are ridiculously easy to replace and are overpriced in every shop I have ever been in. If we ever get a warm, non-rainy day and I remember to, I may do a tutorial on how simple it is to replace your air filter.