Don’t Bother Changing Your Own Oil

retrochick.JPGIvy says:

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.

Happy motoring!

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Comments

  1. o.O Whoa, that’s ridiculous. Yeah, if you don’t have non-dealer auto repair shops and they’re charging nearly 200 bucks for an oil change, by all means, change it yourself!

  2. Sound advice for US readers, but not so for European readers. A dealership recently ran us back €125 (approx $195) for an oil change. Would much rather let hubby do it at a fraction of the cost! Oh how I long to be back in America! ;-)

    • Sorry bud but I have to disagree with you. I myself have been working at an auto repair shop as a mechanic and have done oil changes for myself and friends before without lifts. First off if your dont mind laying on your back you can do an oil chnge on your car no ramps needed ( I have a ford taurus) and those 18.99 oil changes use the worst oil possible , usually a brand called kendall which is cleaned up old oil so recycled oil basically. It saves money and is better for your car. The small investment in tool (maybe 40 max for the socket wrench and oil filter grip) that you pay one time is well worth it.

      • joseperez says:

        I would have to agree with jon, as a ASE certified small engine mechanic and a manager for a auto parts store not naming which but lets just say that auto shops obtain filters and oil and a dramatically reduced price and then turn around and sell for retail which is usually more than what you can purchase going in the store and purchasing off of the shelf. Auto parts stores always have specials where you can obtain a complete oil change for 14 – 24 depending on the type of brand you perfer. I have never other than at the shop that I worked at needed car ramps or a lift. As far as stripping the oil pan bolt which seldom happens it is much less expensive than being almost bullied into purchasing other items at automotive shops. I would almost say that the initial investment for the one time cost of obtaining the socket and oil wrench and oil retaining device would be saved after two oil changes. ( including haggle free changing) The recycling of oil is just as easy since auto part stores are in every corner of whom offer free recycling and of which they receive a few cents for the oil that is then recycled.

        • I too worked at a quick lube / car wash while I was in college. While they can change oil quickly, they had a scam of pulling the air filter and showing the car owner asking if they wanted them to put in a new air filter. I was astounded at the number of men who even fell for this. It was a way to get a bump up in sales by selling an over-priced air filter – usually the one they showed the customer looked brand new. Our car is low to the ground and hard to get under without ramps. Also, we do not have a driveway or flat enough piece of land to put lifts and have a good degree of certainty that they won’t fall over, otherwise, we could save half the cost for each oil change by my husband doing the job himself using oil and supplies from our local AutoZone (26 miles away) and recycling through them. Our nearest, best mechanic charges $50 / oil change with 5 qts of Pennzoil. In the long run, it would be less expensive to do the job ourselves, even with the other supplies. Additionally, the ramps come in handy for other below-the-car tasks. My viewpoint is do it yourself if you can and know what you are putting in the vehicle when. If you are not able (live in an apartment or other place where it just can’t be done effectively), then find someone reliable and trustworthy to care for your vehicle. Make sure you know personally when things need to be changed. Change what you can yourself, even if oil is not one of those things.

  3. I usually have pretty good luck with the drive-in oil changing places.

    The secret is to ignore every single upsale they try and put on you. New air filter? Synthetic oil? Transmission flush? Baloney. Let your mechanic handle that stuff during regular maintenance and just get the basic oil change. You can get out of there fast and relatively cheaply.

  4. Honestly? It really depends on the vehicle. With a wife and three teenage sons, I’ve got junker cars the way some old ladies have cats. Some of them I can whip through an oil change in a few minutes, cheaply. Others, I might as well be changing the head gasket.

    If I can get an oil change for less than $13 at a lube shop, I do it. Most around here offer specials at about $20. I figure a DIY oil change costs me $12 to $15, depending on what kind of oil I buy and the cost of the oil filter, which varies by vehicle.

    The trick? Don’t buy oil by the quart. Buy it by the gallon. If your junker leaks oil, buy the cheap stuf ($10 gallon)f; if it’s still pretty tight and has more than 100k on in, buy the expensive synthetics. I don’t know that there’s much difference between oil filters, and they’re generally pretty cheap.

    What this doesn’t consider is the cost of materials for the DIY fleet manager. I’ve got $30 invested in stands, another $10 in a close-up-and-transport drip pan container, plus a large plastic drip pan, PLUS more oil filter wrenches than I ever thought I’d own.

    Generic filter wrenches SUCK. What you want is the band wrench that fits YOUR SPECIFIC FILTER. Each costs about $6, but I swear you’ll get the money back in saved aggravation the first time you use it.

    I’ve got one vehicle that I simply refuse to change myself because the filter is so poorly positioned, but another that’s almost fun to change because it’s so logically set up.

  5. Thanks for this- my dh was wanting to learn how to change the oil on our car, but I wasn’t so keen on having him do that. I forwarded this to him so he can see other things he could/should do himself. He’s figured out how to change filters, light bulbs, etc.

    We got to Wal-mart for our oil changes. I have had a VERY bad exerience at a quick change place called “Uncle Ed’s”- the cheapest I could have gotten out of there was $30 but somehow I got caught up and ended spending $60… they charged for extra labor, I couldn’t belive it! (It was the day before a trip, I didn’t have time to run elswhere.)

  6. My brother-in-law didn’t know what he was doing and killed the engine in his car because of a badly done oil change. Now he’s making payments on a car that’s junk. Ouch.

  7. I agree that most shops provide oil changes as loss leaders. We had a great relationship with a shop when we lived in NC that provided oil changes for $20. Well worth it. The customer service was amazing.

    That being said, most shops will try to find other things wrong with the vehicle to make more money. My husband and I call this an “up sale”.

    Believe it or not in Austin, TX we tried to take our vehicle to very good repair shops only to have them charge us $45 because their techs are ASE certified. The impression we were given was as though oil changes are beneath them.

    To avoid the up sale, and save on $45 oil changes at a shop we were trying to establish a business relationship with, we decided to change our own oil and have never looked back. The headaches are gone.

  8. I’ve got one vehicle that I simply refuse to change myself because the filter is so poorly positioned, but another that’s almost fun to change because it’s so logically set up.

    Does it happen to be a Nissan pickup truck made after 1987? Those are the worst to change of any vehicle I’ve ever seen.

    That being said, most shops will try to find other things wrong with the vehicle to make more money. My husband and I call this an “up sale”.

    This is true. The key here is to talk to the technician to find out if the item needs to be done by mileage or time, or if it actually needs to be done. The only items I do by mileage/time are fuel filters and timing belts, as a general rule. Neither one is something you can look at and determine whether it needs to be done, and timing belts are generally such that if it breaks, it could mess up your entire engine, so I always replace my timing belt on time.

  9. Sometimes the dealerships you buy from have deals if you go to them for service. My guys will change oil for free, their only charge is the filter. So what’s that? $5 bucks for the pros who deal specifically with my make/model changing the oil and checking the car. Good deal. And good post!

    • A friend of mine bought this package when he purchased his Toy Sienna, like my own, but his is newer.

      I, purely run synthetic and believe it best for NEW cars, that aren’t leaking oil.

      But, my friends service contract is 5,000 miles with conventional oil and that right there can change and decrease the lifetime of your vehicle. Don’t let the oil start to break down. There are many things I’d never choose a dealership for and that is the main one. ~Heidi

  10. You’ve eased my conscience over not wanting to do this job myself or nag my husband about it. Don’t write off the dealers until you’ve checked their prices, though. Our closest dealer’s quick-change bay is competitive with other places. They have to be, because it’s so easy to shop around. Plus, they throw in a car wash with the service, and will often do little stuff (like my burned-out brake light) gratis. So shop and compare!

  11. What a useful post!! Thanks, Ivy!
    We just last week realized we need to get our oil changed and are mourning the loss of our long-time honest mechanic (he moved). So we’re out on the free market looking around for deals. I’m going to keep all this advice in mind.
    And please do a tutorial on air filters. I LOVE learning about simple things that I can do cheaply.
    By the way, one of the main things I look for in a mechanic/car service shop is respect “even though” I’m a woman. The ones that automatically call my husband to discuss repairs are ones that we unanimously agree not to go back to. Am I the only one that runs into this? Maybe it’s the traditionalist area I live in. . .

    • One time, a long time ago, when I was a Navy Wife (widow to a deployed Sailor) I took my car in to have the oil changed. The night before I put on new window washer blades and a new air filter. They still tried to up-sale me. I asked them what was wrong with it and they said “its just dirty.” I loudly said, “it was brand new last night.” (and never went back there to chase toddlers around for crap service. I’m very against Penzoil products and you should be, too, if you love your vehicle and want to keep it for a long time. Do some research and you may agree with me. :) ~Heidi

  12. Reef tank addict says:

    I just had mine done yesterday. I now go to those car wash places that charge $28.50 but include a pretty good car wash.

    Since I was going to pay $12 for a car wash anyway, I figure I’m paying $16 for the oil change.

  13. No, it is cheaper for me to change my own oil and i can use superior products. Oil change shops around me charge $70 for the Mobil 1 oil and M1 filter. I can do it for $30-$32. Last oil change I used Royal Purple 5w-30 + M1 filter for $45. I also get the security of knowing the oil change was done right. Some oil change shops say they are putting in M1, but they use conventional and they just wipe your filter with a rag and call it new.

    • Absolutely agree w/ Ray on this. If you are putting dinosaur oil in the vehicle, a quick change shop is fine. Enthusiasts run full synthetic though, which as Ray said $70 is the absolute LOW end of the scale for a shop done synthetic change. Just changed my syn. oil + filter + spark plugs (all name brand stuff) for $85, took 35 minutes. A shop quoted me $235 for parts + labor, and 1.5 hour wait, for the same job. Saved $150 and precious time. Good article, but doesn't apply to all people and all vehicles.

  14. I really don’t do the oil change myself. I always bring my car in the car mechanic. let them do the job. lol

  15. I have to say, first of all, that I'm not a mechanic and have never worked in a shop before, but I think it is a bit of a stretch to say it's not worth it to change your own oil. All you really need can be purchased for about $70-80 the first time, and then just the oil, filter (varying in price, but usually cheaper than the shop anyway) and a maybe a new plug sealing washer ($.25) each time afterward. With 4 oil changes a year, those are savings that add up quickly!

    One thing that is often misunderstood about oil changes, is that fast isn't necessarily a good thing. If you can let your oil drip for about 30 minutes, a fair bit of dirty oil will drain from the engine in that time, helping keep your engine much cleaner! It typically takes me about 10 minutes to jack the car onto my jack stands, lay out some newspaper and take out the oil drain plug over the oil pan. I come back in about 30 minutes usually and spend 10 minutes putting in the new oil filter, putting the plug back with a new sealing washer, refilling the engine with the new oil, emptying the old oil into milk jugs, and I'm done. Once you do it the first time, every time after is very quick and easy.

    The basics that you'd need for the first time include a pair of simple jackstands ($25), an oil drip pan ($5), newspapers to cover the ground (free), a pair of disposable gloves ($2 for box), a milk jug or two for the oil afterward (free), a funnel ($1), a wrench and sockets for the drain plug and oil filter ($10-15, and i suggest getting the oil filter socket for your specific oil filter to make it easier) and a jack if your car doesn't already have one tucked away somewhere ($25).

    After spending 2 minutes looking for a good how-to, I found this one that seems to cover just about everything one would need with some great tips: http://tinyurl.com/oilchanging

    Changing your own oil isn't quite as easy or convenient as stopping by a shop, but it will save you a good deal of money, and you would be surprised by how easy it is to do–the only things on your car that you mess with are the one single bolt, the twist off/on oil filter, and the oil cap under the hood. I mean, if a guy that paints murals for a living can do it, who can't?

  16. I agree. The last time I went to an oil change place, they let the oil drain for about 2 minutes, and then told me that my engine was dirty because the new oil on the dipstick was dirty. I told the guy that they left half of the old oil still in the pan. He insisted that my oil was dirty and told me that I needed a motor flush (another $70). I told him to go to hell. I do my own oil changes and the cars all run just fine.

  17. Frank Winters says:

    Hmm, well for those that don’t know much about vehicles and that would be the majority of people, it’s peace of mind having someone else do it.

    Where I am it’s currently $30-35 pre-tax for an oil change + filter, at an independent shop. I’m adamant about changing every 6,000 KM for nearly all city driving (read: extreme = stop/go, very cold winters). Perhaps they’re using subpar oil and filters I’m not sure.

    The more important benefit of going to a trusted auto mechanic (i.e. someone who doesn’t push extras on you every time you go in) is that he/she can inform you of something to watch out for, or something that requires immediate attention.

    I don’t have a hoist and I’m not comfortable using jack stands or ramps, so this look over session helps me tremendously.

    Having said all this, I know it’s possible to change my oil by crawling under the car and I may very well do this to get better acquainted with it.

    Yet, there’s the cost: unless I can find oil on sale, regular price for me is ~ $26 for 5 liters. Then there’s the oil filter cost, ~ $15 for a decent one. That quickly adds up above and beyond what I’d pay. I suppose the difference being I’d know I’m using decent oil and filters…and the learning experience of course.

    • I’ve always changed my own oil on all the cars I’ve owned, although it is getting harder to justify it based on what oil costs in the auto stores these days. It’s totally ridiculous.

      The only way to DYI these days is to find really good deals on oil and filters and have the stuff available. I bought supplies for 3 oil changes on Black Friday for $8 each (I have enough oil for 4 oil changes actually). One advantage as noted above to the DYI change is that you will allow a lot more time for the oil to drain out versus a guy tying up his lift with your car.

      I will almost never let anyone else touch any of my cars because they often don’t know what they are doing.

      My wife had problems with her brakes. She had paid some guy to replace the pads and they were worse than before. She also took this car to another shop and finally even to the dealer. After hundreds spent on these brakes, the problem with the grinding brake problem wasn’t resolved. I got so sick of this I finally told her I would fix the brakes, I replaced everything, the caliper, the disc, the pads and the problem has never returned!

      My friend had his oil changed at a shop and they forgot to refill it with oil! The motor blew up on his way home. Fortunately, he was able to make them take responsibility and they were forced to replace HIS ENGINE. Worked out for him but goes to show you that taking it to a shop doesn’t necessarily mean your car is in better hands. Often, it may be in worse hands!

  18. I know this post is ancient but found it researching the same thing (is it worth it?) I think it depends on the person. If you have little or no mechanical experience it is WELL worth the extra 15$ it may cost to have someone else do it. If you are even slightly mechanically inclined, it is pretty easy. a) be careful hot oil hurts like hell, b) you get to choose quality of oil and filter (make sure you know what your car takes should be in the manual) c) you have the control of knowing that it was done right. I have heard horror stories and seen stupid stuff like oil cap left off when car given back to customer, oil plug falling out later from someone not screwing it in good enough, charging for changing filters and not doing so, etc etc… if you have the time, letting your oil drain for an hour is best anyways they will NEVER do that at any shop. the tool to remove a stubborn oil filter is around $10.

  19. Wow. What a load of crap this article is. I want the last few minutes of my life back that it took me to read this steaming pile.

    Yeah, don’t change your own oil…if you’re a helpless and brainless moron.

    I put high performance oil, and a high performance oil filter on my car. I know what shops do. They put the most generic, cheap crap on your car and charge you ridiculously high prices.

    Anyone with half a brain can change their own oil.

    1. Buy 2 plastic tire ramps. Not at all expensive and well worth the investment.

    2. Make sure you have a wrench.

    3. Drive your car up onto the ramp.

    4. Take the oil cap off.

    5. Go under the car and unscrew the bolt to drain the oil.

    6. Let the oil drain into an oil pan until it is done.

    7. Take the old oil filter off. (Can be done by hand.)

    8. Wipe clean the oil spill bolt, then rub a little new oil on it and screw it back in.

    9. Put the new oil filter on. Tighten it by hand.

    10. Put QUALITY oil in your car and a QUALITY oil filter on your car.

    Done.

    Yeah…that is just SOOOOO difficult.

    If you’re a moron. :)

  20. Tom Gural says:

    I realize this post is old.
    I have to agree with all the negative replies, and call bullshit and utter lack of research. ” I worked in an auto parts store for three years” but unsure of the cost of a quart of oil, or that oil filters can range widely in price and many can actually be reused at least once.
    The 3,000-mile oil change is a marketing tactic that dealers use to get you into the service bay on a regular basis. Unless you go to the drag strip on weekends, you don’t need it.

    A real gem is this one:
    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.
    Well, that would answer my complaint for a complete lack of research.