How Much Does an Oil Change Cost?

Do It Yourself Oil Change

Photo Credit under Creative Commons by Robert Couse-Baker

The cost of an oil change can vary greatly. Before you can decide how much an oil change is going to set you back, you have to decide how the oil in your car is going to get changed. Will you do it yourself? Will you pay a garage or lube shop? What kind of oil will you use? There are a number of variables, so let’s take a look at some options and how they will affect oil change cost.

How Much is an Oil Change if you Pay Somebody for it?

Take a look in your local newspaper and you are likely to find ads or even coupons for oil changes at a local dealership or lube shop. You can bring your vehicle in for an oil change service that’s affordable and trustworthy.  Generally speaking, for a basic oil change they will charge anywhere from $12 to $20.  Of course you could simply call them up and ask “How much does an oil change cost” and I’m sure they’ll give you their sales pitch. The price will generally include the following:

  • Draining the old oil & removing the old filter
  • Install new “inexpensive” filter
  • Fill engine with correct amount of “Budget” engine oil from a giant holding tank
  • Start the car and check the oil level for proper fill

If you’re okay with all of that, then go for the cheap oil change. You can’t do it yourself for less than $20, even if you buy all generic product. There are some options however that can change the price of a basic oil change service. The first and most common is choosing to use a better oil than whatever they have stored in that giant holding tank. If you choose to go with a synthetic oil it will almost always double the cost of your oil change. So how much does a synthetic oil change cost, expect the synthetic oil change price to be $30-$40.  Likewise if your car takes a premium oil such as 5W20 you can also expect an up charge from the basic price. The amount of the up charge will depend on the garage doing the service but somewhere around $10 is what you should see.

There is actually a lot of value in having somebody else change your oil. If all you care about is getting a basic oil change then you’re definitely going to save some money. You simply can’t buy the oil and filter to change it yourself for as little as some places are going to offer an oil change service for. Some of that value goes away if you upgrade to synthetic or name brand oils as most shops try to get list price for these oils. However, there is still good value in having it changed for you. After all, your time is worth something as well. For many people it’s worth the cost just save yourself from getting covered in oil and having to crawl under your vehicle.

The Do-It-Yourself Oil Change Cost

The first thing you’ll have to do if you’re going to change your own oil is go shopping. Well okay, I lied because the first thing you need to do is check to see what kind of oil your car takes. After that you can go shopping. If you are unsure, asking the guy (or gal) at your local parts counter will clear things up for you. So, first item on your list is going to be the oil. If you want cheap run of the mill nothing special oil, expect to pay around $2 a quart. Most vehicles will require 4-6 quarts. If you care about your car and want something a bit better, get a name brand oil or even consider running synthetic oil. This will raise your cost to anywhere from $2.50 a quart to more than $5 a quart. Time to move on and grab an oil filter. Depending on your car and the quality of the filter you want, you can spend $4 or you can spend $10. Check the reference book or ask the parts counter for the correct filter for your car. By the time you are done you should have about $18 racked up on the low end or $40 if you went with high quality product.

There may be more costs if you’ve never done this before because you’re going to need some tools and supplies. Here’s a short list of bare minimums you’ll need in addition to a standard socket set and wrenches.

  • Oil filter wrench
  • Oil drain pan
  • Funnel

That’s gonna be another $10-$15, but well worth the cost if you plan to do your own oil changes. I like to have a quality oil filter wrench, it makes a big difference.

One of the less obvious costs associated with changing your oil is your time. Even if you’ve done this a few times before, it’s going to take you no less than 30 minutes. It’s more likely you’ll need to set aside a full hour between getting set up and cleaning up afterward. Like I said before, your time is worth something. Some people (like me) prefer to change the oil themselves even though it may cost a bit more or take some time. I like to have control over every aspect of my oil change – the oil, the filter, and even the process of doing it. I’ll know if my drain plug was tightened or not so I won’t have to worry about it, and that is worth something to me. Obviously this will be something that’s highly subjective and each person will weigh their time differently. What’s it worth to you?

Whether you decide to change your oil yourself or pay somebody to change it for you, it needs to be done at regular intervals. Weighing the costs of the oil change against the time spent will help you decide which option is best for you. Like I mentioned before, I prefer having total control over the oil change and because that’s worth something to me, I choose to do it myself. You’re situation might be different. Do you think it’s worth doing it yourself or paying somebody? Only you can answer that question.  So how much should an oil change cost?  Well I’m hoping I’ve given you a general idea of what the cost will be based on the options you have.


Jason has been working on cars since he was 11 years old helping his dad fix up an old Jeep. Since then he's done partial rebuilds on car engines and two complete rebuilds on motorcycle engines. As an avid backyard mechanic Jason maintains and rebuilds his Jeep. Connect with Jason on Google+

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