Oil changes are not optional. They need to be done regularly in order to keep your vehicle running down the road for the long haul. In fact, if you are the average driver, your car’s engine needs to have its oil changed two or three times each year. So, how much do you need to set aside in your budget for oil changes? How much does an oil change cost?
The truth is, oil change prices vary. A regular oil change might run around of $40-$50. If your car calls for (or you opt for) synthetic oil, the price range rises to somewhere between $70-$120 and could top out at more than that.
Several factors influence the price of an oil change. Nevertheless, the price you pay for the service is an investment in the life of your engine.
Why does my engine oil need to be changed in the first place?
To understand the value of routine oil changes, it might be a good idea to visit the reasons for getting your engine’s oil changed at all.
Oil is considered by many to be the lifeblood of your engine. It keeps all of the moving metal parts lubricated and helps to regulate engine temperatures. The oil forms a thin and slick coating on all of the internal surfaces of your engine and prevents them from coming into contact with one another. Without this layer of lubricant, those components would make metal to metal contact. Your pistons would scrape against the cylinder walls. The rods and valves and all sorts of other parts would wear away. Significant damage would occur – even catastrophic engine failure. So the oil keeps everything in your engine moving smoothly.
But over time, engine oil (also referred to as “motor oil”) breaks down chemically. It loses its ability to lubricate. And it becomes thicker – like sludge. If left for too long in your engine, it can clog up passageways and leave behind harmful deposits.
Routine oil changes ensure that you oil is fresh and performing properly.
When should my oil be changed?
Many folks believe (and some shops still promote) the old oil change myth that you should change your oil every three months or three thousand miles, whichever comes first. While that may have been true at some point in the distant past, and while it won’t harm your engine to follow that advice, three thousand-mile oil changes are rarely necessary. Rather, you would be wasting your money by having your oil changed so frequently.
Instead, every vehicle on the road today comes with a routine maintenance schedule – the manufacturer’s recommended interval between services such as tire rotations, air filter replacement, and (you guessed it) oil changes. Most automakers suggest somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000 miles for an oil change (some even longer if the engine uses synthetic oil), but you should check the maintenance schedule for your specific vehicle make and model.
So the answer to when you should get your oil changed is simple: whenever the manufacturer directs you to do so, either by way of the maintenance schedule (or in your owner’s manual) or when the maintenance reminder light comes on in your car.
Exceptions might include vehicles that are driven frequently in harsh conditions (where 3K miles is a good measure) or those driven infrequently. If you do not drive your car for long periods of time, make sure to change the oil at least once a year no matter how many miles you drive.
Why do oil change prices vary?
If oil changes are routine, then what accounts for differences in cost? Isn’t an oil change an oil change?
Well, not exactly. Several factors influence oil change pricing. For instance, a Honda Accord requires about 4.5 quarts of oil, whereas a BMW 740i or a full-sized pickup truck might need closer to 7 quarts. In that case, the amount of oil impacts the price.
It also makes a difference what type of oil you use, whether your engine takes conventional oil vs. synthetic oil. Synthetic oil costs several times the price of conventional oil, which makes a difference when it comes time to pay for your oil change.
The vehicle make and model may even come into play. It may cost you hundreds of dollars to have the oil changed on your Porsche 911 (of course, if you own one, you already knew that). An oil change on a Ford Fusion, on the other hand, costs considerably less.
Another reason for differences in price? Location. Where you get your oil change can matter when it comes to cost. Some quick oil change locations offer budget oil change services. A dealer can cost more. Independent shops have often been thought to come down somewhere in between.
What matters more, though, is what you receive for your money. In addition to the oil and filter, other fluids may be checked and topped off, and the air filters may be inspected. Some shops include a free multi-point inspection or even a tire rotation. A trusted repair shop can point you to any additional repairs that might be necessary to keep your car, truck, or SUV safely running in tip top shape. And they have the experience to make proper repairs should you need them. Depending on who performs the service, the price you pay for an oil change can also bring you peace of mind.
Should I change my oil myself?
You might wonder if it would be more economical to change your oil yourself. For some auto owners the answer could be yes. For most, probably not.
First of all, to perform a DIY oil and filter change, you first need to go to the store to purchase your products – the correct products for your vehicle. Okay, not too difficult as long as you pay attention to what kind of oil your car needs and get the right filter. Next, you need to be able to safely lift and support the vehicle off the ground to access the underside of the engine so you can drain the oil. This can be dangerous for anyone without proper training.
Once you are under your car, you have to deal with oil dripping all over the place while you try to collect it in a receptacle. You also need to remove the old oil filter (usually using a special tool) and install a new one. After the time you spend doing all of this, you still need to safely and legally dispose of the waste oil. If that is not enough – the time, tools, mess, and safety risk – the price you pay for the oil and filter is nearly that of a full service oil change at a shop anyways.
Is doing it yourself possible? Maybe. Is it worth it? Maybe not.
However you figure it, the price of an oil change performed at regular intervals according to the manufacturer’s recommendation is a worthy investment.
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