DIY Oil Changes: Are the Cost Savings Worth it?

This is an article on whether the cost savings of DIY oil changes are worth it. First, a story to help get us there. My wife and I wrapped up our kitchen renovation project a few months ago, and the only thing we paid someone else to do was to install our countertops (kind of hard to transport (30 lbs. per square foot), cut, and polish stone unless you are in the fabrication business).

The tear-down, appliance plumbing/wiring install, sink and faucet plumbing/install, backsplash tile cutting/grouting, and soon-to-be-completed cabinet resurfacing were all things that we learned how to do ourselves, for the first time ever.

There were some headaches along the way, but there were three big payoffs:

  1. It is rewarding to see the fruits of our own labor, multiple times daily.
  2. Our work saved us thousands of dollars versus outsourcing – no exaggeration.
  3. If we sell our house in the next decade plus, we’ll more than make back our time and monetary investment.

DIY oil change cost savings

Despite this growing appreciation for DIY work (I like to refer to it as insourcing), there is one common DIY auto maintenance skill I have never been excited to take on: the oil change.

Many years ago, I learned how to change automotive air filters – which turns out to be an amazingly simple task. A new air filter (typically purchased from a big box or auto parts store for $10 or less) plus a socket wrench or screwdriver and five minutes of your time, and you will have saved the $20 or $30 an auto mechanic would charge you.

Easy, minimal time requirement, and most importantly – notable cost savings. Oil changes are different.

There are plenty of DIY oil change YouTube videos out there (like this one) to learn how to do an oil change. It seems easy enough. But here is where things veer off course with DIY oil changes versus no-brainer DIY projects like changing your vehicle’s air filter:

  • oil changes require more up front investment, including an oil drain pan ($22+), car jack stands ($40+), jack ($200), funnel, towels, and latex gloves.
  • there are more safety concerns: potential to be burned by oil, human/pet/environmental exposure to oil, and the possibility that the car could fall on you and kill you if not jacked and stood properly.
  • it makes a mess every time, even if you are a pro at it.
  • you have to dispose of the oil properly, which means finding a place that will take it and then the cost of driving there (and hopefully not spilling it in your car).
  • the possibility to really screw things up and create large repair expenses if you don’t know what you are doing or forget to complete a step: buy the wrong oil or filter, don’t properly attach the filter or re-plug the engine, or don’t use appropriate levels of oil.
  • there isn’t the same type of noticeable reward and satisfaction that you get from many DIY projects where you can see the fruits of your labor.

DIY Oil Change Cost Savings? Or Lack of

Now, all of these things might be worth the time, risk, and effort if you were to realize significant cost savings for that time, risk, and effort. Here’s where your experience may vary quite a bit by make and model.

My current make and model uses 5 quarts of full-synthetic dexos1 oil. The cost for the oil plus a filter can be had for as low as $38 (after tax) from Amazon ($45+ in many other locations). Add this on top of the aforementioned up-front investments.

What does it cost to get the synthetic oil and filter change done at an auto shop? I’d recommend sticking only with reputable mechanics or dealerships (who run surprisingly good deals on oil changes) versus looking for a bargain basement deal. The last few oil changes I’ve had have been through the dealer for my car. Recently they were running $50 Visa gift card promo for anyone who came in to do a test drive. The cost of the oil change? $50, including tax.

Lets assume I pay the full $50 charge every single time (rare, but I want to do a worst case comparison here). My actual cost savings for a DIY oil change? $12. All the time, effort, risk, purchase/disposal run, and mess for 12 freakin’ dollars!!! And with only needing to change oil about every year or so, I’d have to go through about 13 years of oil changes just to pay off the oil drain pan, jack stands, and jack.

This, to me, makes choosing not to do my own oil changes a no-brainer, even if it means a few points have been subtracted from my DIY or man card.

Historically, I don’t think the lack of cost savings was always like this. My guess is that automotive maintenance business models have changed over the years to look at oil changes as a loss leader as more people have moved away from DIY oil changes. Quite literally, on an at-cost oil change, the shop is losing money because they have to pay their mechanics for labor. They are hoping that they will be able to discover and get you to come back for much more profitable maintenance work. Maybe even have you add-on that $30 air filter change. ;-)

Don’t get me wrong – I clearly appreciate self-sustainability and learning how to do things on your own. But if auto shops are willing to subsidize the cost of my oil changes, save my time, and lower my risk, just to get me in the door – then I’m more than willing to oblige.

Maybe you have a difficult-to-service luxury foreign make/model and would be charged hundreds for an oil change. Or maybe you live an hour from the closest auto shop. Then, I get the DIY oil change.

Otherwise, please convince me why I should do my own oil changes, with the lack of cost savings. I’m open to reconsideration.

Related Posts:


  1. Tom
      • tebby
    • adam
      • Jeffrey
      • Joseph Chang JR
      • Timmy
        • Oleg
        • Shawn
      • Marcus
    • arjun singh
    • Charlie B.
    • rick
  2. Matt
  3. Trevor B
    • Colin B
  4. JL
    • Thomas Oliver
    • Rob B
      • Rob B
  5. Noah
  6. RG
  7. Natalie H
    • Natalie H
    • Tim
      • Mike
    • Tim
  8. Ron Ablang
  9. Tim
    • Tom
      • Tim
        • Timmy
  10. Buckthis86
  11. Warren
  12. Brooks
  13. Michelle
  14. Greg
  15. Meg
  16. Blueriver2
  17. jorge
  18. Greg
    • Tim
  19. Bob
  20. Mike
  21. D.Dennington
    • Tim
  22. John Holland
  23. truth
  24. Matt
  25. Johnathon Sibeto
  26. Damien
    • Matt
  27. JAngelo
  28. Jonathan
  29. Tim
  30. francis galang
  31. Greg
  32. Tom
  33. Matt
  34. Chris
  35. rkflitcraft
  36. Susan W

Leave a Reply