However, if you would rather have someone else change your oil, there are a few basic things you should know first.
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Oil Prices by Vehicle Make and Model
If you’re not familiar with the process of changing your car’s engine oil, you may think that prices can differ drastically among different makes and models.
However, unless your vehicle has some sort of special filter or the need for a specialized, synthetic oil, the process is similar in almost all vehicle types.
The price difference occurs because of the amount of oil your vehicle requires.
For example, a four-cylinder economy car is going to have a lower oil capacity than an eight-cylinder SUV.
Below is a partial list of some of today’s most popular vehicles (2011 model year) and their engine oil capacities.
- Kia Soul – 4 cylinder/1.6 L: 3.5 quarts
- Chevrolet Volt – 4 cylinder/1.4 L: 3.7 quarts
- Chevy Silverado 3500 Pickup – 8 cylinder/6.0 L: 6.1 quarts
- Dodge Grand Caravan – 6 cylinder/3.6 L: 6 quarts
- Dodge Durango – 8 cylinder/5.7 L: 7 quarts
- Ford Fusion – 4 cylinder/2.5 L: 5.3 quarts
- Ford F1 50 Pickup – 6 cylinder/3.5 L: 6.1 quarts
- Hyundai Elantra – 4 cylinder/2.0 L: 4.3 quarts
- Honda Odyssey – 6 cylinder/3.5 L: 4.6 quarts
- Toyota Camry – 4 cylinder/2.5 L: 4.7 quarts
Clearly, you can see how the oil capacities vary from one car to the next.
Going according to oil capacity, using the exact same oil for all vehicles, the KIA Soul would be the cheapest on the list while the Dodge Durango would be most expensive with an oil capacity of 7 quarts.
Different Oils and Different Costs
Labor is obviously free if you decide to change the oil yourself. However, you can compare prices in the cost of the oil itself as well as the oil and air filters if you plan to change them as well.
Using nationally known auto parts store Pep Boys, here is a short list of oil in order of least to most expensive:
- In-house brand (Proline) – $4.19/qt.
- Peak, Shell, and Mobile brands – $4.49/qt.
- Quaker State – $4.99/qt.
- Pennzoil, Castro, Valvoline brands – $5.49/qt.
These prices reflect standard oil at typical weights of 30, 40, and 50. From there, prices go up for more expensive oils including high performance and synthetic blends.
Standard or Synthetic
If you were following the advice of the manufacturer for a 2011 Kia Soul, 3.5 quarts of high-grade synthetic oil could cost you between $45 and $60. If you were to use standard oil from Pep Boys, your oil costs would be closer to $15.
So the question is, is synthetic oil really worth the extra cost? According to Motor Trend Magazine, probably not. They did a test to compare engine wear based on the assumption that the average driver does not subject his vehicle to the harsh conditions synthetic oil is made for.
Running an engine for a simulated 3,000 miles under normal conditions revealed no significant difference in engine wear between both natural and synthetic oils.
Since most of us change our oil every 3,000 to 5,000 miles without driving in extreme conditions, it hardly seems worth it to pay five times more for synthetic oil.
According to Discovery Communications’ HowStuffWorks, the choice between standard or synthetic oil comes down to a couple of factors including environmental consciousness, time between oil changes, and whether you really believe synthetic oil will be better for your engine.
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Extending Time Between Changes
If the potential cost of changing your oil seems a bit frightening to you, there may be some good news. Check the owner’s manual that came with your vehicle to find manufacturer recommendations for oil change frequencies.
According to Edmunds, the average American is unnecessarily wasting a lot of money on oil changes. Their claim is that today’s modern cars have an average oil change cycle of 7,800 miles rather than the 3,000 miles of days gone by.
Edmunds even suggests some of today’s high-performance cars can go as much as 20,000 miles without an oil change.
Even at a liberal 20,000 miles driven annually, you could conceivably go five years before your first oil change on one of these high-performance cars. For the rest of us, 7,800 miles would dictate one oil change every couple of years.
Using a Lube Shop
Before you stop at your local Midas or PepBoys, ask yourself whether it’s worth the cost.
According to a 2012 National Oil and Lube News survey, the average price for a standard oil change at a nationwide lube chain was just over $35. That same oil change was about $33 at a full-service repair shop and almost $44 at the local dealership.
Dollar for dollar the price between the lube chain and full-service repair shop is comparable.
Your full-service repair shop is usually staffed with seasoned mechanics with plenty of years experience. While it’s true they may pass off oil changes to green lube techs, at least the techs are under the supervision of experienced mechanics.
On the other hand, almost all of the workers at your local lube shop are nothing more than lube techs. They follow a script and a work flow chart put together by their employers; they may or may not have any real experience working with your engine.
What It All Means
To start with, if you are comfortable doing it yourself, you can change your oil for just the cost of the oil and the filter. Filters typically run less than $10.
So using the 2011 Kia Soul as an example, the cheapest oil will run about $15 for 3.5 quarts, and the oil filter is about $10. For $25 and 20 minutes of your time you can do the job at home.
A second option is to take that same vehicle to a quick lube shop and you’ll pay about $35 for the same service. One advantage is that they’ll also probably check your tire pressure, wiper blades, air filter, and PCV valve. Some will even rotate your tires at no additional cost.
Lastly, you can take your car to the dealership and pay almost twice the cost as you would by doing it yourself. We can’t say what types of services they offer as part of the oil change because each dealer is different. You’d have to ask your service manager what’s included in the price.
At the end of the day changing your own oil is still easier than shopping for car insurance.
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