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What determines the price of an oil change?

Oil Change PricesThe routine oil change. It’s a task easily neglected due to our busy lives, but one that could add years to the life of a car’s engine if we could figure out a way to make sure it gets done faithfully. Oil change prices are not all that expensive either, so that shouldn’t be an issue. You can even do it yourself if you can use a wrench and don’t mind getting a little dirty.

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The thing about getting your oil changed, if you don’t want to do it yourself is to really shop around for the best price. An oil change is fairly basic regardless of the car you drive. So when you see one lube shop with a price of $45 and your local, full service garage offering it for $25, you’re going to get roughly the same service at either one. Why pay an extra $20 for drive-in service?

Vehicle Prices by Make and Model

If you’re not familiar with the process of changing your car’s engine oil, you might be thinking that prices can differ drastically among different makes and models. That’s really not so. Unless your vehicle has some sort of special filter or the need for a specialized, synthetic oil, the process is pretty straightforward and common to almost all vehicle types.

The only real difference is going to be in the amount of oil your vehicle takes. That’s where you’ll see a difference in prices.

For example, your little four-cylinder economy car is going to have a lower oil capacity than your neighbor’s eight-cylinder, monster SUV. His oil changes likely cost more than yours because his vehicle needs more oil. If it’s a question of three quarts versus five quarts, your neighbor’s will have the higher price.

Oil Change Prices For My Car

Below is a partial list of some of today’s most popular vehicles (2011 model year) and their engine oil capacities. The information was supplied by AMS Oil.

  • 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

Oil Change Prices By StateFrom our list it’s easy to see how different the oil capacities can be from one car to the next. We’ve only listed 10 specific models here, but there are literally hundreds to choose from when you take into account all of the different manufacturers represented in the United States along with each of their models and their different engine sizes.

If we were to base the cost of a typical oil change simply on oil capacity, using the exact same oil for all vehicles, the KIA Soul would be the cheapest on our list simply because it has the lowest oil capacity. On the other end of the scale, the Dodge Durango would be most expensive with an oil capacity of 7 quarts.

Different Oils, Different Costs

When you’re changing your oil yourself, your labor is obviously free. The only place left for you to compare prices is in the cost of the oil itself as well as your oil and air filters if you plan to change them as well. We tracked down prices using nationally known auto parts store Pep Boys just to get a good idea of retail prices around the country. Here’s what we found 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 a typical weights of 30, 40, and 50. From there, prices go up for more expensive oils including high performance and synthetic blends.

The most expensive oil Pep Boys carries is a synthetic blend from Royal Purple at nearly $20 per quart.

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Standard or Synthetic

Local Oil Change PricesIf 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 of their own 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. Being that most of us change our oil every 3,000 to 5,000 miles, and we don’t drive in extreme conditions, it hardly seems worth it to pay up to five times the cost for synthetic oil.

According to Discovery Communications’ HowStuffWorks, the choice between standard or synthetic oil comes down to a couple of factors including your desire to be green, whether you’re willing to extend the time between oil changes, and whether you really believe synthetic oil will be better for your engine. As they readily admit, there’s no easy answer.

Oil Change Prices ReminderExtending 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 wasting a lot of money on oil changes when he doesn’t have to. They claim 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 2,000 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

How many times have you driven past the local lube shop only to tell yourself you really need to remember to get your oil changed? Believe it or not, these types of shops make their money based on impulse sales. They’re counting on folks like you seeing their roadside sign everyday on the way to work, until you finally have 30 minutes to kill and you decide to pull into their day.

Regular Oil Change PricesBefore you do that however, 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. But what kind of service do you get with for it?

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 supervision of experienced mechanics.

On the other hand, almost all of the workers at your local lube shop will be 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

We’ve presented a lot of information here, so let’s try to break it down into simple components to explain what it all means. Hopefully you’ll be able to get a better idea of what it will cost you to change your oil on a regular basis.

Your Oil Change PricesTo 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 our 2011 Kia Soul as an example, the cheapest oil will run you about $15 for 3.5 quarts, the oil filter about $10. For $25 and 20 minutes of your time you can do the job at home.

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 offer to 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. We think it’s well worth the money to do so.

All it requires is that you purchase the necessary products, unscrew a plug and drain the old oil out, unscrew and change the oil filter, and then pour the new oil in the top of the engine. If you can change the ink cartridge on a printer or follow the instructions to make a boxed cake mix, you can change your own oil.

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