Between chauffeuring children, running errands, and commuting to work, you depend on your vehicle. To keep your car running smoothly, regular maintenance is mandatory, and it starts with basics like regularly changing the oil. Although many drivers wouldn't dream of tackling this job on their own, others take on the challenge with gusto. But do the perks of a do-it-yourself oil change outweigh the potential pitfalls? To answer that question, consider the pros and cons of changing your own oil.

Pro: Less Strain on Your Wallet

For cars that take standard oil, the cost of a professional oil change falls between $20 and $55, on average. If your car needs synthetic oil, you should expect to pay between $45 and $70. Without paying for labor, the average price for materials – an oil filter and five quarts of oil – falls between $15 and $25, depending on the type and grade of oil.

Tip: Retail stores purchase auto supplies in bulk and mark up prices for resale. Websites like Amazon and eBay sometimes offer better buys on oil and filters than brick-and-mortar stores.

Bear in mind that a DIY oil change also requires a few basic tools:

  • Floor jack
  • Funnel
  • Jack stands
  • Latex gloves
  • Oil drain pan
  • Oil filter wrench
  • Replacement drain plug washer
  • Socket wrench
  • Wheel chocks
A hand holds a blue paper towel with a dirty oil stick over top of a vehicle’s engine during an oil change

Con: Remembering to Change the Oil

Most automobiles using standard oil require an oil change every 3,000 to 5,000 miles or every three months, whichever comes first. If professionals service your car, then the technician usually places a handy little sticker on your windshield inscribed with your next service date. When changing your own oil, it's up to you to record the date and mileage to keep your car running smoothly.

Tip: Stash a small logbook in your glove box for recording mileage and dates of each oil change.

Pro: Might Be Quicker

If your schedule only allows you to take your car to a mechanic or a quick-stop shop during peak hours or on a busy day of the week, then you might end up flipping through outdated magazines for a while. If you have experience with DIY oil changes, expect to move on to other activities within 20 to 30 minutes.

Tip: The service express lane at your car dealership may offer a less crowded alternative to a quick-stop shop, and prices are generally comparable.

A hand pours oil into a funnel under the hood of a car during an oil change

Con: Mistakes Can Be Costly

Although changing motor oil isn't difficult, it's important to be careful and thorough. Using the wrong grade of oil affects hydraulic components and leads to engine damage. Adding too little oil results in a damaging lack of lubrication to engine parts, while overfilling causes leakage in engine seals and gaskets. Mistakes as simple as failing to tighten the oil drain plug or forgetting to remove the old oil filter gasket can drain the oil from your car without your knowledge and cost you a new engine. To ensure the most effective DIY oil change possible, follow these tips:

  • If the engine is hot, cool the car down for 20 to 30 minutes before changing the oil.
  • Warm a cold car up for two to three minutes prior to changing the oil for quicker drainage.
  • To prevent spills, use a funnel-top drain pan.
  • Wear latex gloves, and keep a roll of disposable shop towels handy.
  • Purchase an oil absorbent product for quick cleanup.
  • Protect your garage floor by laying an old shower curtain under the car, and hose it off when finished.
  • After filling the oil filter, spread a little oil on the seal before installing for a better fit.
  • Use a torque wrench to tighten the oil plug, and check the spec for your vehicle (typical spec is 25 foot-pounds).
  • When pouring oil, position the quart with the spout at the top (not the bottom), and pour slowly.

Whether you depend on professionals for an oil change or tackle the job on your own, regular maintenance is a must for smooth automobile performance. Connect with us on Facebook to share your oil change tips and tricks.


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