What Does an Oil Change Cost?

The cost of an oil change depends on whether you hire a professional or opt to take care of the maintenance procedure yourself. The price of an oil change varies depending on the type of car you own and your choice of oil, but the service averages between $30 and $75. Many auto shops, especially national chains, incorporate oil changes as part of a service that includes a tire rotation. In general, it's a good idea to have your tires rotated when you get your oil changed. This helps your tires wear evenly.

A DIY approach saves money on labor, but you'll be responsible for disposing of the old oil. Prices for new oil range between $10 and $30, while filters run between $8 and $15.

How an Oil Change Works

An oil change involves draining the old motor oil out of your engine and replacing it with fresh, new oil. The oil filter is replaced as well. This ensures that your engine is sufficiently lubricated and the oil is free of debris.

Oil change prices vary depending on your car.Oil change prices can vary depending on your car.

How Oil Flows Through Your Engine

  1. The oil pump pulls oil from the oil pan, also known as the sump.
  2. The pump forces the oil through the filter to remove contaminants.
  3. The clean oil makes its way throughout the engine and drains back to the sump.

The Composition of Engine Oil
All motor oils are made up of a base and additives that enhance, suppress or add properties to the base. The volume of these additives ranges from 20 to 30 percent depending on the oil type and brand. However, the ratio of base oil to additives doesn't necessarily make one oil better than the other. What matters is how the two interact as one unit to help your engine.

Most oils contain an additive known as a viscosity-index improver, which consists of long-chain molecules that adapt to the temperature of their environment. This helps the oil flow at cold temperatures while remaining thick enough to lubricate the engine in warmer weather.

Motor oil's viscosity index is an important factor.

Motor oil's viscosity index is an important factor in terms of quality, indicating how well the oil retains its thickness in warmer temperatures.

Another type of additive is detergent. This prevents rust, corrosion and high-temperature deposits from forming, helping to keep engine surfaces clean. Meanwhile, antiwear agents protect metal surfaces when the lubricating film breaks down, and dispersants prevent solid particles from collecting to form acids, sludge or varnish.

Different Types of Oil for Your Car
There are four main types of motor oil. Consult your owner's manual to see which kind your manufacturer recommends.

  1. Conventional oil is the general standard and meets most performance requirements.
  2. Synthetic oil is top grade and works well for high-tech engines. These oils last longer and lubricate better at high temperatures. However, synthetic oil is expensive and not every engine needs it.
  3. Synthetic blend oil mixes synthetic with conventional. It's less expensive than pure synthetic oil but provides a lot of the same benefits, including the ability to withstand heavy loads and high temperatures. In addition, synthetic blends increase fuel economy by reducing oil loss.
  4. Higher mileage oil helps a vehicle last longer on the road. Consumers tend to drive their cars longer than a few decades ago, and higher mileage oil is designed to help cars last for over 100,000 miles.

Changing Your Own Oil
Because oil changes are a basic aspect of car maintenance, many owners opt to take on the task themselves. Check your owner's manual to find the type and amount of oil your car needs. Then, head to an auto supply store to find the oil, an oil filter and a replacement drain plug washer if necessary. You'll also need a wrench, oil filter wrench, drain pan, funnel, gloves, a rag and clothes you don't mind getting messy.

  1. Start with an engine that's warm but not hot. If oil accidentally gets on your arm, you don't want it to burn. You also might need to raise your car at this point, but be careful to take safety precautions.
  2. Remove the undercover if necessary. Not all cars have this feature.
  3. Remove the oil filter cap as a reminder to put new oil in before starting your car.
  4. Place the drain pan under the drain plug, but be aware that oil usually flows out at an angle.
  5. Remove the plug carefully, trying your best to keep the oil from making a mess or spilling on your arm.
  6. As the oil is draining, clean the plug. If necessary, replace the drain plug washer. Once all the oil has drained, replace the plug. Be careful not to over-tighten.
  7. Reposition the oil pan so it will catch the runoff as you remove the oil filter.
  8. Remove the filter, making sure not to let go once it starts to loosen.
  9. Clean as much oil from the engine as you can.
  10. Install a new filter, but don't over-tighten it.
  11. After everything has been replaced, add the new oil.
  12. Replace the oil cap and start your car. Let the engine run for about half a minute.
  13. Check under the car for leaks. If you don't see anything, bring the car to level ground if you raised it earlier. Otherwise, try to find the source of the leak.
  14. Check the oil level by looking at the dipstick.
  15. Dispose of the old oil, either by taking it to an auto supply store or a local hazardous waste disposal site.

Additional Factors to Consider

When to Schedule an Oil Change
Your owner's manual has specific instructions regarding how often you should get your oil changed, but the most common answers are either every 3,000 or 5,000 miles. Some vehicles can function for 10,000 miles without an oil change. However, there are a few instances where you should change your oil more frequently:

  • You often drive on dirt roads.
  • Your engine is old.
  • You start and stop frequently while driving.
  • You regularly drive at high speeds.
  • You live in an extreme climate.

Checking the Oil Level
Between changes, you should check your car's oil level every few hundred miles.

  1. Park the car on a flat, level surface.
  2. Lift the hood and remove the oil dipstick.
  3. Clean the dipstick and put it back in the engine.
  4. Remove the dipstick once again and see where the oil ends.

The dipstick has at least two markings.

The dipstick has at least two markings. The highest one will say "Full" or "Max" and indicates the right amount of oil for your car. Ideally, your dipstick should always read at this level. The other marking, "Min" or "Add," signals the lowest amount of oil your car can operate on. If your dipstick reads this level, add the necessary amount of oil as soon as you can. Adding too much puts the oil in contact with the engine's crankshaft. This piece of machinery rotates rapidly and will whip the oil into a foam-like substance. Foam doesn't pump well, so the oil won't get to the rest of the engine.

The Oil Light
The oil light on your dashboard indicates when something is wrong with your car's oil circuit. It could just be a bit of dust in the sensor, but the problem most likely stems from low oil pressure. This indicates one of two things:

  • There isn't enough oil in your car and you should add more.
  • The oil pump isn't circulating enough oil to keep everything well-lubricated.

Oil leaks are a fire and environmental hazard.

An Oil Leak
If your car is consistently low on oil, you might have a leak. Oil leaks are a fire and environmental hazard and sometimes cause engine failure.

Liquid found under your car isn't always engine oil. Red liquid is likely transmission fluid, while coolant is usually green or orange. Engine oil is brown.

If you suspect your vehicle is leaking oil, there are three steps you can take at home:

  • Check your dipstick frequently. If the level keeps dropping, you might have an oil leak.
  • Look for blue smoke coming from your tail pipe while driving. This means oil could be leaking directly into the engine.
  • Smell for burning oil after driving. The fluid could be leaking onto hot parts of the engine.

Most oil leaks stem from bad connections, degraded engine gaskets or weak oil seals. These repairs generally start around $200, but there are a few steps you can take first:

  • Fix any loose bolts with a torque wrench.
  • Use a leak-stopping additive to improve the engine's seals.

What Happens if You Don't Get Your Oil Changed
Because the oil warms up to high temperatures, it gradually undergoes thermal breakdown. This makes the oil less effective as a lubricant. In addition, the additives in the oil that neutralize acids lose their effectiveness over time. Oil also collects water, dirt, dust and other byproducts.

With poor lubrication, parts of your engine begin rubbing together and wear out over time. The old motor oil also fills up with debris that sits in the engine and causes corrosion. The debris can also plug the oil filter.