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June 22, 2009

Oil Changes: Do It Yourself or Pay A Shop?

By Sam Barer

Sound Classics

I took the Auto Mechanics class at my private nerd high school (the same as Bill Gates, Paul Allen, the McCaw brothers, and Adam “Batman” West). Unlike real auto shop courses, the one I took was more directed towards simple explanations of automotive mechanical technology and how to know when your mechanic was ripping you off.

One of the first (and only) hands-on tasks we learned was how to change oil. My friend pulled my 1977 Chrysler Le Baron sedan over the pit (nearly dumping it in) and we went to work draining the sump and changing the filter. After the work was completed on my car and one other guinea pig, I distinctly remember the instructor (whose primary gig was teaching math) saying “now that you know how to do it, you now should know that it’s a far better deal to just take your car to a Jiffy Lube and pay $15.”

Continue reading after the jump!

Oil changes are the hardest DYI vs. have-someone-else-do-it decision I ever face. If I had a lift in my garage, it would be a no brainer. Unfortunately, it always involves ramps or jacks, tight spaces and oil on my usually clean garage floor. My wife will also confirm that I usually forget to put on my coveralls, which explains the permanent stains on otherwise nice looking clothes.

It should be easy: one bolt to drain and replace, spin off one filter then put on the other filter, and finally fill with fresh oil. Somehow it’s never simple.

For instance my 2002 Corvette, which has only five-inches of ground clearance, has to be jacked way up at the nose and tail, because the drain plug faces forward. It’s easy to access the Triumph TR3’s drain plug, but the fact that it is square means there’s a high likelihood that the wrench will slip, resulting in blood dripping right along with the 20-40wt.

As far as dripping, have you ever tried to do the oil and filter on a Ford Expedition without coating the frame rails in dino essence? And most people can’t get at a Miata oil filter at all. I think I’m the only living human who, provided the Miata is on a lift, has arms long and flexible enough to remove and refit the filter. On the floor it is downright impossible.

Then there are canister filters, which should have been outlawed based on the mess they have been making since the dawn of automobile time. I changed the oil in my Toyota Avalon daily driver myself for the first time last month and realized the filter cover was secured so tightly, it couldn’t be removed by a standard plastic cap wrench. Its size and configuration requires the purchase of a stronger metal tool and exerting more force than can be reasonably (and safely) applied while under a vehicle on jack stands. And by the way, how is it that a canister filter element alone costs more at a parts store than any spin-on filter with a metal case and no-slip surface?

Over the years, I’ve come to know that it’s a big mistake to take a car to a quick-lube place. I had one place in Houston many years ago start my car with no oil in it. I’ve had friends lose their drain plugs (and oil) while driving after a kid forgot to torque correctly. And if I had a dollar for every over-torqued drain plug I’ve seen from a lube place, I’d be running Royal Purple in everything I own. My favorite reoccurring lube story is the numskull who inevitably removes the Ferrari’s “cambio” drain plug (rather than the one marked “oilio”) and leaves the car with twenty quarts of oil in the engine and none in the transmission.

Still, with the inevitable frustration and/or mess that comes with the majority of my home oil changes, I’ve come to a point where paying $30 to my very competent friends down at the shop to deal with obtaining the supplies and clean up the mess now seems like money well spent.


Jun 26, 2009 at 10:53 am

It’s a joke taking them in for oil change.
For one, your getting the cheapest crap put in, vs 20/50 racing grade for summer. Usually nightmare stripped threads.
I did this once with my 4×4 Isuzu, and the retards never drop the shield to get at the filter. So they do it from above and fill the shield with oil so it drains in every driveway to pull up in. Nice reminder that you were there, and girlfriend cut you off till cleaned.

For you guys with the Vettes, get a clue and use modified ramp stands with longer modified ramps. Been there done that. Now you have access with floor jack to modify the process for brake work or etc.

Now the the real deal.
If you do not add oil to the hot engine to push out the trash sitting below the bung fitting hole of drain plug, you just mixed the trash back in with the new oil. Doooh!
Tilt the vehicle towards the drain hole.
Now the oil is really changed, and stays cleaner.
If you do it cold, then you really have no clue.
Prep the area with full cover cardboard and bucket of floor dry (kitty litter) handy to catch any of it.
If you assume the worst mess, you won’t have a drop to deal with.

Jun 25, 2009 at 11:02 am

Just as anything else, if you know what you are doing, there’s no problem DIY, but if you want to save time and headaches, take it to a professional, just in case you DIY here’s a helpful link with air conditioning parts, you can service your own air conditioning for a fraction of the price. http://www.acpartswarehouse.com

Jun 24, 2009 at 11:38 am

No way am I taking any of my vehicles to a Quick-Lube place. I took the 350Z to get an oil change..Yeah,the morons never reconnected the oxygen sensor and they lost the radiator cap..

I have two sets of ramps, one is more lower that cars can drive up on without scraping parts,the other are for the trucks. I’m in charge of 7 vehicle’s maintence schedule-and thats just my family’s vehicles.Including some friends puts over 20..Ranging from 2008 G5 to a ’88 Corolla to ’04 Dodge Ram 2500 Turbo Diesel beast.

Jun 24, 2009 at 9:55 am

well i work at a dealership, and i pay one guy and one certain guy only to do it under the table, i buy my own oil and filter so i know its what i want, and i watch him the entire time…i know how to do it, i just dont want to, it isnt worth the hassle to me, when handing him 15 bucks is just more simple and easier, he does a great job and if he happens to move or something happens ill do it myself because i wouldnt trust anyone else

Jun 24, 2009 at 7:31 am

i do it myself. i use better components rather than the cheap profit making components at most shops, i use full synthetic mobil 1 in everthing too. its an absolute joy to change your own oil if you take pride in your car. if your car is a point a to point b kinda thing for you, youll hate doin it yourself.

Jun 24, 2009 at 3:45 am

I change the oil in my truck and do basic maintenance as with my motorcycles I have owned in the past.

Jun 23, 2009 at 11:16 pm

ehh I do it myself because its honestly cheaper, I on average save about 5 to 10 dollars. plus my car isnt nearly as bad as others. And I’ve got all the tools I need so no real big deal but hey thats just my opinion. Of course if you do have a car which is near Impossible to get to the Oil Filter then yeah I’d say go to a Lube Shop just check it yourself if all possible before you leave. I think this was a pretty good article

Jun 23, 2009 at 10:23 pm

nope, personal mechanic, hell he put the engine in, I let him do what he does!! lol besides I dont have all the tools to do much

Jun 23, 2009 at 8:22 pm

I used to be gung ho about DIY oil changes, till a container of used oil overturned and the cap popped off, emptying about 2 gallons onto the brand new carpet of a just-finished Cherokee Limited resto. Someone pulled out and I had to do an evasive maneuver. After that, my desire to change it myself evaporated, unlike the oil which had to be wiped up after the carpet was pulled and tossed in the trash.
I go to Walmart now, choose my poison and watch ‘em like a hawk. The oil change lift platform is right next to the waiting room, separated by a large window.

Jun 23, 2009 at 7:16 pm

diy over here on my 02firebird :)

Jun 23, 2009 at 4:54 pm

This is why some places offer incentives to go with the oil change. I spent $35 at my local Auto Zone to change my oil, radiator fluid, and air filter then found out I could spend the same money at Wal-Mart and have all these things done plus free diagnostics. So I look at it that way. At least at Wal-Mart u don’t get dirty

Jun 23, 2009 at 3:29 pm

Two stories – 1. Local Toyota dealer serviced my Celica. I checked the oil the next day and it was waaaay to much. Had to go back and have them drain it and start over.
2. Handtightened oil drain plugs that come loose and fall out can be a pain but just wait until it happens when driving away from the dealership on your motorcycle! I pulled away from a light and the rear went all squirrely. I pulle dover to find my rear tire coated in fresh oil. Luckily I was pulling away from a light and not 10 minutes earlier while I was on the highway.

Jun 23, 2009 at 1:57 pm

I just to take my previous firebird to get the oil changed but one day the idiot that was changed it at the stupid Texaco decided to check the anti freeze level and forgot to put the cap back on! my car ended up overheating on the freeway! basters!!!! Ever since that day I’ve allways done my oil changes!

Jun 23, 2009 at 1:51 pm

i have a 93 geo prizm lsi and i too change my own oil.

Jun 23, 2009 at 1:33 pm

so far with my parents having 4 FORDS including my truck, iwe get $20 coupons oil and filter change, top all fluids…just about the same would be for a 5 quarts of oil and top off the fluids….but then again i always pull out of the service area to pop my hood open and check for all fluids, make sure my k+n drop in filter is still there, and theres fresh new oil!! just cuz its a dealer theyre all the same crooked guys…so far no complaints…except for the time they crashed my dads superduty in the lot, but they fixed and painted free of charge, plus they got him a new set of chrome fender trim LOL

Jun 23, 2009 at 12:45 pm

of course i change my own oil, on all my cars!!

Jun 23, 2009 at 12:22 pm

I know how to change my own oil and work on my own vehicles, but I lack a garage and certain tools to do the job. Plus I work really odd hours which doesn’t help matters either. I personally don’t trust taking any of my vehicles to a (Jiffy Lube), (Valvoline Instant Oil Change), or a in and out service station. I know many people who have those people try to sell them extra services that they really don’t need, or the idiots that worked on the car messed something up. My father took in his Chevy S10 many years back and the jackass who drained the oil out managed to strip the oil drain plug. Also not to mention a lot of places take short cuts. I heard some places forget to put a new oil filter on, put the drain plug back on, or forget to lube the grease fittings. I feel better taking my vehicles to the Dealership where I bought the vehicle. The dealer has always treated me like a person, with respect and dignity. They will make suggestions to me, but not sell me something I don’t need either. I feel better having someone that knows how to work on or service a vehicle better than myself, rather than having some back yard mechanic touch my ride. If I had jackstands and the proper tools to do the job I would do the job myself. Doing a tune-up I do myself and saves me time as well as money. Not everyone has the time, tools or luxury to do everything on a vehicle. Plus with modern technology, most people are too scared to touch most vehicles. If I owned a vehicle that was pre 1979 for example I’d do the work myself. No computers or BS to get in way, plus a hell of a lot more room to work with as well.

Jun 23, 2009 at 11:05 am

personally i always change my own oil. I do everything to my car out of my garage and in the 3 years of building it the car has never seen a shop for anything, i dont trust mechanics places with my fairlane. Sorry guys if it was a cheap car i didnt build or care about i would but not with something ive put my life into ya know (:

Jun 23, 2009 at 11:02 am

ALWAYS DIY… no shop, dealership, whatever ever touches my cars…

Jun 23, 2009 at 10:32 am

I like to do my own oil changes and use Royal purple on my camaro and use Quaker on my Familiys car..
I have had cases where my wife would drive back from a shop and I take a look at the oil level and it would read low.
I must admit that somethings I don’t like to do like trany fluid and diff fluid…
I guess this would be a case of is your car old and easy to change the oil on or like some have said that car is new and everything is cramped so bad that it’s just a pain..IMO :-)

Jun 23, 2009 at 8:33 am

I figure that if you have the talent to build it, you’d better demonstrate a talent to maintain it.

I have documented proof! Part of the Mobilize Your Ride Page contest consisted of a video of me changing my oil.

Jun 23, 2009 at 7:44 am

Little of both shop,and home work.

Jun 23, 2009 at 6:49 am

I love to do most of my work myself, it helps to know about your own car and to know when things go wrong on how much it should cost to avoid getting ripped off. I hate jiffy lube, they charge you just too much for little things like topping off fluids. It doesn’t take a mechanic to know if you need a oil change and when to change fluids, thats why they make repair books for all cars! ;)

Jun 23, 2009 at 5:40 am

I change my oil when I have the time…I have never had a bad experience with anyone else changing my own oil, but then again I usually don’t go to a quick lube.

Jun 23, 2009 at 4:57 am

i change my own oil because i can use a quality oil and filter for the same price as taking it to a shop, and seeing as i got a free set of ramps and jackstands why not

Jun 23, 2009 at 4:17 am

I have always changed my own oil in all my cars. I dont recall ever paying someone to change my oil. It just way to easy to do. Why fork over my money when I can save a few bucks and take care of my own ridez.

Jun 23, 2009 at 4:01 am

All my live i did my own for all my cars. Now that i got my caddy i take it in to get done at the dealer.

Jun 23, 2009 at 3:44 am

I change my own oil in all my vehicles in any weather condition.

Jun 23, 2009 at 3:35 am

the wifes nissan sentra. well who cares let them do it. my truck or my 24 roadster no way. no one wrenches on them but me.

Jun 22, 2009 at 10:05 pm

I’m a busy man. I save lives for a living..and i work 3rd shift. I pay for it to be done. Then I’m gone. A mere 15-18 bucks. No dirty clothes…no hassle

Jun 22, 2009 at 9:06 pm

Lets just say the only time my car goes to the shop for an oil change is when its a newengland winter and i try to only drive enough miles to have some one else do it for me once a year and yes i get bleeding ulcers and pace around the bay watching the mechanic do the work most times i just give them the oil and filter i bought and there nice enough to use the “quality” product over there own non brand name burns like a sonofabitch oil of course this only happens if my father inlaws friend who owns the shop is doing the change.
Hell i even have the wifey doing her own oil changes,plugs wires and alternator replacements i got me a winner.

Jun 22, 2009 at 8:49 pm

I change my own, i think tis pretty stupid to PAY someone to do something that requires no skill -_-, only time someones changed my oil is for my new lincoln when the galpin dealer did it for free

Jun 22, 2009 at 7:53 pm

First off, two very nice corvettes shown here and im 17 btw, to me changing the oil isnt some chore its an opportunity i get every 3 thousand miles to sit under a car with my old man and chat and catch up… doing any type of mechanic work like this is every americans right! (unless its a high end car Ferrari Lambo things like this leave to the pros hell u can afford it right?)

Jun 22, 2009 at 7:35 pm

Jiffy Lube is a Great company. There not that expensive, and the employee’s that work there are awesome. At least you don’t have to waste your time in a waiting room for Two-Three hours like you would normally do at a FireStone or PepBoys. There fast and reliable.

Jun 22, 2009 at 7:13 pm

I do my own because I work at a shop :)

Jun 22, 2009 at 6:43 pm

i change my own until winter. everything else i try to do my self

Jun 22, 2009 at 6:11 pm

I used to – then I put a ground fx kit on my 00 Camaro and the front end rubs going up the ramps. Nowadays it’s just cheaper to pay a shop then diy….although I miss doing it…

Jun 22, 2009 at 6:04 pm

Me? Who cares really…But let me tell you anyway…Ok?

I like—LIKE—to change my own oil. Its a very organic process. I can knock it out in about twenty minutes, or Take my Time and enjoy the whole deal…from start to finish. I take the time to examine the underpinnings to my satifaction. While I’m down there, I look at everything that stoned kid is paid to look at but doesn’t.
I’m caring for my car. Its like a kid. You don’t cut corners with the sweet darlings, why should I cut corners with the car they ride in?

Sure, its more convenient to have the stoner guy do it. I’ve done it. But I prefer to do it myself, no matter how long it takes….
No I don’t have a lift. Its all done on WalMart jack stands…
And a $2. creeper I got at a yard sale!

Jun 22, 2009 at 5:36 pm

i change it myself too. i had a 92 corolla hatch. fuck, the oil filter was hard to get, you could barely effing see it, it was hidden behind so much stuff

Jun 22, 2009 at 5:18 pm

i’ve never owned a car long enough to need to change the oil and im not kidding

Jun 22, 2009 at 5:18 pm

i do all my own work no questions asked.

Jun 22, 2009 at 4:56 pm

I change the oil on the explorer myself but on the yaris I bring it to the dealer so I wont viod the warranty

Jun 22, 2009 at 4:47 pm

Why would you pay someone to change your oil?

In most shops the “Kids” on the lub rack know less then you do.
And the the only work experience you need to be one is the ability to hold a wrench, and type on a computer.

I’d rather do my own work, and do.

Jun 22, 2009 at 4:42 pm

It’s quite simple if you ask me. If anything needs fixing weather it be auto related or anything else, if you can do it, then I believe it’s pretty silly to have someone else who you don’t really know or trust change your oil. Plus an oil change is as basic as putting gas to me so really I see no reason to burn my money that way. Plus I do all the maintance on my car, oil changes, brakes, etc.

Jun 22, 2009 at 4:31 pm

The silverado I let the dealer do because with thier loyalty program its cheaper for them to do the hole thing then it is for me to buy the oil alone. Although, I always check for a new filter, new oil and grease throughout when it comes home. The s10 I do myself because I dont really wanna have fresh oil, and no rear tires/brakes when I get it back. Mechanics around here as well as body guys love to see what customer cars will do. Caught one running his wife around in my girlfriends car once. Both 4-wheelers are at home, 70 and hour and the pain of trailering em to a shop is just stupid.

Jun 22, 2009 at 4:30 pm

i do my own oil changes and me an my friend changed tranny fluid for the first time(no leaks). I do the basic maintenence on my car. spark plugs and wires too

Jun 22, 2009 at 4:25 pm

i do all of thw work on my cars except the big stuff like trans work

Jun 22, 2009 at 12:30 pm

I do all my own maintanance. I work at a parts store and sell them the crap filters that those places buy to put in cars. Its hard to change my own oil under 15 with my employee discount but knowing that a good filter was used and they didnt leave the old filter gasket on too alone is worth it. The other reason I do it is because its a good chance to get under the car and see if any fluids are leaking, grease all the zerks in the suspension, and see if trouble is ahead. I honestly feel like a tool having someone else do something for me that I could do easily.

Jun 22, 2009 at 12:27 pm

the day I go to a shop to have my oil changed is either the day I am confined to a wheel chair or the day I renounce my “gear head” title

Jun 22, 2009 at 11:24 am

well its not a pride then, its just the fact that if something needs to be done that i can do myself why pay someone else to do it rather its for a vehicle or anything around the house, if i can do the work myself then its a little stupid to pay someone else to do it especially for a simple thing like changing the oil, but also if something needs to be done that i never done before i don’t mind taking it to a shop, i still won’t let just any shop do it though, so like i said its not a pride type of thing, just pointless to pay someone to do something that i can do myself, be like paying someone $20+ to mow the grass when i cna easily do it myself, plus doing it yourself saves money, i don’t mind doing the work, but i do understand if your so busy you might not have the time to do something and you might drop the car off somewhere while at work or out of town

Jun 22, 2009 at 10:58 am

I do my own. all fluids. I was the “wigger snot nosed punk” (whatever the hell that is) in a pit for a year and a half with several thousand cars serviced before my hick town had a better oppurtunity for an avaition mechanic. I learned alot about every auto known to our pathetic non-super carred civilization. It is still comical to hear pride from jackasses..when you see through the car entirely…. If you do go to the wiggers quik lube, ask for jugs, not the oil from a hose. the benefit of a hot engine for the fluid changes is not good for the diy, but good for your car and it really sucks for the punk wigger in the pit changing it for you…but really good for the car to have hot oil draining…WOT. ouch. it does’nt matter who does it…does it…

Austin Knight
Jun 22, 2009 at 10:25 am

I bought four tires from S&S Tire and got four oil changes free. Nice!

Jun 22, 2009 at 9:02 am

I change all my own fluids axle, trans, motor, power steering, brakes etc etc as well as plugs wires and the whole deal. I’m one of those people that if I don’t do it I get a bleeding ulcer obsessing about whether or not it was done right by the snot nosed wigger kid that seems to work at every single oil change place. Plus its just something I enjoy doing, nothing like cranking up the tunes, cracking a beer and working on my steel on a nice sunny day.

Jun 22, 2009 at 7:57 am

I too change all of my own oil. I don’t trust these people to do it for me. Plus, on my Escort, I don’t even have to get under the car! Though, I do have to jack it up to get the drain pan under it.

Jun 22, 2009 at 6:41 am

I used to have a Cavalier and that thing would suck to try and change the oil in, every time i had to put a screw driver though it to get it to move, arg. Now I drive my Trans Am with the LS1 and the filter is right next to the pan and it takes like Maffew said ten minute max.

Jun 22, 2009 at 4:44 am

i worked in an oil change shop for almost 3 years, will never take my car to one. by far the worst for me in the shop was actually a maita, it took us almost an hour to get the filter off, the expeditions were always notorious for coming back because the customer thought it was leaking oil but in fact it was just oil on the frame that was dripping off. if i knew that it was a person who cared about there job at one of these shops as much as i did then id go back but i trust myself alot more than anyone else

Jun 22, 2009 at 4:36 am

They way I look at it, I actually have a slight double standard:

My wifes ’06 XB (bought new in Feb ’06) is still getting free dealer-changed oil changes as part of the incentives… until that ends, it’ll be going there.

However, I change the oil in my truck myself. I usually wait for Oreilly’s to have the managers special of 5 quarts and a filter for $16 (all name brand stuff) and stock up for a few oil changes. I still save more money than taking it to a lube place… plus, as dirt simple as Chevy made the oil changes (the filter is right beside the pan) I can have my oil changed in about 10 minutes, and know that its done right.

Jun 22, 2009 at 4:25 am

Given that I don’t even own a pair of jackstands (have to borrow) and use the same jack for my Silverado that my dad uses for his Civic hatchback, I’m really starting to wonder why I don’t just take it to a shop. It’s a pride thing I guess. A man should change his own oil. That’s just the way it should be done.

Not that Silverado filters (at least mine) are hard to change, so I can’t really relate to you Miata guys, but unless there’s no way in hell I can get that filter outta there, I’m doing it myself every time.

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