A close-up of oil being poured into a car engine during an oil change.

Oil Changes: You can Do It Yourself, But Should You?


There is nothing more polarizing when it comes to being a “car person” than the experience of the oil change. Whereas most consumers are more than capable of doing things like changing wiper blades or inflating their own tires, actually getting the car up off of the ground takes a whole different set of nerves. Everyone should do their own oil change, correct? Why pay someone else to do it when it often only takes one socket and an afternoon? Like a lot of intermediate car maintenance, it’s a lot easier on paper than it is in practice. While anyone with enough time can learn to change their own oil, should you make the investment?

Today let’s confirm or debunk this myth: “Changing your oil yourself will save you money.” Let’s set the baselines that we will be referring to throughout this article. If you were to get an oil change today, in an average-sized sedan with synthetic oil, you could expect to pay somewhere in the neighborhood of $70 at a local shop specializing in oil changes. After researching all of the appropriate equipment and fluids, you can often purchase the raw materials for an oil change for under $50. So, therefore, we’ve answered our hypothesis, correct? Not quite. There is more to getting an oil change than just throwing money at the problem. We are going to weigh the merits of doing an oil change yourself and determine if the skill is worth picking up in the modern age.

Twist The Wrench?

When it comes to changing your oil, there are more benefits than just saving a buck. When you take the time to get under your vehicle, you instill it yourself a sense of pride because you’re solving your own problems. You increase your education and aptitude, encouraging you to try new things and expand your skillsets. Want to feel accomplished? Spend a weekend learning how to change your oil and determine if you think it’s worth it. You may need to purchase a few tools first, but the right tool can last a lifetime. Once you learn how to change your oil once, you can do it every time. Once you learn how to change the oil in one car, you’ll be able to change the oil in another car without too much effort. Changing oil is simply another life skill that you may use once, or you may use it all the time.

Deciding to change your oil for the first time is going to be a much harder task than changing your oil for the eighth time. Deciding to change your own oil comes with some upfront costs. First, you’ll need a way to get the car safely off the ground. Properly using a jack stand is acceptable, but most at home mechanics like to buy a set of ramps that they can drive up onto. You’ll need a socket wrench set, a funnel, some oil, and your car’s proper oil filter. You’ll need to commit some time to learn where the nut on your oil pan is, what size socket you’ll need, and how to unscrew your filter. Don’t forget to put down a blanket or a tarp down. The chances are good that at least a little bit of oil will make it to the ground. If you already have a lot of these items lying around your garage, the barrier to entry becomes a lot lower for learning how to change your own oil.

A mechanic is doing an oil change on a car in a garage.

Trust The Professionals?

The only reason not to go to a professional for your oil change would be to keep a few extra bills in your wallet. You need to think, however, how much is YOUR time worth? If you’re trying to be stingy and have no mechanical aptitude, is it worth taking an hour or two just to save $30? Not often. Do you have enough space to store all of those tools? Do you feel comfortable getting under the car? You might not, but there have to be a least a few people in down that you could pay for the convenience. Local shops should already have plenty of oil in stock, have an appropriate filter for your car, and be able to get you in and out the door in no longer than 30 minutes. If you already have a professional inspecting your vehicle, then you have the resource right in front of you to ask about any other maintenance questions you may have. When you get under the car to change your oil, you might not know that your muffler is falling off — a trained professional will.

Professionals have the tools and the skills to do the job easier than the average consumer could hope to top. Whereas consumers often have to buy flimsy jack stands and plastic ramps, garages will have a lift to raise your car or have holes in the ground that allow them to get under your vehicle with ease. Mechanics use electric or pneumatic tools, whereas you might be stuck with cranking a wrench by hand. Finally, if they forget to install the new oil filter, the oil will spill all over their shop. Now you’ll only have to wait an extra ten minutes instead of needing to find a ride back to the store for more oil. The fact of the matter is that the professionals can do a better job, quicker and with more confidence than the average consumer. Where’s the fun in paying someone else? When you have an extra hour in your day to go enjoy yourself with the family, that’s where you’ll find the fun.

So, Is It Worth It?

The answer here is a cop-out. Yes, and No. If you care more about the bottom line than you do about the sense of accomplishment, chances are you are going to want to pass on changing your own oil. If you’re looking for a fun way to spend an evening, perhaps with a sibling or a child, then you owe it to yourself to change your oil at least once in your life. Surprisingly, as long as you aren’t counting every penny, it quickly becomes apparent that taking your vehicle to a professional will save you money throughout time. That being said, if you get good at the craft and can complete the oil change in fifteen minutes, then there is no reason to pay someone else to do it if you don’t want to.

Determining if you should change your oil comes down to how you value the intangibles. Do you like knowledge even if you’ll never use it again? Change your own oil. Would you rather spend more time with your family? Make the most of your time by bringing your vehicle to a shop. While our hypothesis “Changing your oil yourself will save you money” has all but been disproven, we have uncovered that there is more to changing your oil than just saving a few dollars. Like brewing your own coffee, some of us enjoy putting in the effort, whereas others like to leave things to the professionals. Let’s agree to disagree.