For the seemingly simple task of changing the oil in your car, the big question of whether to do it yourself or let a shop do it is constantly up for debate. The quick answer is that it really depends on you. Is changing oil yourself worth the savings and trouble that you will experience? Only you can say for sure.

Performing an oil change yourself has been one of the classic DIY auto repairs for generations. Generally this type of car maintenance is not too hard and can be done by anyone with some general car knowledge.

That being said, there are some things to really look out if you are going to give it a go yourself. For example, many cars end up in the repair shop because they had either tried to change the oil themselves or had it done by a quick lube type of place in which the oil pan drain plug did not get replace correctly and cross threaded it. Luckily, this is not typically that hard of a fix (there are over-sized drain plug kits available that only require you to re-thread the plug opening and screw in the new plug) and it doesn’t take too much time if you know what you are doing.

Oil Change Challenges and Pitfalls

Oil changes, at times, do not necessarily save you very much money. Why is that? Well, there are several reasons.

1. You Pay Retail Price for Motor Oil and Oil Filters

You have to buy your motor oil and oil filter from a retail store. Because retail stores need to make money off of their products, these items are marked up. Repair shops and quick-lube shops are able to buy oil and filters in volume and, as such, receive a significant discount. To save money, I recommend buying your motor oil and oil filter online from someplace like Amazon, which tends to offer lower prices and faster shipping.

2. Changing Oil is Harder When You’re Using a Floor Jack

silver car being lifted by a floor jack in the garage as it is prepping for an oil changeThe average person does not have a lift to get their car off the ground, so it will take you much longer than it would take a mechanic to do the job. You can use a floor jack, which does work, but the jack doesn’t get the car very far off the ground, causing some difficulty in seeing what you are doing.

If you are agile and you know where the oil filter and drain plug are located, you should be able to do an oil change in your driveway with a jack and jack stands just fine. If you are unsure were the oil filter is located or have difficulty unscrewing the drain plug, you may want to consider taking it somewhere to have the work done.

3. Making Mistakes During A DIY Oil Change Will Cost You

If you strip the oil plug or don’t get the oil filter on correctly, you could cost yourself significantly more money than you would save by doing the oil change yourself. Stripped oil drain plugs can be fixed and most of the time it’s not too expensive. However, if major damage is caused, the oil pan could need to be replaced and that would be a lot more money.

Another example is that if you take the old oil filter off and fail to get the rubber sealing gasket off, the new filter will not seal properly when you try to screw the new filter into place. The danger you face here is that you would start the car and have all of the oil leak out. If you shut the engine off right away, this will not be a major problem. But, if you let it run with the oil filter not being properly sealed, it could ruin the entire engine.

4. You Have to Dispose of Used Oil at a Recycler or Auto Shop

Every time you change your own oil, you will have to dispose of the used oil properly. The only good way to do that is to take it to a recycler.

Also, many auto parts stores will take your used oil. The trick is to get it there without it spilling all over everything. When you take your vehicle to a lube or repair shop for its oil change, the professionals will do this for you for free. They will either have a recycler take it or many of them burn it in waste oil heaters. Either way, when someone else does the oil change for you, it is not your responsibility to get rid of it — making it easier and less of a hassle for you.

5. It is Harder to Remove and Change Oil Filters for Newer Cars

dirty mechanic with oily hands holding dirty toolsWith today’s newer cars, it is not as easy to change your own oil anymore. Some oil filters require additional tools such as a strap wrench and oil filter pliers to get them off. Others are in such a tight space that you can’t get them off easily without having the car up on a lift. If you decide to do it yourself, be sure to have some idea of where your oil filter is located and what tools (if any) you will need to remove it.

Another thing to consider is the fact that most cars have an “oil light reset procedure”. Most of the time you can find this info in the owners manual for your vehicle. Other times, you may be able to find it online as well, but not always. There are just sometime in which repair shops are the only ones with the information to reset your oil light.

These are some of the major pitfalls of performing an oil change yourself. If you have some mechanical knowledge, have the tools and you are prepared, then you should go ahead and do it. On the other hand, if you do not have the tools or mechanical knowledge it would be better to just take it to a repair shop.

Choosing to Change the Oil Yourself

It’s true that most people with any mechanical ability can change their own oil. If you want to tackle this task and change your vehicle’s oil yourself, there are several things you should know.

1. Learn the Oil Change Procedure and Steps for Your Car

Anymore, every car is different. Before you just jump in and start to change your oil, be sure to check the recommendations for changing your oil and the step by step instructions for your specific vehicle. It’s even better if you can get someone who has done it before to help you out. You can usually find all the info you need in online, in forums or even on YouTube, for your vehicle.

2. Prepare with the Right Tools to Remove Your Oil Filter

This particular list of tools and parts has been compiled to give you a good idea of some of the best tools for removing your oil filter and completing your oil change. For tools and supplies that offer both quality and great value, see the recommendations listed below:

3. Make Sure You have the Right Oil and Oil Filter for Your Car

It is important to ensure that you have the correct amount and weight (thickness) of oil as specified by the manufacturer recommendations in your vehicle’s owners manual. Also, be sure to have the right oil filter and oil pan plug gasket (this will help the plug to not leak). It is a good general rule to replace the oil pan drain plug gasket at every oil change as they can leak if re-used.

4. Find Out Where to Dispose Your Used Engine Oil

Most auto parts stores will take your used oil for free. When changing your engine oil, it is a good idea to have a good, sturdy, leak-proof gas can to transport the oil with. What you want to avoid is leaving your used motor oil laying around in milk jugs. Sure, milk jugs seem like a good fit at first. But, if you’ve used them, you know that they will leak all over the car and if left out in the weather it won’t take long for them to break down and start leaking oil everywhere.

If You Decide to Use an Oil Change Shop

There are really two options for you in the event you opt to utilize trained technicians at an oil change shop. Those are:

1. An Auto Mechanic

This is by far the best option. Every car owner should have a good mechanic that they trust to do all of their repairs and maintenance, including oil changes. Your mechanic will know your car, and will be able to spot things that are out of place. The bonus is that you trust them. And, they do good work for you so why not support their business?

Generally speaking, trained, certified mechanics will have much more experience and knowledge about cars. This means that they will probably do a much better job for you. And, if they do happen to mess something up, they will be able to fix it quickly and properly.

I highly recommend taking your car to your regular mechanic for oil changes. Yes, they will probably be just a little more expensive. The advantage you gain by paying a little bit more, as previously mentioned, is that you get much better service and more knowledgeable people working on your car.

It is important to note that most quick lube places, and even many repair shops, recommend that you should be changing your motor oil every 3,000 miles.For most cars, this is NOT necessary! In fact, most manufacturers recommend you only change your oil every 5,000-7,500 miles. While it is hard to believe this, especially since your dad probably changed his oil every 3,000 miles, it’s true — just check your owners manual.

Some exceptions to this is if you drive your car in dusty conditions all the time, you do a lot of stop and go driving, you almost always drive your car on short trips, etc. Keep in mind, though, that the average driver does not do these types of driving enough to warrant changing their oil every 3,000 miles.

If you don’t have a regular mechanic and are unsure of where to go, a great way to “try out” a repair shop is to take your car there for an oil change. Pay close attention to how you are treated and how well they seem to know what they are doing. This is by far one of the best ways to find a good shop for that time when you need a good, reputable repair shop.

2. Quick Lube Facilities

In reality, you can probably just call these places, “stores.” That’s because that is what most of them are. They are there to sell you things and they are generally very good at doing just that. Please don’t misunderstand, there are some great quick lube stores out there. However, they are few and far between.

If you take your car to one of these, you should be prepared to hear a raft of offers from them. They will attempt to sell you things that you may or may not need. Many of quick lube outlets are lacking in their training and experience as well. Many repair shops have had to repair stripped oil pan plugs because of a “mechanic” at the quick lube place down the street failed to put it on correctly.

Many people, most in fact, do not have any problems when they take their car to a quick lube type store, as long as they are informed. The best thing about these types of stores is that they are cheap. Their primary function is to serve as an assembly line of sorts for doing lots of oil changes in a short amount of time. They receive deep discounts on their supplies and are set up to change oil quickly. This means that they are probably going to always be the cheapest option.

Just remember, it should never only be about the price. It should always be about the quality. If you want to keep your car running well, have the oil changed regularly. The most important thing is that it gets done, not necessarily where it gets done. After all, your vehicle is the 2nd largest investment, next to a mortgage, that most people will make. It only makes sense that you’d want to protect that investment!

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