Oil Change - DIY or Shop?

DIY Oil Change - Is it a good idea or should you leave this job to an auto shop? Find what if changing oil yourself is worth the savings and trouble.

Doing an oil change yourself is one of the classic diy auto repairs that many people do themselves. 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 for when try this job yourself. I've fixed numerous cars that came to my repair shop because they had either tried to change the oil themselves or had it done by a quick lube type of place and they didn't get the oil pan drain plug in correctly and cross threaded it.

Luckily this is not usually that hard of a fix (there are over sized drain plug kits available that just 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.

DIY Oil Changes - Challenges and Pitfalls

Oil changes sometimes do not save you very much money. Why? Well there are several reasons.

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

1. You have to buy your motor oil and oil filter from a retail store. These items are marked up so that the store can make money off of them. Any auto repair shop or quick lube store will be able to buy them in volume and get a significant discount. To save money, I recommend buying your motor oil and oil filter online from Amazon, which tends to offer lower prices and faster shipping.

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

Girl Mechanic

You probably do not have a lift to get your 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 so you can't really see what you are doing.

If you are agile and you know right where the oil filter is located and how to get to the drain plug and unscrew it then you should be able to do an oil change in your driveway with a jack and jack stands just fine, but if not then you might 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 right you could cost yourself way more money than you would save by doing your own oil change. Stripped oil drain plugs can be fixed and most of the time it's not too expensive, but if the damage is major, the oil pan could need to be replaced and that would be a lot more money.

If you take the old oil filter off but don't get the rubber sealing gasket off, then try to screw the new filter on it will not seal properly. The danger here is that you would start the car and all the oil will leak out. This is not a problem if you shut the engine off right away, but if you let it run like that it could ruin the entire engine.

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

You will have to dispose of the used oil. The only good way to do that is to take it to a recycler.

Many auto parts stores will take your used oil, but you still have to get it there without it spilling all over everything. Professionals will do this for free when you have your oil changed by them. They will either have a recycler take it or many of them burn it in waste oil heaters. Either way, it is not your responsibility to get rid of it, which makes it easier and less hassle for you.

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

With today's newer cars many times it is not that easy anymore. Some oil filters require additional tools such as a strap wrench and oil filter pliers to get them off, and 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 then 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 your cars owner's manual. Sometimes you can find it online as well but not always. Sometimes repair shops are the only ones with this information.

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, but if you do not it would be better to just take it to a repair shop.

If You Choose to Change Oil Yourself...

Most people with any mechanical ability can change their own oil. If you decide that you want to try this diy auto repair there are several things you should know.

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

These days almost every car is different - Before proceeding, check our step by step guide on how to change oil in a car. 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 forums for your vehicle or you can also subscribe to ALLDATAdiy which will give you all the information you need to do the job.

2. Prepare the Right Tools to Remove Your Oil Filter

This complete list of tools and parts is taken from my step by step guide to changing oil and oil filters. For tools and supplies that offer both quality and value for money, see my recommendations below:

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

You need to make sure that you have the right amount and weight (thickness) of oil. This info can be found in the owner's manual or sometimes in the engine compartment. 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 idea 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. It is a good idea to have a good, sturdy, leakproof gas can to transport the oil with. The main thing you want to avoid is leaving your used motor oil laying around in milk jugs.

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 Choose an Oil Change Shop...

If you decide not to attempt an oil change yourself, then you have two options:

1. 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. They know your car, and they will be able to spot things that are out of place right away. Besides, you trust them. They do good work for you so why not support their business?

Generally speaking, trained, certified mechanics will have much more experience with and knowledge about cars. This means that they will probably do a much better job, and if for some reason they mess something up, they will be able to fix it correctly.

I highly recommend taking your car to your regular mechanic for oil changes. They will be more expensive, but you get much better service and more knowledgeable people working on your car.

It is important to not that most quick lube places and many repair shops recommend changing your motor oil every 3,000 miles.This is NOT necessary for most cars. Most manufacturers recommend changing your oil every 5,000-7,500 miles. I know, it's hard to believe, but it's true...check your owners manual.

The exception 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. The average driver does not do any of these enough to warrant changing their oil every 3,000 miles.

On other quick note. A great way to "try out" a repair shop is to take your car there for an oil change. See how you are treated and how well they seem to know what they are doing. It is one of the best ways to find a good shop for that time when you need a good, reputable repair shop.

2. Quick Lube Store

I call these "stores" because that is what most of them are. They are there to sell you things and that is what they are usually the best at. Don't get me wrong, there are some great quick lube stores out there, but they are few and far between.

If you take your car to one of these then be prepared for offers to sell you things that you may or may not need. Many of them are lacking in their training and experience as well. I have repaired more than one stripped oil pan plug because of a "mechanic" that did not put it on correctly.

Most people 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. They are there to do lots of oil changes in a short amount of time. They get 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. 

Remember, it's not just about the price. It's 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.

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