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Maintaining your Vehicle: Oil Change every 3000 miles

The oil change pretty much defines what most people think of as “regular maintenance.” The procedure is so well-known that it’s become something of a measure for regular service intervals. These days, most people think less in terms of miles and more in terms of oil changes. You don't tighten your lugs at 3,000 to 5,000 miles -- you do it at every oil change. You don't rotate the tires at 6,000 to 10,000 miles – you do it at every other oil change. But in modern times, this staple of DIY car maintenance has become either a practice in personal satisfaction or a “loss leader,” used to up-sell other services that you can also do yourself if you actually need them.

Oil Change: DIY vs. Pay for It

Consider these facts since 2020:

* A quart of store-brand 5W-30 oil runs about $2.

* The average oil filter costs about $3.

* The typical car takes around five quarts of oil after filling the filter.

So, using the cheapest-possible oil and filter, you can end up spending somewhere between $13 and $15 dollars for an oil change.

Now, pick up your local newspaper – if they still print those – and check the ads page for oil change specials. You'll typically find them hovering somewhere around $20, often as little as $15 if you've got a coupon or go to a bargain-basement oil change place. So, while the percentage of savings is a pretty reasonable 15 to 20 percent, it only comes out to around five or six bucks in practice. If anything.

But hey, money's money. That six dollars are very nearly half a gallon of gas at today's prices, so there's no harm in investing a bit of elbow grease just to know you did the prudent thing. Right?

Think about all of the factors involved before you get your hands dirty

Even when you were able to get a cheap insurance premium by qualifying for car insurance under 50 a month, you could lose that privilege if you had a preventable accident. While changing oil more or less defines the concept of “do it yourself maintenance, slip-ups can and do happen. You could strip the threads in your oil pan, fail to tighten the bolt completely, get a leak at the filter-to-block interface or accidentally break something in the process of getting to the filter and taking it off. Granted, all those things can and do happen at basic lube places that don't pay their employees enough to buy a decent cup of chai and a biscotti after work. But lube centers have insurance, and you can take them to court if something goes wrong. You can't bring yourself to court, and even if you triumphed against you in a civil suit, you'd probably just end up ruining your credit.

Considering your car's warranty

Here's one more thing to consider apart from time spent doing the job, money saved – or lack thereof – and risk assumed, and that has to do with your car's warranty. According to the Magnuson Moss Warranty Act of 1975, a manufacturer cannot void your warranty for having basic services like oil changes and brake pad replacements performed at a non-dealer shop. If, however, the shop screws up and causes some kind of catastrophic failure, the manufacturer reserves the right to treat it as though you yourself did the deed. So, later compensation aside, you can count on your warranty provider officially washing their hands of you if yourself or the folks at the lube place don't tighten the car's drain plug.

Advantages of doing oil change by yourself

There are at least two good reasons for doing an oil change yourself. The first is that specifying anything but the house-brand oil and filter is going to cost you extra. Lube places can afford to charge very little because they buy oil at wholesale by the 55-gallon drum or tanker truck; ask the lube shop to fill your car up with purple race oil and screw on a titanium alloy filter, and they're going to have to go out and buy it at retail just like you would. So, in this case, you're not just paying retail for the oil and filter – you're probably going to spend a significant markup plus the original labor cost.

The “full” synthetic oil you see on shelves isn't fully synthetic. In order to qualify as a full synthetic, the oil needs to contain only a minimum of 30 percent synthetic base stock. If the synthetic percentage isn't listed, price is a relatively good indicator of synthetic content. High quality, true synthetics can run a mind-boggling $40 a quart or more, so you can work down from there to get an idea of how much synthetic base stock is in a quart of $7 “synthetic” or “synthetic blend.” Flip forward to the chapter on changing your oil for a more in-depth conversation about the case of regular vs. synthetic lubricants.

So, the second consideration has to do with quality and trust. There's no way to know what quality of oil you're getting unless the lube place specifies a particular brand. And since you're going to pay through the nose for anything but the house brand, you're better off changing the oil yourself if the quality is a prime consideration, as it should be. Concordantly, there's no way to know if the oil in that 55-gallon drum labeled “Name Brand Full Synthetic” is actually what it appears to be. It's all too easy for an unscrupulous shop manager to – ahem – augment that $7-per-quart synthetic with $0.30-per-quart, house-brand dino juice. In this case, there's peace of mind to be gained in knowing that you're getting what you paid for.


Inevitably, an accident is always traumatic for all parties involved. It doesn't matter if you pay little for your car insurance each month because you qualify for car insurance for less than $100 a month. Although your insurance coverage will take care of any claims for property damage and personal injury, your insurance rates will increase because you won’t longer be a low-risk customer for your insurer. Something as simple as taking proper care of your car's oil change could make a difference. Don't let an oversight tarnish your driving record.