Changing your own oil seems like a right of passage for a lot of young drivers. It seems like something that a lot of people brag about, but do you actually know the pros and cons of changing your own oil? I was surprised when I started digging and putting together this list.
The list of pros and cons is pretty long. In general, you’ll save time and money if you do your own oil changes. You also unlock a certain level of convenience since you can do it whenever you want. At the same time, you’ll have to do the work yourself and there are some things that can go wrong. You’ll have to spend time physically changing your oil as opposed to doing work while the mechanic does it for you.
I’m going to talk a little bit about how oil works first, and why oil changes are so important. From there, I’ll break down the major pros and cons and help you make your decision. Should you change your own oil? You’ll know by the end of this ultimate guide.
What Is an Oil Change?
An oil change is a process of replacing your car’s engine oil. It’s done by draining out the oil that’s currently in your car and putting in new oil.
It typically also entails changing your oil filter. This is an inline filter that all your oil flows through. The filter picks out contaminants and debris that would otherwise hurt your car.
The Purpose of Oil
The whole purpose of oil is to lubricate your car. Under your hood, there’s a lot of commotion going on.
With all these parts flying around, you need to ensure every component is well-lubricated. This is where oil comes in. It’s an engineered material that’s highly lubricious.
Let’s look at your engine’s piston. There is a shaft moving up and down within a hollow cylinder. In the combustion chamber at the top of the cylinders are explosions that keep going on as well as a constantly changing pressure.
However, the shaft is metal, and the cylinder is metal. If these two surfaces rub against each other, catastrophic damage can happen, and the engine can fall out of sequence.
With oil, these surfaces get coated with a liquid that prevents this from happening.
It’s not just the cylinders, either. Oil will circulate and lubricate the:
- Rod bearings
- Camshaft bearings
- Valve rockers
- Cam followers
All of these components are within the engine. Oil isn’t going to travel anywhere else. For instance, if oil is dripping from your brake pads, then something is seriously wrong.
It’s also important to note how the oil flows. It always comes from the oil pan and immediately goes into your oil filter. From there, it works its way around your engine in one direction, ultimately returning to the oil pan.
The Importance of Changing Your Oil
You might be asking yourself how this is even possible. What happens to the oil after it returns to the oil pan after doing a rotation? It goes through the same rotation again.
Car owners aren’t expected to pour in oil every morning — it’s something that’s only done every once in a while.
However, every time the oil cycles around, it gets dirtier. Oil is only designed to make so many cycles before it’s so dirty that it can’t be used anymore.
After a certain level of contamination goes into your oil, it doesn’t have the same lubricating properties that it used to have. Instead of keeping everything running smoothly, it’s just making components wet. This is where the trouble starts.
Without changing your oil, your engine starts to wear down. Parts that are firing off insanely fast start to rub against one another and degrade your engine’s performance and its ability to operate at all.
Driving long enough with sub-par oil can completely seize your engine.
In addition, your oil filter starts to clog up along the way. Remember, this is there to remove dangerous contaminants from your circulating oil.
With a clogged filter, the engine oil will flow slowly and more contaminants will start getting into your oil.
After a certain number of miles, your filter and oil need to be replaced so your engine can get a new breath of life.
The other thing to note is that oil has a shelf life. If you put brand-new oil into a car then you don’t touch the car for a year, the oil might be unusable. This adds a time constraint to changing your oil as well.
How Often Should You Change Your Oil?
The frequency of changing your oil depends on a few factors. For one, what kind of oil are you using? The three types are, “conventional, synthetic blend, and full-synthetic.”
Conventional: 5,000-7,500 miles or 6-12 months
Synthetic blend: 10,000 miles or 9-12 months.
Full Synthetic: 15,000 miles or 12 months.
Your car’s manufacturer will determine which style you use for your vehicle. In general, most new cars use full synthetic.
For reference, synthetic is a lab-made engineered oil. Conventional oil uses crude oil which comes from drilling oil from the earth.
Is it Possible to Change Your Own Oil?
It’s definitely possible to change your own oil. The process is very straightforward and doesn’t require any special talents. There is probably even a YouTube video for your specific car that will show you exactly how to do it.
I know a guy in his 90s that still changes his own oil, so you can do it too! Not to mention I started changing my car’s engine oil when I was just a kid. It’s super simple stuff.
Tools Needed to Change Your Own Oil
Although you don’t need any special skills, there are some tools that you’ll need.
1. Socket Wrench
I recommend a good socket wrench set to remove the bolt from your oil reservoir. Typically the oil drain plug will be somewhere between 17mm-19mm.
You’ll need a hydraulic jack to raise your car high enough so you can crawl under it and work. For trucks that have a lot of ground clearance, you might not need a jack depending on where the oil pan is located.
3. Jack Stands
Jack stands are used to ensure your car doesn’t fall off the jack, you don’t accidentally hit the jack, and the jack doesn’t fail on you. These are sturdy, solid pieces of metal that get put under your car after you jack it up.
4. Oil Drain Pan
An oil drip pan will be positioned on the ground under your car’s oil pan. When the bolt is removed and the oil starts spilling out of your car, you’ll want to catch it all in this drip pan. These have a wide mouth so there’s essentially no clean-up or spillage during the oil change.
5. Oil Funnel
When you put new oil into your car, an oil funnel helps out a lot. This funnel has an adjustable base so it’s a universal design. Now you can change your oil even if you have the same aim that Shaq has.
Pros of Changing Your Own Oil
Let me start with some of the great reasons why you should change your own oil. I’ve experienced all of these benefits first-hand, so I can attest to how realistic they are.
There’s a simple reason why a lot of people change their own oil: it’s so much cheaper. Something that might cost a hundred bucks at a dealership will only cost you around $25.
Why? A mechanic charges you an hourly rate for the person performing the work, and they upcharge the materials used in the oil change.
You might not think that a $75 difference is a huge deal, but it adds up really quickly. This is something you’ll have to do 2 or 3 times a year, for as long as you operate a vehicle.
Over 50 years, that $75 transforms into $7,500 to $11,250 (ignoring inflation).
Once You Have the Equipment, You Have it For Life
One negative of doing this yourself is that you’ll need to buy all the equipment. However, once you own it, you can keep reusing the same stuff for your whole life.
You’ll need new oil and filters every time, obviously. It’s the equipment like jacks, wrench, jack stands, oil funnel, and an oil pan that you can keep reusing.
In addition, these tools can be used for a lot of different projects. The oil funnel can be used to refill any fluid in your vehicle, for example. The jack and stands can be used any other time you want to turn some wrenches on your vehicle.
This makes the price tags a lot more reasonable.
It’s Typically a Lot Faster
Speaking from personal experience, doing the oil change yourself can save a few hours.
After doing it enough times, you can easily change the engine oil in under 30 minutes. The same task at a dealership’s shop takes between an hour and two. Plus, you’ll need to factor in the time you spend traveling to the dealership and back as well as scheduling the visit.
I’m a big fan of not being in dealerships, so this is a plus for me.
The Work is Satisfying
There’s something about completing an oil change that feels so satisfying. Yeah, it’s an easy enough task and doesn’t require any real heavy lifting — but still, it’s really rewarding.
You used your two hands and a few tools to perform a required piece of maintenance. Not too shabby.
For a quick smile, consider performing an oil change successfully.
It’s Really Easy to Do
Changing the oil in your car is one of the easiest pieces of maintenance possible. The process is simply: drain out the old oil, put in new oil, replace the oil filter.
A random person with no mechanical know-how can change oil with very little guidance.
I like to outsource projects that are too big or complicated for me. Oil changes? Easy enough to do on your own.
There’s also a huge sense of convenience when you do the oil change yourself. You can do it whenever you want to and don’t have to worry about scheduling the perfect time with your local shop.
If you’re feeling a little bored on a Saturday morning, you can just stroll over to your car and change the oil real quick.
Also, sometimes you don’t realize that you’re due for an oil change until you’re already past the point. Instead of panicking and making a dozen phone calls to find a shop that will accept your car, you can just do it yourself.
That’s what I mean when I say a DIY oil change is so convenient.
Get to Know Your Car Better
It’s always cool to pop under your car and get to know it a little better. If you’ve only ever seen your car from the driver’s seat or looking at it from the outside, you’re missing out on a lot.
Crawling under your car and looking for the oil pan should open up your eyes. Now you’ll see just how impressive your car is. There are a ton of components you’ll spot, and you’ll probably have no idea what any of them do.
Who knows, maybe this will spark your interest in cars and you’ll want to do bigger projects on them.
No “Business Hours”
One of the biggest headaches is trying to schedule an oil change with a shop that has tight business hours.
In most cases, you’re left making a sacrifice just to get your oil changed. Maybe you have to skip out on plans, leave work early, or use PTO just to get an oil change.
Alternatively, you can just use your home’s garage that’s open 24/7. If you want to change your oil at 3 in the morning, I say go for it.
Develop a Lifelong Skill (and Help Others)
Changing oil is one of those skills that’s universal. Once you know how to do it on a Camry, you can do it on any other compact car.
It also means that you can help your family and friends with their oil changes, too. That’s a quick way to get brownie points with the in-laws.
In another 6 months when you need yet another oil change, you don’t have to sweat it. Since you already know how to change oil, you can pop under your car and do it again.
You’re Not Stranded at a Shop for Hours
Oil changes fall into an awkward time period when it comes to car maintenance. It takes too long for you to be able to comfortably wait around, but it doesn’t take long enough for you to be able to go home and relax before heading back.
Unless you have a friend pick you up, now you’re stranded at the shop for a few hours. What are you supposed to do?
I will admit that the waiting room for the service departments at different dealerships is definitely better. But still, you’re just sitting around, bored, for a few hours. I’d rather use that time doing anything else.
Know Exactly What’s Happening with Your Car
There’s a certain level of mystery when a mechanic does your oil change. They take your car away from you, banish you into a little room with chairs in it, then return hours later.
Did they even change the oil? What else did they do? It’s hard to know exactly what’s happening with your car when it gets an oil change.
When you do the oil change, you know exactly what’s happening with your car. You’re the one doing the task, after all.
Don’t Have to Re-Adjust Your Seat After
One of my pet peeves is a mechanic that changes the position of the driver’s seat when they perform an oil change. Even still, it seems like every time I take my car into the shop the seat magically moves.
Then it takes me another week just to get the seat close to the position I was so used to. Driving feels weird afterward.
Maybe it’s not a huge deal to everyone, but it’s a big deal to me. They’re just driving my car 10 feet from the garage to the parking lot, why does the mechanic need to be comfortable in my driver’s seat?
Cons of Changing Your Own Oil
There are also a number of reasons why people don’t change their own oil. I can understand them all. It’s up to you to determine if the pros outweigh the cons after going through this list.
Tough to Remember When to Change it
I’ll be the first to admit that my memory isn’t the best. When it comes to remembering when to change your oil, it really matters.
Missing by a few thousand miles can already do damage to your engine.
It’s hard to remember when to change your oil since most people do it based on mileage, not elapsed time. That’s because most people drive more than 7,500 miles in a year.
A lot of newer cars have a pop-up on the dash that’s tied to the mileage. After 7,500 miles elapses, a pop-up will notify you that it’s time for an oil change.
If you don’t have this feature, you’ll have to get creative. A sticky note somewhere near your odometer or a quarterly reminder might help you a lot.
If you tend to drive 15,000 miles a year, then you should have a reminder on your phone every 5 to 6 months to check your odometer and what mileage you need to change your oil.
You can lessen the impact of this if you use a full-synthetic oil. This is only the case for vehicles in which the manufacturer says it’s okay.
Can Make a Costly Mistake
Even though the process is so simple and easy, there are some things that can go wrong.
Probably the biggest issue would be your car falling off the jacks. If you use a shoddy jack, don’t put down jacks, or accidentally hit the jack then your car can fall down.
The damage done by this mistake will vary a lot depending on how your jack was positioned and where your car is located.
A more common mistake would be stripping the bolt in your oil pan or the oil filter itself. Getting either of these stuck will lead to a long and annoying process of trying to undo your mistake.
I will also point out that anything bad happening is pretty rare. I’ve been changing my own oil since I learned how to drive, and I never came close to any of these issues happening.
You’ll Need to Buy Equipment
You’ll need some tools and equipment for an oil change. This means you’ll need to buy some stuff online.
This isn’t a big deal if you use my list of recommended products. Still, there’s a cost associated.
If you don’t have any tools, you’ll wind up spending a lot more for your first oil change than a mechanic will charge you. These tools will last you forever and can be used for other projects, but it’s still worth mentioning.
It Takes Time
In a busy man’s life, allotting an hour to change your oil might be asking too much. You could spend that time hanging out with your family, relaxing, or doing one of your favorite hobbies.
The simple truth is that changing your oil takes time. If you either don’t have time to waste or you don’t feel like spending your time doing an oil change on your own, I totally get it. This is probably the biggest reason why people decide not to change their own oil.
It’s Not for Everyone
Changing your oil is a dirty job. It’s not for everyone. It entails using some tools and climbing under your vehicle as well.
If the idea of doing this makes you uncomfortable, then changing your own oil probably isn’t your thing. Again, this is totally understandable, and no one will judge you for taking your car to a shop.
No Paper Trail
Some leases require a paper trail when it comes to maintenance performed on your vehicle. In other instances, your warranty might hinge on the same paper trail.
If you change your own oil, you won’t have a physical bill from a mechanic that outlines the tasks that were performed. All you can provide is a receipt saying that you bought oil and a filter, not that you physically installed it.
In my experience, this lack of a paper trail doesn’t cause the leasing company to hunt you down or charge you extra money.
Still, I’ve heard anecdotal stories about how this idea came back to bite people later down the road.
You Miss an Opportunity to Connect with a Mechanic
Part of finding an honest mechanic is the process of physically going to the mechanic. An oil change is a simple and low-stress way to get to know a mechanic and their shop. You can use this opportunity to gauge how they operate before you bring your car in for a larger and more unexpected repair.
It’s better to get to know your mechanic during an oil change versus during an engine rebuild. That’s the worst time to find out you’re dealing with a scummy shop.
How Do You Dispose of the Old Oil?
You can’t dump your old oil down the drain or throw it in the trash. It’s super illegal to do that, actually.
Discarded oil is a dangerous liquid. A lot of landfills don’t even accept it.
Where do you dispose of the old oil? Your local mechanic already has a connection somewhere that takes care of it for them. The answer will depend on where you live, but it’s going to be tough to find the right place.
You Need Space
Without a garage or large parking lot, changing the engine oil on your own becomes nearly impossible. Your friendly neighborhood Walmart becomes a lot less friendly if they see you trying to change your oil in their parking lot.
This is a good time to make friends with someone who has a nice garage with a car lift in it.
Either way, you’ll need space in a private plot to do an oil change on your own. People who live in the city are going to have a hard time performing this task on their own.
Miss a Mechanic’s Troubleshooting and Inspection
As a courtesy, a lot of mechanics will do a quick inspection and general troubleshooting of your car during an oil change.
If they find something wrong, this is a good opportunity for them to bring it up and hopefully get some extra business out of you.
From your perspective, you get valuable insight into your vehicle when the mechanic takes a quick look at it. They can spot problems that you won’t be able to detect since you don’t have the trained eye that you do.
A phony mechanic will fix any problem they notice without asking you first, then they’ll tag it onto your bill at the end. Do not pay for anything that you did not give them specific instructions to do.
Now you know some of the major pros and cons of changing your own oil. Are you interested in doing it yourself or are you going to stick to going to the mechanic? Let me know in the comments below, I’m interested to hear. For other car guides and instructionals, check out the rest of my blog. I also have a list of products that can help you with your car.