Having said that, there are a range of factors that you need to consider when getting an oil change or if you decide to to it yourself. This article will address a wide range of topics related to your car engine oil, such as: How long does an oil change take? How often do you need to do an oil change? How much does an oil change cost? And so much more. If you own a car then understanding your engine oil truly does matter.
Changing the engine oil in a car is not too complicated, many of us do it ourselves. It shouldn’t take too long to do an oil change, depending on the car. Transmission oil can be complicated. But, generally, when people ask how long an oil change takes, they’re talking about engine oil. So this article is going to focus on changing the engine oil in a car.
I’m not just going to be talking about the time it takes to do an oil change. I’ll be addressing all the frequently asked questions relating to an oil change.
- How long does an oil change take?
- How much does an oil change cost?
- How often do you need to do an oil change?
- Synthetic oil vs regular oil, is synthetic oil better?
- What viscosity oil should you use?
- Should have your oil changed by the dealership?
Modern cars are sophisticated machines and their engineering is very precise. An oil change is no longer as simple as it used to be. So, whether you do it yourself or choose to use a professional, one needs to be aware of all the details. If you’re not confident about doing your own oil change, you should be sure to use someone with the correct amount of knowledge. As easy as it may appear, a small mistake or oversight could end up causing a lot of harm. A cheap oil change can end up being really expensive in repair bills.
Table of Contents...
- 1 How long does an oil change take?
Check for Coupons | Save Money
Tip : If you plan on going to a quick oil change franchise check to see if they offer coupons. They usually do so it’s worth looking before your drop by. Below we’ve added links so you can check coupons for a few of the biggest franchises in the USA.
- Jiffy-Lube — Coupons
- Valvoline Instant Oil Change — Coupons
- Express Oil Change & Tire Engineers — Coupons
How long does an oil change take?
A basic oil change can take as little as 15-minutes, if it’s done by someone with the correct experience and knowledge. Though there are many factors that could result in an oil change taking longer. A reputable mechanic should do a basic vehicle inspection together with a scheduled oil change. They may find additional work that needs to be done. This will obviously mean more time needs to be allocated.
It’s important to use a trusted mechanic when changing the oil in your car. The accompanied vehicle inspection is critical to ensure your safety and the good mechanical condition of your vehicle. Though some mechanics may not be too honest. They may try add more work to the oil change simply to push up your repair bill. The only way to know whether your mechanic is being truthful is if you know them to have a good reputation for being honest.
When changing the oil in your car, it needs to be raised on a lift. The oil drain plug is then removed and the old oil is drained from the engine. Many cars have splash plates and sump guards that also need to be removed. Mechanics who deal with an oil change on a daily basis are familiar with this. While the car is elevated, the mechanic should also check the condition of your tires and braking system. Should they find any wear or damage, they will inform you of this and advise on the best course of action.
VIDEO | How to Change Your Engine Oil Yourself
Once the oil is drained from the car, the plug will be fastened. With the car back on the ground, the oil filter is removed and replaced. It is important that the filter is replaced with an oil change as it removes any foreign particles from the oil that may cause unwanted wear to your engine. With the new oil filter in place, the mechanic will add new oil. The oil level needs to be checked to ensure the correct amount of oil has been added. Too much oil can be as harmful as too little.
The mechanic should also inspect the air filter, wiring harnesses, and coolant system when doing the oil change. A basic computer diagnostics check should also be conducted to determine whether there is any type of electronic malfunctions and that systems, like ABS and traction control, are functioning properly.
Most cars need the computer to be reset after an oil change. This will vary, depending on the make and model. Experienced mechanics know this, and know what procedure to follow for the car that you are driving.
So, as simple as an oil change may be, you need to trust the mechanic that does it. If you’re going to do it yourself, remember to do everything correctly. After many years of DIY experience and rebuilding old cars on weekends, I know how serious a small oversight can be. Here are some of the issues I’ve encountered regarding incorrect oil changes:
- Replacing the drain plug incorrectly is a fairly common, but very serious, mistake. If the drain plug is not properly aligned when tightening it, the result is a cross thread. This means that the thread that holds the drain plug becomes damaged and it will not fasten properly. The only remedy for this is to cut a new thread and fit an oversized bolt.
- Fitting the oil filter incorrectly. You’ll be surprised how many times I’ve encountered an oil leak, simply because the oil seal on the filter has not been correctly seated. An oil filter can also become cross threaded and this will mean discarding the filter and fitting a new one.
- Filling the oil to the incorrect level can cause major harm to your engine. Most cars use hydraulic lifters to control the valves. This means that the oil pressure affects how your valves function. Too little oil will result in the pressure being too low. Conversely, too much oil will result in the oil pressure being too high. In either case, incorrect oil pressure can cause serious damage to the valves. Too much oil is the most dangerous because most cars have a warning for low oil pressure and, in most cases, the engine will shut off automatically when the oil level is too low. Though they don’t do the same for oil pressure that is too high. So there is no way of determining an overfilled oil sump, other than manually checking the dipstick.
- Using the incorrect oil can also cause serious harm. The oil pressure that operates the hydraulic valve lifters relies on the correct oil viscosity. If the oil is too thick, the pressure will be too high. This can harm both your valves and oil pump. Oil that is too thin, will not pressurize properly. Engine manufacturers specify the correct oil for the type of pump and oil system that they use.
- Dirt in the oil system will cause the cylinder sleeves to wear. This can happen if the oil is not changed in a shop that is kept clean or by not changing the oil filter. A workshop with dust and dirt can cause the oil, or filter, to become contaminated during the oil change. An old engine that has been standing for a long time can have residue and debris in the system. These engines need to be flushed with a solvent as part of the oil change. This needs to be done with extreme care, as any remaining solvent will affect the new oil that is added to the engine.
VIDEO | How Often do you Need to Change your Oil?
How much does an oil change cost?
I’ve seen cheap, quick oil changes advertised by companies like Jiffy Lube. These oil changes are incredibly cheap, around $20. Ironically, this is often cheaper than doing it yourself. These guys buy oil in bulk. So they’re paying less for the oil and a regular oil container, bought from a store, usually contains more than the required amount for your engine. So buying oil from a parts store, means that you’re always paying for an extra pint or so. This may come in handy for oil top ups, but often goes to waste.
Be that as it may, I’m quite skeptical about these cheap oil change franchises. I’m never too sure about the quality of the oil that they use, or the skill of the person doing the oil change. I’ll be discussing these factors through the course of the article when we talk about regular oil vs synthetic oil and whether you should have your oil changed by the dealership (or a similar professional mechanic’s shop).
If you’re taking your car to a trusted professional, it could cost up to $100. But this would include a number of add-on services, as I discussed earlier in the article. If you’re paying a hundred bucks for an oil change, you can be sure that you’re getting a bit more than just an oil change. The quality of the oil used is important and the dealership, or a reputable mechanic, will always a better quality of oil.
If you buy the oil and do it yourself, you can expect to pay anything from around $20 to $45 for the oil. Like I said earlier, you’ll usually be buying more oil than you need for a single oil change. You will also be paying for an oil filter. But this isn’t too expensive, anything from around $5 up to $15. It will depend on the type and brand of oil filter.
So, doing the oil change yourself can save a bit in labor, but you’re paying more for the oil and filter because the mechanics always get a discount on the normal retail price. Though these mechanics will generally charge a markup which will be the pretty much the same as what you pay at the parts store.
How often do you need to do an oil change?
It’s always best to check your owner’s manual as to how often you need to change your oil. If in any doubt, around 3,000 miles is a safe bet. Many newer cars can go for longer between oil changes, and using a quality synthetic oil can also extend the interval. The recommended mileage between oil changes can be 7,500 – 10,000 miles for some cars. Diesel engines usually require more frequent oil changes.
If you don’t do this kind of mileage in a year, then you should change your oil every year. So the specified oil change interval will always be the recommended miles or one year, whichever comes first. Though, if you’re not using advanced modern oil, your specified time may be only 3 months between oil changes. More about this when we discuss synthetic oil vs regular oil.
Neglecting to change your oil timeously has a number of adverse implications. There are many benefits to changing your oil regularly:
- Environmental impact from old oil is as result of higher emissions. New oil contains less debris and carbon. These contaminants work their way through the exhaust system and into the air. So clean oil is better for the environment.
- Improved fuel consumption is a compelling reason to change your oil regularly. If you compare the price of a can of oil to your annual gas consumption, it makes financial sense to change your oil sooner rather than later. New, clean oil reduces friction in your engine, causing it to run more efficiently. This helps reduce the amount of gas that you use on a daily basis.
- Engine life is prolonged when using clean oil. This is, to my mind, the most important reason to change your oil as recommended by the manufacturer. Changing the oil filter at the same time is just as important. As your engine runs, debris collects. While most of the oil contaminants are collected by the filter, smaller particles escape and circulate through the engine with the oil. These particles are abrasive. So they act like sandpaper, scouring the inside of your engine. As the filter is used, it becomes less effective and more debris accumulates in the oil. Furthermore, oil degrades over time. This is why you should change your oil at least once a year, even if you don’t do the miles to warrant an oil change. Degraded oil won’t lubricate your engine properly and this will cause excessive wear, shortening the engine life. Rebuilding an engine, or replacing your car, is way more expensive than any amount of oil changes over the lifetime of your car.
Synthetic Oil vs Regular Oil : Which is Better?
Back in the 80’s, synthetic oil became all the rage. Initially, not everyone was convinced that synthetic oil was beneficial. In fact, some laboratory tests indicated that some of the earlier versions of synthetic oil were not up to scratch. To this day, the debate of synthetic vs regular oil continues. So, is synthetic oil better for your car?
When you look at the cost of synthetic oil vs conventional oil, it may be a tough decision deciding which going to be better. In my opinion, synthetic oil is far better for many reasons. Though I must concede that not all synthetic oils are equal. Cheaper, synthetic blended oil is a bit of compromise. These oils are combination of standard oil, blended with more advanced synthetic oil. Blended oil is cheaper, but it won’t provide all the benefits of a true synthetic oil.
VIDEO | Is Synthetic Oil Better?
Synthetic oil does not degrade at the same rate as regular oil. Some synthetic oil manufacturers claim that you can use their oil for up to 20,000 miles between oil changes. I’m not an engineer, so I can’t exactly argue with this. But I think 20,000 miles is a little optimistic. I have my car serviced by the Mercedes Benz agents, so I believe that I’m getting the best – they certainly charge enough. Even then, they recommend 10,000 miles or one year between oil changes. That is, in my opinion, as good as it gets and worth paying extra for the type of service, and reassurance, that I get from the dealership.
Different brands of synthetic oil usually have several types of oil. Some are recommended for frequent cold starts, others for high performance engines, or old (high-mileage) engines, and so on. There are different additives in these synthetic oils to achieve different results. Regardless, all synthetic oils have many common benefits.
- Higher temperature threshold is a huge benefit, common to most of the best synthetic oils. As oil heats up, it loses viscosity. This means that it becomes less effective at lubricating your engine and affects performance. Synthetic oils remain stable at extremely high temperatures which improves the power of your engine, reduces fuel consumption, and prolongs engine life.
- Improved lubrication with lower resistance, allows your engine to perform better. You get more horsepower from an engine running on synthetic oil. In the end, you’re getting more power from the same amount of gas. The benefit is obvious, better fuel consumption. Not to mention, those extra few horses when you need to overtake a slow car.
- Longer life. I’ve already mentioned that synthetic oil lasts longer than conventional oil, it doesn’t degrade as easily. The benefits here, are twofold. For one thing, you can go longer between oil changes. So, while you’re paying more for synthetic oil, you’re using it for longer. I find that the cost factor balances – price vs oil lifetime may even be beneficial with some synthetic oils. Because synthetic oil remains stable for a long time, it does not have as much impact on your engine as the oil gets older. So, even with regular oil changes, synthetic oil continues to protect your engine better as it gets older.
I believe that the improved reliability of modern cars has a lot to do with the synthetic oils that we now use. Engines last longer and remain more efficient over their lifetime. Once again, spending those extra dollars on better maintenance, has numerous long term benefits.
What viscosity oil should you use?
It is always best to check your owner’s manual for the oil viscosity recommendation for your car. You may even need to use a different oil in winter. I’ll explain how this works.
Viscosity is the resistance a fluid has to its ability to flow. Cold oil is thicker and provides greater resistance to your engine. Oil that is too thick will restrict the free movement of the crankshaft. This may make the engine harder to start and it will lose power, increasing fuel consumption. As the oil heats up, it becomes thinner. If the oil is too thin, it will not lubricate properly and may affect the valve function.
So all automotive oil has an SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) rating. You will see two numbers for the oil rating, with the letter “W” (Winter) in the middle – for example, 10W30. The first number indicates the winter (cold) temperature viscosity of the oil and is measured at 0°F. The second number indicates the viscosity for the maximum heat rating (212°F). So if we compare the SAE rating 15W40 to 10W30. The first oil will have a higher viscosity at low temperature (15) and a higher viscosity at high temperature (40), this oil is better for warmer climates. The second SAE rating has the opposite effect: lower (10) viscosity when it’s cold and a lower (30) viscosity when it’s hot, this oil is for moderate temperatures. In really cold climates, an oil starting with 5 (E.g. 5W30), is likely to perform better in winter. Oil additives can improve the viscosity for either hot or cold climates.
Another sign to check on your oil label is the API (American Petroleum Institute) rating. This shows you whether the oil that you’re using meets current API SL standards for gas engines, or C regulations for diesel engines. It should also tell you if the oil has passed the Resource Conserving test.
Should you have your oil changed by the dealership?
This is a question that I have many arguments about with my gear-head buddies. For many years, I did all the maintenance and repairs on my cars myself. As oil changes are the easiest part of vehicle maintenance, most people with a bit of mechanical savvy, might do it themselves. Even if they prefer more qualified mechanics to do the rest. It can save some money.
While I still enjoy tinkering with older cars, I prefer to hand my new car over to the professionals for all repairs and maintenance. New cars are so sophisticated and their components can be extremely expensive to change. So a simple mistake, due a lack of knowledge about the car, can be very expensive. These days, dealership mechanics, or technicians as they are now called, are sent on a training course with every new model that comes out. This is because of the complicated electronics and engineering that go into these cars.
Believe me, I know how expensive a dealership service (or even just an oil change) can be. When the car is brand new, it usually has a service plan. So you’re obviously going to take it to the dealership. Even if you don’t have a free service plan, it is better to take a car to the dealership for any kind of maintenance or repairs, as this validates your warranty. Usually, the warranty will become void if anyone, except a certified dealership, does any kind of work on your car. As the car gets older, a dealership service can be become quite expensive. Though I believe it’s worth it.
Even though I know I can easily do my own oil changes, even on a new car, I don’t. The main reason for this is that I want a full service history from the dealership. This helps maintain the resale value of the car. If look through classified ads for used cars, take note of the cars advertised with “Full Dealership Service History” or the abbreviation FSH. They will always be more expensive than the same make and model without a recorded service history. This becomes more important as a car gets older.
Buying a used car can always be risky. People, buying a car that is getting older, take a lot of reassurance in the fat that the car has been regularly serviced by the dealership. Though it’s important that every service has been recorded by the dealership, with their stamp in the service log. Most dealerships now keep a computerized service log and you can request them to print it for you at any time.
If you skip even a single oil change at the dealership, you can’t state a full service history and this will have quite an impact on your resale or trade-in value of the car. You can trust that the dealership is going to use genuine parts, as well the best oil and lubricants for your vehicle. Everything is done to strict schedule and they have quality control supervision. The dealership usually provides a guarantee on their service, so you can call them if you experience any problems with your car.
If you take your car to a cheap oil change franchise, the work is not done by a trained mechanic. You also have no idea what oil they’re using. Since these places are so cheap, I’d think that they use the cheapest oil that will certainly not be the best.
A car is an expensive asset and it depreciates over time. Investing in your car will keep it reliable and protect the value of your asset. I never see the sense in cutting corners, especially when you look at the price of new cars and how sophisticated they are.