Saving Pennies or Dollars is a new semi-regular series on The Simple Dollar, inspired by a great discussion on The Simple Dollar’s Facebook page concerning frugal tactics that might not really save that much money. I’m going to take some of the scenarios described by the readers there and try to break down the numbers to see if the savings is really worth the time invested.
Matt said, I’d like to see your take on changing oil at home versus having it done at a shop. I’ve done my own calculations on the matter but I think it might be worth exploring on your blog.
Oil changes are pretty simple to do at home. If you’re changing the oil, you literally just slide under the car with a pan, remove the plug so that the oil runs into the pan, then go do something else. A while later, you put the plug back in place, open the top, and add oil until full. Done. If you’re changing the filter, you also just pull out a filter in the middle and insert a clean one in the middle of this process.
The actual labor for this is five or ten minutes (once you’re used to it), and you can save the old oil in a jug in your garage until you have a chance to drop it off somewhere when you’re out and about on errands.
On the other hand, if you go get your oil filled for you, it takes at least that long to interact with the people there, plus there’s the dreaded waiting. Ideally, you have the ability to do something else while there, but that’s not always a guarantee.
My local Jiffy Lube will change the oil in your car for about $30. For roughly another $20, they’ll also change your oil filter.
I can acquire a quart of the high-quality synthetic motor oil I like to use in our car for $6 (shipped to our house for free), and it takes four quarts to fill it. I can also get an oil filter that fits for $11.
Thus, our materials cost for a single oil change is $24. If we couple that with an oil filter change, it’s $35. This compares to an oil change cost of $30 and $50, respectively.
In short, I save about $15 doing it myself. (The exact math will vary depending on your make and model of car, of course, but it will be along this order of magnitude.)
Now, here’s the tricky question: how much is it worth it to you to avoid having to climb underneath your vehicle twice? For some, it’s just a job that they don’t want to do and it’s worth the $15.
For others, there’s extra value in doing it yourself because you can be sure it’s done correctly and with oil and filters that are of your own selection and not of the dealership. What do I mean by “done correctly”? Many oil change places do not let the oil drain for a sufficiently long period of time. A few minutes of draining means there’s oil still inside, while an hour or so of draining will get rid of much more dirty oil. However, oil change businesses usually won’t let your car drain for an hour.
For still others, it comes down to the value of their time. Whenever I get my oil changed, I choose to do it simply so I can drop off my car while running other errands. I’ll walk to a nearby grocery store, choose to drive up to get my groceries, walk back to the oil change station, get my car, then drive back for the groceries. Doing this allows me to effectively multitask.
On the other hand, if it’s a Saturday afternoon and there’s nothing special going on, one might as well change the oil in one’s car and save $15.
Changing your own oil saves dollars, not pennies, but there may be other factors that convince you to hire someone to change it for you.
Dinner With My Family won’t be posted this week because, frankly, I spent most of the last week traveling or at other social events. It should resume next week.