legs of mechanic under VW Bug


Ah, a quintessential image of American manliness, a dude changing his own oil. Grease-stained jacket, crew cut, work rag, socket wrench in hand. Self-sufficient to the max, except the part about needing a very expensive piece of machinery to get from point A to point B.

Not that I have any room to judge; being a two-car household means we need our fair share of oil changes too. On average, I would say that our vehicles get their oil changed a little under two times a year, although it should be less now that I started biking to work more often.

Oil changes aren’t a huge yearly expense, but forking over that $30 dollars is never fun. What is even worse, however, is forking over $100+ dollars for all the extras you think you need. I’m talking new cabin air filter, transmission flush, reverse light etc. Anyway, the point is, if you can save some money doing it yourself, why the hell not?

Well, truth be told, you don’t really save a lot of money changing your own oil.  And if you include your labor costs, you are probably better off having a professional do it for you.

Before the numbers, though, I want to talk about actual ways you can save money on oil changes. First, stop getting them every 3,000 miles!  You can cut your oil change costs by more than 50% if you decrease your frequency to a recommended once every 7,500 to 10,000 miles. And if you have a newer car, you probably have an oil change indicator that takes all the guesswork out of it.

Check your owner’s manual for manufacturer recommendations, but the bottom line is that the 3,000 mile rule is sort of outdated. Save yourself some money and stop making charitable donations to your local oil change outfit, even if that little sticker they gave you says otherwise.

Second, don’t fall for the up-sell. It is hard to save money by changing your own oil because oil changes are loss leaders for a lot of places. This means that your local quick lube joint prices oil changes at a very low, sometimes negative, profit margin to get you in the door. Then they hit you with the higher-margin air filter and transmission work, which is where they really make their money. Apparently grocery stores do this too with cooked rotisserie chickens, which is why the cooked birds in the front are often times cheaper than the uncooked ones in the back… that’s what gets you, the hungry, tired, low-will-power afterwork shopper, in the store to buy all the other higher-margin stuff.

Anyway, just don’t be naïve.  Keep track of the last time you had those things done and what constitutes a good, acceptable, or bad condition for these various parts and systems. Watch, especially, air filters and lights because they are very easy to install and could cost you a lot less if you buy them from a parts store.  If there is something legitimate that needs to be done and you can’t do it yourself, wait a few days. Get quotes from some other places and you are bound to save a good chunk of money.

Third, look for deals.  You don’t need to be a loyal customer for something as routine as an oil change.  Follow the best price; you can sometimes get them as low as $15.00.

So that is how you can save money outsourcing your oil changes. Now here are the numbers.

The numbers:

This example is for having someone else change your oil, because that is where the positive ROI is. I try to keep all the ROI’s positive for comparison sake.

  • 10-Year NPV: $37
  • 10-Year ROI: 6%
  • 10-Year Payback: 0.6 years


might be profitable after 20 years

As you can see, both scenarios are basically even. Change your oil yourself, or have someone else change it. What really pushes the needle in favor of having someone else do it, at least financially, is the initial investment in equipment. Specifically, I’m talking about a drain pan, car ramps, and a filter wrench. These add an additional $55 of expenses in year one.

Over a long period of time, the investment slowly loses value because your tangible profits are negative, and there is a growing opportunity cost associated with losing $10.00 every year. It is the intangible costs (your own time) that keeps the investment afloat. If you wanted to exclude those, it actually would save you about $4.50 each year to change your own oil, as opposed to costing you $3.70 if you include them.


Personally, I’m glad to see that it doesn’t really matter one way or the other. Having someone else change my oil is quick, convenient, and mess-free. On top of that, I get a free car inspection. If I changed my own oil, I would be pretty lost to other potential problems and maintenance issues.

I really like both this and the garden example, and the beer example, because they help reign in my DIY enthusiasm. This is one of the beauties of capitalism, the division of labor, and economies of scale… it doesn’t make sense to do everything yourself, and my life is much simpler for it.

So this is your excuse to take the path of least resistance when it comes to oil changes. Don’t feel guilty, but also don’t get hosed on the up-sell!

If you do still want to change your own oil, however, don’t be discouraged. It actually looks pretty easy. A quick Google or YouTube search provides more than enough information. I thought this Edmunds article was a good place to start.


  1. Get oil changed 2x per year (U.S. average miles per year = 15,000, AAA)
  2. Average outsource oil change costs $30 and takes 20 minutes (experience)
  3. Your time is worth $8.00 per hour while waiting at oil change place because you can do other productive stuff (versus $10)
  4. Your time is worth $10.00 per hour while doing your own oil change (my own personal number)
  5. It takes an average of 40 minutes per oil change when you do it yourself and account for all the cleanup, disposal, and parts shopping required (various internet sources, including Edmunds, The Art of Manliness, and The Simple Dollar)
  6. Oil + oil filter cost $25.00 combined (Walmart and Amazon)
  7. Drain pan, car ramps, and filter wrench cost $55 combined (Walmart and Amazon)

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About The Author

James Flannel Guy ROI's picture

Portland, Oregon-based Flannel Guy ROI is a working dude and family man that likes flannel shirts and wants to achieve financial independence a little sooner than most, particularly by making smart spending decisions and living intentionally. 

His overall idea is to look at spending decisions as investments: what decisions will return the most value to you over time? 

Each scenario is evaluated over a 10-year horizon with the following summary statistics:

Present value – what is the total value of your investment and expected returns in today’s dollars?
Return on investment (ROI) – how much of your original investment will you make back?
Payback period – how long will it take you to recoup your original investment?

Learn more at www.flannelguyroi.com

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