Cheapism surveyed prices across five of the most popular places to get an oil change: Valvoline Instant Oil Change, Firestone Complete Auto Care, Jiffy Lube, Pep Boys, and Walmart (through its Auto Care centers). We also considered convenience, savings opportunities, and other maintenance services offered at these top shops. For comparison, we gathered oil change quotes from a local car dealership and mechanic and priced out how much it would cost to do it yourself.
Our conclusion: While not all oil changes include the same services (tire pressure check, etc.), Walmart is the cheapest place for a basic oil change, with prices comparable to DIY — minus the supply costs, time, and grime. If you've got a newer car and if you're willing to pay just a bit more, going to a dealership can actually save money compared with most chains, and also allay worries regarding mechanic error and manufacturer warranties. Just watch out for potential upsells.
Full-Service Oil Change Prices
*Oil and filter only; does not include the cost of start-up supplies.
What You Need to Know Before You Go
Getting an oil change used to be simple. Service options were limited, and $20 to $25 every three months or so covered the costs for pretty much any car. Today, things are much more complicated. For car owners who don't want to roll up their sleeves and do it themselves, there's an almost endless array of choice. Aside from your local mechanic or car dealership, a slew of popular national and regional chains offer quick oil changes. Some auto-parts stores go beyond selling supplies to provide basic maintenance services, and even some big-box retailers, such as Walmart, have gotten into the oil change game.Before getting an oil change, it pays to call ahead to get a full estimate for your specific vehicle (among the chains we surveyed, only Walmart posts national pricing online). Prices can vary significantly based on the type of car and the type of oil required. For example, certain European cars and many exotic models can be a particular pain to service, with panels and dozens of screws and bolts that need to be removed to perform even basic maintenance, so it may cost more. Also, while a "standard" oil change typically includes up to 5 quarts of oil, larger vehicles demand more: 8 quarts in a late-model Chevy Silverado, for example. Expect to pay extra if your vehicle requires additional oil. At Jiffy Lube, for example, you'll pay $6 to $10 per quart, depending on the oil used. (And don't expect to get a rebate if your car needs less than 5 quarts.)
Synthetic oil, synthetic blends, and high-mileage oil, which may be necessary to meet car-specific needs or manufacturers' recommendations, also cost more than conventional, "organic" motor oil. (Most new and late-model cars now come from the factory with full synthetic oil. While some manufacturers say you can use any oil that meets recommendations for oil weight and viscosity, others stipulate the continued use of synthetics only.) The good news is that full synthetic oils have higher resistance to breaking down, extending their useful life from the typical 3,000 miles to 7,500 miles or even 15,000 miles between changes. Over time, then, synthetics can prove more cost effective — or at least not any more costly — than conventional oil.
Finally, when changing a vehicle's oil, changing the oil filter at the same time is a must. Filters come in a variety of grades. A basic oil filter is fine for a conventional oil change, but for synthetic oil — especially if you plan to push the boundaries of those change intervals — a higher-quality filter, with finer filtration, is the better choice.
In addition to changing the oil and swapping out the filter, most oil change services also include a chassis lube, and usually a fluid and tire-pressure check, although that varies. Some even top off fluids where needed, rotate tires, clean exterior windows, and vacuum floors.
How Much Is an Oil Change?
While an oil change can still cost as little as $20, that total can quickly escalate to $100 or more depending on the vehicle and the oil selected. In our survey, Walmart came out on top as the best place for a cheap oil change. For a few pennies under $20, Walmart's Pit Crew oil change supplies up to 5 quarts of Quaker State Advanced Durability conventional motor oil (5W-20, 5W-30, or 10W-30), an oil filter, a chassis lube, a battery performance check, and tire pressure adjustment. For $10 more, Walmart's Standard oil change package substitutes a "featured" conventional oil for Quaker State and adds some function and fluid checks, along with top-offs and vacuuming, etc. This service is more comparable to a conventional oil change at the other chains but still cheaper: You'll pay a minimum of $35 at Pep Boys (the second-cheapest chain overall) and between $41 and $45 at the others.
Prices for Walmart oil changes using fully synthetic ($50) and synthetic-blend/high-mileage ($40) motor oils also fall well below the retail prices at the other outlets, especially for the full synthetic change. Walmart's price is a whopping 41 percent less than the most expensive competitors, Jiffy Lube and Valvoline, which both charge $85 for that service. While Firestone is surprisingly competitive for the pricier oil option, charging $73, Walmart still charges about 32 percent less.
Surprisingly, oil change prices at a local mechanic and a local dealership fell toward the lower end of the spectrum and tended to beat all but the cheapest of the national chains. The mechanic quoted the same $35 and $45 for conventional and high-mileage oil changes as relatively low-priced Pep Boys and offered full synthetic for just $60 — still $10, or 20 percent, more than Walmart. While the dealership was pricier overall, for a conventional oil change, it came in lower than the mechanic and every chain except Walmart. The dealership's rate for a full synthetic change fell in the middle of the pack.
Of course, mechanics and dealerships often keep their oil change prices low hoping to get consumers in the door, so they'll return when something major needs to be done. Oil changes are a loss leader, if you will. At the same time, a dealership may be the preferred choice for consumers who want to be certain they're following the manufacturers' specifications. A dealership mechanic will be extremely familiar with your particular make of car — cutting the risk of snafus that could lead to serious problems later on. In our research, we read stories of oil spills, overfills, and leaks due to poorly replaced or forgotten plugs. Also, if your car is under warranty, you may be eligible to get free oil changes and regular services from the dealership for the first few years. Note: Manufacturers cannot void a warranty because you've gotten a vehicle serviced outside a dealership. Just be sure to save receipts to prove that regular recommended maintenance was performed.
Oil Change Coupons and Deals
While Walmart appears to be the clear winner in our survey based on its walk-up pricing, determining where consumers will get the best deal every time is nearly impossible. Discounting is the norm in the oil-change industry, and virtually every outlet from the largest national chain to the local mechanic usually offers some type of special deal to get customers into their shops. For example, we saw coupons and special offers from chains like Pep Boys and Firestone that brought down the cost of a conventional oil change to around $25. Our local mechanic did one better, with a $15-off coupon that dropped the cost of a standard oil change down to just $20 — the same as Walmart's price. Even dealerships sometimes offer oil change specials that make their costs competitive.
Gauging prices at specialty chains like Jiffy Lube and Valvoline Instant Oil Change is a bit more complicated. Jiffy Lube is exclusively a franchise operation, while Valvoline has a mix of company-owned locations and franchises. Both companies give their outlets a bit of latitude in setting prices based on costs and competition in the areas where they operate. As a result, while our survey prices are representative, and pulled from locations in different parts of the country, we did see quite a bit of price variation among stores. In addition, these chains offer specials both on the national level and from specific franchise holders. Offers and coupons we found ranged from $5 off any oil change at any store in the country to $20 for a conventional oil change only at specific locations.
Don't forget to check the mail for circulars and search online coupon sites for promotions. One more possible source of savings is a loyalty program like Pep Boys' rewards program. Customers earn 1 point per dollar spent, with a $10 reward after 200 points. Members also get free brake and tire pressure checks, as well as discounted towing. Even if a chain doesn't have a nationwide rewards program, individual franchisees might. For example, we spotted a program offering half off every third oil change at one Jiffy Lube franchise, which operates stores in New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado.
|Jiffy Lube||Valvoline||Pep Boys||Firestone||Walmart|
|Fuel System Cleaning||$60||$80||$10 (1-step) or $60 (2-step)||$106||$20|
|Engine Air Filter Replacement||$20||$25||Free w/ purchase||$20||Free w/ purchase|
|Cabin Air Filter Replacement||$35||$50||$15 plus parts||$50||$10 + parts|
|Headlight Bulb Replacement||$10||$12||$20 plus parts||$30||$8 + parts|
|Wiper Blade Replacement||$15||$16||Free w/ purchase||$13||$6 + parts|
|Battery Replacement||$100||$120||Free w/ purchase||$125||Free w/ purchase or $10|
Of course, an oil change is just the main course on the menu at most of these shops. Each offers a host of other services, as well, ranging from basic maintenance to full auto repair. Costs can vary greatly, however, as can the quality of the additional work. So unless it's a mechanic or service center you know and trust — Jiffy Lube, for example, requires all technicians to undergo intensive training at Jiffy Lube University and is said to set a high standard within the industry — think twice before agreeing to extra services. And if you feel pressured in any way, consider taking your business elsewhere.
Outlets that are primarily parts stores (including Pep Boys and Walmart) typically quote service prices based on labor only, on the assumption that you've purchased replacement parts from them. (They'll add an upcharge or decline service altogether if that's not the case.) In addition, many offer free installation with purchase for items like batteries, wiper blades, and more. However, "free" isn't always free. For example, a battery for a sample vehicle, a 2015 Honda Civic, came with a $12.50 additional charge for "difficult battery installation" at Pep Boys. On the plus side, when we checked for a second car, a 2010 Ford Focus, free was, indeed, free.
Pricing at outlets that are primarily service-oriented (like Jiffy Lube, Valvoline, and Firestone) usually includes the price of the part, but keep in mind that the quote is almost always just the starting price. Buying upgraded parts or owning a car that requires more time for servicing will result in a bigger, sometimes quite hefty, bill.
Locations and Convenience
In many instances, aside from the quality of the work and whatever specials might be on offer, proximity can be the determining factor in deciding the best place to get an oil change. While not every Walmart store has an auto center attached, a majority do, and there are over 2,500 throughout the country. Jiffy Lube is the next most ubiquitous, with over 2,000 shops nationwide. Firestone Complete Auto Care is not far behind, with more than 1,700 locations. Valvoline Instant Auto Change and Pep Boys are a little fewer and farther between. Valvoline has fewer than 1,200 stores, but it's represented in 46 states, while Pep Boys has fewer than 1,000 and operates in only 35 states.
Many chains, and even many dealerships, will let you drive in for an oil change without an appointment. At a local mechanic, you'll most likely need to make an appointment for an oil change ahead of time. Some places, such as Pep Boys and Firestone, recommend an appointment but let you schedule one online. (Pro tip from Firestone: The best days to bring your car in are Tuesdays and Wednesdays.)
If you're really pressed for time, Express Oil & Tire Engineers may be the oil change service for you. With only about 250 locations, it wasn't included in our survey of national chains, but it's extremely popular in the South and promises 10-minute oil changes, walk-ins welcome. Of the chains we reviewed, Valvoline Instant Oil Change is likely the quickest. Not only can customers walk in, but the service is drive-thru: You don't even have to leave your car, and the complete oil change should take only about 15 minutes.
How Much Does It Cost to Change Your Oil Yourself?
Still considering doing an oil change on your own? Even if you're a newbie, there are plenty of online guides and YouTube videos to walk you through it. Your owner's manual likely has clear instructions, too. But aside from earning your weekend warrior credentials, is the DIY route worth it? It depends on the value of your time and the quality of the products you'll be putting into your car.
For comparison, take the least-expensive conventional oil change: just under $20 at Walmart. The specific oil used in that service — Quaker State Advanced Durability 5W-20 — costs about $15 for 5 quarts (other viscosities are a little pricier). Add to that about $4 for a basic oil filter, such as FRAM Extra Guard, and you'd land at right around the same cost, give or take a dollar, as having Walmart's "pit crew" do the job for you. And with the many discounts that are often available, you can do nearly as well with a host of other oil change services.
On the other hand, considering the hefty upcharges many services ask for synthetic and synthetic-blend oil changes, if your car requires one of those, it might make sense to do the shopping and regular maintenance yourself. For example, for an older vehicle, like our 2010 Ford Focus, a high-mileage synthetic blend, such as Mobil Super High Mileage 5W-20, (about $16) and an oil filter such as the Mobil 1 Extended Performance M1-102A (about $10) would cost around $26. That's quite a bit cheaper than the walk-in price at most shops — although, depending on available discounts, you could score a similar price.
For a newer vehicle, purchasing a full synthetic motor oil such as Mobil 1 Extended Performance 0W-20 (about $26) along with the aforementioned Mobil 1 filter would kick the total cost up to around $36. But that's still a price most service outlets would be hard-pressed to match (although we did spot one car dealership coupon that beat it by a couple of dollars at the time of our survey). And, again, the dealer most likely would perform other maintenance checks that you'd be responsible for or have to purchase a la carte.
If you've never changed your oil before, there are some additional supplies you would also need to purchase. The most expensive is a pair of purpose-specific ramps to raise your car so you can get underneath to drain the old oil. Most are made of plastic these days, although steel ramps can still be found. A set of RhinoGear RhinoRamps (a popular brand) rated for vehicles up to 12,000 pounds gross weight will set you back around $40. You'll also need to spring for an oil-filter wrench, a funnel, an oil pan (to collect the drained oil), and, if you don't already have one, an adjustable wrench or socket set to remove the oil drain plug — all told, around $25 to $35 for typical options; more for better-quality tools. This amounts to a total upfront investment of about $65 to $75 and up.
Finally, should you decide that it's worth it to roll up your sleeves and wrench it, don't forget to recycle the old oil and oil filter. Many areas have recycling programs that accept these items, and some auto-parts stores and service centers do as well. But be sure you look into the options before you dive in, because in many areas, failing to recycle old oil can leave you subject to a hefty fine.