For many folks, the car or truck is a mystery box that “goes’ when you turn the key. Oil changes are seen by many as a necessary annoyance endured to keep the machine running smoothly.
But why is there such a difference in oil change pricing? Why does the dingy garage up the street offer an oil change for $29 while the BMW dealership charges $220?
There are three factors that affect how much an oil change should cost…
Quality - Experience - Business Strategy Let's talk about each
As is true with most things in life, not all oil (or oil filters) are created equally. A premium brand of oil such as Castrol (A subsidiary of BP Oil) literally employs thousands of liquid engineers globally, and has multiple divisions constantly involved in research and the development of new lubricant technology.
What does this mean for your vehicle?
1. Quality oil reduces engine wear and extends your engine’s life.
2. Quality oil needs to be drained less frequently reducing your long-term maintenance cost.
3. Quality oil can improve your fuel economy.
Most quality oils have a cost between $4.00 and $10.00 per litre, your preferred shop likely receives a marginal bulk discount. With the average vehicle requiring approximately 5L, the total oil cost can range from $20, to $50 depending on the vehicle you drive and it’s oil requirements. A good quality oil filter, much like the oil itself can cost your shop $3.00 to $32.00 depending on the vehicle serviced and the quality of the part.
After an oil change, we generally get a feeling of security and confidence in our automobile. Someone familiar with these machines has looked over the car (or truck) and given it a stamp of approval for continued highway driving based on their knowledge and experience.
Here are some general rules for determining the experience of the individual performing your oil change.
1. As the price of the oil change increases, so does the competency, experience, and knowledge of the person performing it.
2. As the price of the oil change increases, so does the quantity of time your technician will spend looking over your vehicle.
3. As the price of your oil change decreases, so does the time the technician spends on the vehicle and the experience or competence of the technician. Its also notable to mention that many shops use oil changes as a “loss leader”, or an underpriced service that can be used to sell the customer other more costly repairs or maintenance items.
Many of us have been in a position where we’ve felt deceived or taken advantage of, especially when we’re out of our element as many of us are when discussing auto maintenance. Unfortunately, for every honest business there is a facility that is looking to maximize their income by taking advantage of our relative ignorance. The strategy at many facilities is to sell as many services as possible to every customer that comes to the facility.
A major signal of a garage that plans to maximize the services they sell, are the shops enticing customers with shockingly low oil change prices. Frequently these shops will advertise an oil change for $29.00 or $39.00, then tag on additional fees and services once the customer’s vehicle is at the facility. If that wasn’t deceptive enough, many of these shops will sell additional items that are not due for replacement such as air filters, fluid flushes, and the list goes on.
Unfortunately these shady business practises can extend to dealers as well. It's not uncommon for dealers to tell new car buyers that they "must" have their vehicle serviced at the dealer to maintain the warranty, this is absolutely not the case. In the province of Ontario, the consumer protection act provides regulation that prevents dealers from voiding your warranty arbitrarily or forcing you to return for service.
Some dealers use perceived authority to sell services and maintenance items that are not recommended by the manufacturer. It's important to recognize that in many cases the dealer is NOT the manufacturer. Many dealers are merely licensed by the manufacturer and garner credibility through the use of the manufacturers name.
There will always be folks who want the cheapest oil change possible, it seems like the best, least painful choice in the short term. Unfortunately the cheapest oil changes can have some pitfalls over time. Some hazards to consider are sneaky sales tactics, poorer fuel economy, premature engine wear, and in some extreme cases complete engine failure (usually due to a collapsed discount oil filter or empty oil sump).
Always check the online reputation of a shop before bringing your vehicle for service. Ask questions about the brands of oil and filter the shop will be using, and Google them. It's also important to ask if there will be any other charges you should expect.
Whatever you choose, be an informed consumer, we are here to help!