It’s Not Just the High Price of Gas

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I got a bit of a shock today when I made the run into town to buy some oil for one of my vehicles. I use synthetic, usually Mobil 1 or Royal Purple. The stuff is now selling for almost $10 a quart. I am pretty sure that a year ago this time the same oil was going for about $8 a quart. Even regular oil is much more expensive than it used to be.

A quart of non-synthetic Pennzoil 10w-40 is about $5 a quart.

So, to do an oil change in a car that takes five quarts is now at least $25 for the oil (not counting taxes) plus another couple bucks for the filter – call it $30, assuming you do the work yourself. If you use synthetics, it’s closer to $60 – and again, this assumes it’s you doing the actual oil changing.

In 2008 – all of four years ago – the same quart of non-synthetic Pennzoil cost under $4.

I remember when it was $1.50 or so – not all that long ago, either.

Inflation, speculation – ultimately, these factors are academic. What matters to the average person is that it’s getting uncomfortably expensive to maintain a vehicle – let alone several of them. I’ve got two trucks, an antique car, five motorcycles and a bunch of farm equipment, including a tractor and a riding lawn mower. They all need oil as much as they need gas.

And man, it’s starting to hurt!

I did a little figuring and discovered I’m spending several hundred bucks a year just on oil changes. And I do the work myself – which means the cost would be probably 30 percent higher if I didn’t.

It’s a good thing that modern, fuel-injected vehicles can go longer in between oil changes. If they still needed fresh oil and a new filter every three months or 3,000 miles, we probably couldn’t afford to drive them anymore!

But if you have older vehicles that do need frequent oil/filter changes, you’re out of luck. Out of cash, actually. There’s no good option: Either you accept paying 40-50 percent more to do what is without question the most basic routine service after keeping your tires at the correct inflation pressure. Assuming you can accept it. Or you risk excessive/premature wear – and bigger expense – arising from your failure to do those increasingly expensive oil changes.

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Eric Peters [send him mail] is an automotive columnist and author of Automotive Atrocities and Road Hogs (2011). Visit his website.

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