Expensive Oil Changes Are Here to Stay

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Compact car shoppers may not be too happy when their budget-friendly car requires a $40 — or more — oil change. Automakers including Honda and Toyota are almost exclusively switching from well-known 5W-30 and 10W-30 oils to low-friction, and pricier, 0W-20 engine oils. The slippery low-friction oils helps squeeze every last bit of fuel economy out of the engine, but their synthetic and synthetic blend man-made origins raise the cost of routine maintenance.

Cars.com received its first taste of 0W-20 oil — not literally, the car was serviced at a dealership — when the 2013 Subaru BRZ long-term tester's first oil change totaled $76 with full-synthetic 0W-20 oil. The pricey oil isn't just for sports coupes like the BRZ. Our other long-term tester, a 2013 Honda Civic, is a best-selling car every month and requires the exotic-sounding 0W-20 oil.

Changing a 2013 Honda Civic's oil is roughly a $40 service with the recommended blended synthetic 0W-20, which is much easier to swallow than the $76 for our BRZ that uses full-synthetic oil and more of it at $7.69 per quart. Most owners are probably more familiar with $20 or $30 oil changes from express-oil-change service centers. The switch to 0W-20 engine oil has been a gradual transition over the years; a 2007 Toyota Camry four-cylinder recommends 0W-20 or 5W-20, for example, and many inexpensive cars require the expensive oil.

"Every new Honda and Acura vehicle currently on sale recommends using 0W-20 oil except for the SH-AWD version of the 2013 Acura TL, which recommends 5W-20," said Honda spokesman Chris Martin in an email.

Breaking down the 0W-20 code, "0" is the oil's viscosity at startup when the engine is cold, "W" stands for its winter certification, and "20" is the viscosity at higher temperatures. Lower numbers designate thinner, lower-friction oil. An additional perk of the thinner oil at startup comes with improved cold-start emissions, according to Martin.

Pennzoil's technical data for its 0W-20 full-synthetic oil claims a 1.2% improvement in fuel economy over 10W-30. Not everyone should go out and ask for 0W-20 oil at their next oil change to improve fuel economy. An engine's recommended oil is still the best bet for maintaining a warranty.

"The limited warranty [Honda] is not automatically voided by using another oil viscosity, but if there is a problem with the engine that is linked to use of the wrong oil type, the cost of that repair may not be covered by the limited warranty," said Martin.

Dealerships aren't the only ones with 0W-20 oil, so do-it-yourselfers horrified by $40 and $70 oil changes can find 0W-20 on the shelf at auto parts stores. Pennzoil and Quaker State Technology Manager Jeff Hsu said their low-viscosity 0W-20 engine oils — available only in full synthetic or blended synthetic — are currently available for consumers to purchase in major automotive parts and supply stores in quart and gallon quantities.

Hsu fully expects the trend of automakers requiring 0W-20 oil to continue in the quest for better fuel economy. Here's the good news: Traditional 3,000-mile oil change recommendations are being phased out for 5,000-mile or more frequencies. Our BRZ didn't recommend an oil change for 7.5 months or 7,500 miles, whichever comes first.

Oil changes may be more expensive with the required 0W-20 weight oil compared to conventional oil, but only having to service the car once or twice a year keeps annual costs to nearly a wash.

Related
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Comments 

Tony

So, my mazda3 has written in the manual, for US use 0w-20/5w-20. For Mexico 5W30. Let me tell you, this means that in winter you may need to go with 5-20 but in summer 5-30 is fine. so it is going to use 3 more drops of gas. I ran 5K miles on 5-30 and didn't see any difference between that and 0-20 in fuel efficiency.
just read the manual and read between the lines.

Shorebreak

I like the way the manufacturers/dealers send you coupons for an oil change. In fine print it says on the coupon "For conventional oil only". When you go to the dealer to use the coupon you find that the price is $20.00 higher for the full-synthetic specified for your vehicle.

George

The difference between 0w-20 & 5w-20 is very small.
Just hit up Costco, and get Mobil1 5w-20, and wait for the sale so you get 6 quarts for less than $30.

Highdesertcat

If you can do the oil and filter changes yourself, you'll save on labor and the disposal fee.

Government regulations are such that even a store-brand multi-vis oil meets or exceeds all the standards of the auto manufacturers (SG, SH, etc).

We use Wal-Mart's Tech 2000 oils and lubricants in all our fleet vehicles and they work just as good as the national brand oils from Pennzoil, Valvoline, Quaker State, Castrol, Shell, Texaco, Chevron, etc., but cost a whole lot less.

I use Castrol multi-vis in all my vehicles and buy it where ever it happens to be on sale, like Wal-Mart, O'Reilley's, Carquest, Costco, Sam's Club. Look for the ad-flyers for deals.

I order filters, hoses and belts through Amazon. Works for me. Free shipping. No tax.

There are only a few oil blenders across the US that make multi-vis oil and they supply ALL brands.

Oil is oil, as long as it meets the standard's rating of the automaker.

If you can't do the oil and filter changes yourself, or have no place to do it, you're at the mercy of places like Jiffy-Lube or your dealer who will charge you whatever the market will bear.

Steve

Misleading alarmist title aside..... article fails to mention synthetic lasts 10,000 miles between changes as opposed to 5,000 miles for convention oil. So true cost is only $10 per which is worth its weight in gold in saved time and aggravation.

Plus you can do it yourself for $25 like I used to do with my other Honda. Bought Mobil 1 synthetic 5w-30 for $21 at Costco (on sale) and $4 for filter off Amazon. You can also get the oil & filter for free off Amazon if youre willing to work for it. There are several websites that give away Amazon GCs for doing something as simple as surfing. I've made about $500 so far.

But my dealer will be doing my first oil change because they sent me a coupon for a free one.

Steve

My dad bought a new Toyota Camry which comes with 2 yr 25k free maintenance so his first two oil changes were free. Saved him about $150.

Tony

I wouldn't go 10K miles on one oil. 7K max for synthetic. The oil itself lasts - true. But the additives in it are gone way before. Plus, contamination from water, gas, etc. Plus, filter is now what? - dirty.

This is why I would use regular oil when possible (speaking of cost) - because you can go up to 5K on modern regular oil. And more often you have fresh oil is better because new additives will start working on our engine again. Yes, synthetic is thinner and sometimes you have no choice but...

Steve

Toyota recommends 10,000 mile intervals for their synthetic. The oil life monitor on my 2013 Civic reads 40% and I've driven nearly 6k miles so it also recommends 10,000 miles.

I did 10,000 mile intervals with Mobil 1 on my previous Honda and it made it to 200,000 miles without a problem.

So 7,000 is just a personal preference not fact based.

Highdesertcat

Just because an automaker recommends oil changes at certain intervals doesn't mean that you should strictly follow those.

If you look further into it you'll find that those manufacturer recommendations are only for the most gently used vehicles, like Sunday drivers, whereas MOST vehicles would fall in the severe-duty category with stop-and-go driving in real-world traffic and/or short hops on cold engines.

I still go ~3000 miles on conventional multi-vis oils and ~5000 miles on fully synthetic oils for all my vehicles, before changing oil and filter.

A lot of that has to do with the fact that I live in the desert where environmental conditions are hell on cars.

OTOH, a friend of mine who puts less than 5000 miles on ALL his vehicles COMBINED each year, changes the oil in his vehicles once a year whether it needs changed or not.

Whenever he travels great distances, like on trips or vacations, he rents and leaves the maintenance worries to others.

Steve

What's your point? You didn't present 1 evidence that 10k interval is bad for the engine. You're no different than someone who changes oil every 2000 miles and tells everyone to do the same because he never had a problem.

I also live in the desert and never had a problem with 10k miles. And I abused my car but never was stranded.
I know people who change every 15-20k and never had a problem. Also people who don't change their oil but top it up and change the filter only.

And why would Toyota recommend 10k if here was evidence of early engine failure? The last thing they need is another public relations nightmare.

I've come to realize when it comes to oil changes, it's like raising children. Everyone has their own idea of what the right way of raising children is and think everyone else is doing it wrong.

Highdesertcat

Steve, I don't care when you change your oil, if ever.

We have 26 vehicles in our Emergency Services fleet, ranging from Fire trucks down to a 2012 Grand Cherokee the Fire Chief uses.

All the vehicles get used, almost daily, and certainly once a week if not responding to an Emergency in our isolated area in the mean time.

We change oil in all the vehicles on a staggered schedule because we need them to last. Some of the Fire trucks are more than 30 years old, but they still run good.

I don't have to present any evidence that changing oil more often than recommended is something most fleet managers do IF they need their vehicles to last.

Just because Rental agencies and the GSA rarely change the oil on their fleet vehicles, it doesn't mean that individuals should go the max, like some Toyota owners did.

Toyota already had one "sludge built-up" nightmare with their engines because people did exactly what you do. They deserved it.

I consider my personal vehicles to fall into the "severe use category" as outlined in the User's Guide and Maintenance Manual, yet I don't keep any of MY personal vehicles much beyond the Factory Warranty period. I buy new and trade off the old ones or sell them outright, usually before the warranty expires.

Let me re-emphasize again: "I don't give a hoot if or when you change the oil on your cars" and as such I have nothing to prove.

Other readers may be interested in how some conscientious Fleet users interpret the oil change recommendations.

You seem to have a point to prove. I don't!

Prove away!

Tony

Steve, you just got lucky. This is it. One mechanic did an experiment in which they changed oil 10K, 3K and 6K. They said, there was not much difference between 3 and 6K but 2 of 3 10K cars developed engine problems.

I know one mechanic who sent oil for analysis and they said, @10K it is brutal.

Same thing with no-maintenance transmissions. They took tests of trans fluid and they said it lost lots of original properties by 50K.

Right now manufacturers are in the new race - low maintenance race. First, they removed timing belts, then they made no flush transmissions. And now they will tell you - change oil 10K. I want you to lift your valve cover and see how dirty it is under there. And you simply lucky that there wasn't build up in some critical place. But if you change oil regularly this will not happen, even if your car 300K miles

James Donnaught

I'm in Steve's camp - also owned a Honda Civic, also used Mobil-1, also changed it at 10k miles ... and eventually sold the car with 220k miles on it, still running like a watch. If most of your miles are on freeways, like mine (and probably Steve's) were, there's relatively little stress on the oil.

If you're facing hard duty (heavy traffic, mountains, desert heat, towing a boat) then yeah, it probably won't work for you. Use common sense, and do what needs to be done; Steve's point is that you *can* go up to 10k, not that you *should* do it.

Steve

"Toyota sludge build up"

You mean the minor issue where about 340 owners (out of millions) complained about some sludge because they didn't do maintenance? This wasn't a Toyota problem as Audi, Chrysler/Dodge, Saab and VW owners reported the same problem. Chrysler/Dodge actually had close to 3000 complaints, which is nearly 10 times that of Toyota. But of course people only blame Toyota.

Anyways, this was remedied with new engine design and the use of synthetic oil.

Again, I have yet to see any proof saying that 10k mile intervals leads to engine failure. "A mechanic did a test" isn't proof unless you name him and post his findings. Sounds like one of those you heard it from a friend of a friend of a friend type of stories.

As a I said, I live in the desert and abused my previous car. I would mostly do short trips,tow trailers and take it on non-stop 400 mile trips in 100 degree desert couple times a week. Never once did it break down or even overheat. I also got 23mpg which is excellent for a 10 year old SUV with 20mpg rating. I changed oil every 10k miles. So this isn't "I heard it from a friend of a friend of a friend"... it's from my own experience.

I will also keep the same 10k mile interval with my '13 Civic because I've had great experience with it and it's also recommended by the manufacturer of my car. How can you go wrong?

As A Tire house employee I've overseen many Oil Changes. Here's some tips when changing Oil. Do not add to little or to much, and dispose of it properly. service stations and recyclers will recycle it for you

Highdesertcat

Just as a follow up: I changed the oil on my wife's 2012 Grand Cherokee today.

It had been 3189 miles since the last time I changed it and the oil held a lot of black soot in suspension, as compared with the new Castrol 5-30 I replaced it with.

Also the pleated yellow oil filter was downright black. I also replaced it.

According to the Owner's Manual the oil and filter need to be changed every 8000 miles.

BTW, the 6qt oil cost me <$20 at Wal-Mart and the Purolator oil Filter $6.70 at K-Mart. I saved more than that by doing the oil change myself.

Some people on this thread seem to push for longer oil-change intervals.

I'll keep doing it my way, thanks. Works for me!

That Jeep set me back ~$49K. Maybe if I drove a less expensive vehicle I'd stretch oil changes to 10K, although that's not likely either.

Expensive motoring will be staying here for the foreseeable future. I don't see a single aspect of car ownership that will become less expensive as time goes on.

mark

well i still have a peugeot 307 sw d.t which i use as a taxi and its on 234000 I have always serviced it my self useing castrol and total oil and have done this for the past 6 years.the change of oil and filter has been between 10000/12000 which the manual says every 12000 and it still runs like a dream

Frank James

My Honda dealer used a synthetic blend (0W-20)for my 2012 Civic and the oil leaked in several spots on my driveway. I switched to conventional oil and the leaks stopped.

Too much misinformation. First of all, cheaper 0w-20 semi-syns are already available. Second, the "0" doesn't stand for cold (unstarted) engine viscosity, it stands for cold WEATHER viscosity- as in 0F or colder. Finally, the trend of automakers recommending 3000 mile oil changes is not being phased out because that trend simply doesn't exist.

bare

As above So much uniformed 'info'.
Nothing on the Internet generates such babbles as OIL does.. Astounding actually.
Pour points is the reason for the first weigh # Sooo IF you live in Subarctic conditions and you need your oil to be thin so as to allow your frozen battery do crank the engine.. Then 0 weight oils make some sense.

Manufacturers are merely playing the overall Fleet Mileage numbers Game. They are legally mandated to do so.. plus their Marketers like silly number claims Regardless of How they get there.

Hammer

$28 for an oil change and filter at my local Toyota dealer twice a year regular oil $60- total no problems with my 8 year old Tacoma yet just Tires. That said my Mazda CX5 is looking for $60+ every 6 months 5K synthetic oil. Be very careful Mazda your customers do own other vehicles. Point Toyota wins again.

You should change full synthetic oil not often than every 10k miles. Do not waste money for changing more often that 10k miles

Joseph

The oil cost twice as much but last twice as long. So what. In a day where we are spending a few hundred bucks a month on gas who can really bothered by spending these small differences in the cost of oil changes

J. J.

Interesting discussion. But do any of you guys know that many rental and fleet companies never change the oil in their vehicles for the length of the contract?

Usually, the first oil change ever done in taking in a rental or fleet vehicle for resale is when the retailer preps it for sale as a program car.

zack

JJ, you are absolutely correct. I recently rented a mercedes e class and was shocked to get a maintenance message in the gauge cluster stating that the car was 5,300 miles overdue for an oil change. On a new $50k car!

Sean

You guys who change your oil at 3000 miles are simply wasting resources and have some sort of maintenance fetish. My 1993 Nissan Altima has 283,000 miles and I changed the oil with standard oil every 5000-6000 miles. The engine is still strong. My 2007 Honda Fit has 192,000 and the oil was changed when the maintenance minder reached 0% (usually around 7000 miles.) That was with conventional oil, but now that I'm using synthetic I'm doing it every 10,000 miles.

Sean

Highdesertcat-- unless you sent your used oil to a lab for testing, your method of determining oil life leaves something to be desired. I find it hilarious that I'm regularly lectured by oil change fetishists who don't keep cars nearly as long as I do.

peter

Huh lucky BRZ owner. We paid $88.83 for an oil change in our 2013 Forester

John

There are many documented used oil analysis reports online that show major name-brand full synthetics that were changed at 12,000 miles, but could have stretched to 15,000. It's not opinion, it's science. Just changed the oil in my 2013 Civic today for the first time at 10,500 miles and replaced with Mobil 1 0W-20 Advanced Fuel Economy. Also, threw on a Mobil 1 Extended Performance filter. I'll be good to go for another 10,000 miles. Just saw that Mobil 1 recently came out with an Extended Performance 0W-20 synthetic. It's not available in stores locally yet, but it should be by the time I'll need my next change. I will switch to that, as it protects to 15,000 miles.

KenV

I just bought a new 2013 Civic LX automatic in early January and have almost 4k miles on odometer and MM is giving me the "service soon" message and oil life indication is @15%. I thought it would go to at least 5-7k miles before needing first change, especially since it is using the Honda synthetic blend oil the car came with. Am I safe to go to 5k, or get the oil change now?

BobE

KenV, you should check your owner's manual. When you buy a new car, the engine is still in "break-in mode." The first oil change probably should have come at maybe 2-3k miles. After the first or second oil change, everything should be fine and you'll be good to go with longer oil change intervals.

kevin McCune

Hmmm.each to his own on this,fast miles at steady state don't stress the oil as bad,short dirty miles are worse,I remember when people used to add STP at every short oil change and credit it for long engine life,but the thing about oil is it does a few other things then its primary function,I'll be happy when the day comes that we don't need to do oil changes(already here,if you don't own a car)-Kevin

Kelly

My boyfriend does the oil changes on my VW Bug. And I help him. We also work on his car when it needs it. It is something we enjoy doing together.

It is pretty messy, but the clean up afterwards sure is fun.

Steve

The first oil change on my 2013 Civic came at 7000 miles as the dealer I purchased the car from sent me a free oil change coupon and was expiring that day. Otherwise, I would have gone 10,000 miles as the oil monitor said 30% life left.

I just changed the oil myself with Mobil 1 0W-20 which I purchased from Walmart for just $25. Pepboys was selling a quart for $9 which comes out to $45 for 5. Dealer charges around $80 for synthetic blend oil change which isn't as good as Mobil 1 which is full synthetic. Including the tire rotation which I also did on my own, saved around $90.

Steve

"The first oil change probably should have come at maybe 2-3k miles."

Too early. Oil from the factory contains a special break-in oil and should not be changed this early. 5000 to 7500 is perfectly fine.

Mike

have a new prius,maint light came on, took to dealer for oil change, said that they changed oil at 15k instead of 10k. my manual says 10k so i am going with the people that MADE the car!

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