Regular oil changes, as defined by your owner’s manual, is one of the best ways to lengthen the life of your car and the efficiency of its engine. Don’t skip oil changes to save a few dollars, the thousands of miles you’ll add to the engine’s life will dwarf the cost. That being said, there really isn’t much difference in the product and service offered at a discount oil change place and your dealership, despite what your dealership may say! This PSA is anyone who uses discount oil change services like Wal-Mart or Jiffy Lube. After you get your $15-$20 oil change, double check their work before you leave or you might be in for a nasty surprise.
A while back my wife took her 2004 Honda Civic to the local Wal-Mart for their famously economical oil change. With a price under twenty bucks for conventional oil, you couldn’t beat it. After the oil change, she drove home and it wasn’t until she left for work the next day did we see an oil stain in her parking spot. When we popped opened the hood, we saw the oil cap sitting on the engine. I should’ve taken a picture because my wife’s daily commute is about 40 minutes and it’s a miracle the cap was still sitting on top of the engine (it may have been wedged by the hood, we didn’t check but there wasn’t a dent).
Everything under the hood was covered in oil spray and she lost about a quart of oil. We couldn’t believe they forgot to put the oil cap back on (then we realized the technicians are probably pressured to do things as quickly as possible, so it’s not that surprising that they miss something once and a while).
Check Their Work…
So, the next time you get an oil change at those discount places, do a perfunctory check that everything is in order. Check that the oil cap is on (I know it sounds ridiculous but it happened to us), check the ground when you pull out for signs of oil leaks, check your oil level via the dipstick, and check the service work report for inconsistencies. You won’t be able to detect detect outright fraud  but you can ensure there isn’t any carelessness.
… Or Do It Yourself
I change the oil in my own car because I prefer to use synthetic oil (mostly because you change it less frequently, but there are other benefits). You can get synthetic oil changes at the discount places but the price magically jumps up to $50-60 for the base oil change, a price point that makes it more economical to change it yourself. I also drive a car that offers very easy access to the filter (the filter was impossible to reach in my last car, an Acura Integra) so changing the oil is straightforward. The only downside is the mess, but you do get the satisfaction of doing it yourself.
But, if I forget to put on the oil cap or tighten the oil filter… I have no one to blame. 🙂