When we’re all driving EVs, oil changes will be a thing of the past, but until then, they’re a minor annoyance that we have to deal with far too frequently, especially if we own old cars. So here’s how to save cash by doing the cheapest possible oil change.
If you factor in time, the cheapest oil change may be one that you get from a lube shop that can buy oil in bulk. But I’ll never advocate handing the responsibility for your car’s lifeblood to another person, so this article is about how you can change your own oil for dirt cheap. It’s just my personal method, but I thought I’d share it.
My go-to move for the past few years has been to get oil from Tractor Supply Co. Oh yeah, that’s right — I have found that the least expensive way to procure motor oil locally is to head to a store that’s known for selling chickens, tractor parts, cowboy hats, and trailer axles. Just look at how inexpensive this engine lube is:
$10.99 for five quarts! That’s $2.20 per quart! Even Walmart’s “Super Tech” brand can’t touch that bargain. Of course, to do an oil change, you also have to snag an oil filter, too. I myself am a stickler when it comes to oil filters; I’ve watched hours worth of oil filter tear-down videos, and I’m convinced that there’s quite a disparity in quality among different brands.
At the current moment, based on the tear-downs I’ve watched recently, my favorite cheap filters are O’Reilly’s “Microgard” filters and Walmart’s “Supertech” filters. I used to buy Purolator and Wix filters, but since my fleet has grown, I have to save a buck or two to prevent myself from ending up in the poor-house.
If I do an oil change on my 4.0-liter inline-six-equipped Jeep Cherokees or Grand Cherokees, I’ll need six quarts of oil. “Traveller” brand oil from Tractor Supply Co. costs $2.49 for a single quart; add that to the $10.99 I’d spend on the five quart jug, and I’m in $13.48 before tax. I’d then head to Walmart, snag a Supertech oil filter for $2.97 plus tax, and all in, I’d have spent around $17.50. That’s dirt.
If I did an oil change on my 1979 Jeep Cherokee Golden Eagle — a vehicle that only needs five quarts — I’d snag my oil for $10.99 plus tax, a Microgard filter for $5.49 plus tax (Walmart doesn’t offer a Super Tech filter for the AMC 360 V8), and again, all in I’d spend about $17.50.
What a deal!
It’s possible that you can get oil cheaper online, but waiting for shipping isn’t fun. Also, it’s worth mentioning that, if you need synthetic, Costco’s affordable Kirkland brand seems to be popular. Since I’m adding caveats, I should mentions that you’ll need a few tools and a tiny bit of know-how in addition to the $17.50.
Okay, let’s talk about quality. You may be concerned that these fluids/filters are going to compromise your engine’s longevity, and they may — it depends on which car you’re dealing with. But I’m not concerned; the filters are high-quality, as shown in the tear-downs, and you can take solace in the fact that they’re made by established oil filter manufacturers.
As for the oil? Many say the Traveller oil is the same stuff that you might find in a brand-name bottle. If that’s not enough to put you at ease, just realize that both Traveller and the name-brand stuff are API certified, and the Petroleum Quality Institute of America ran a Virgin Oil Analysis on Traveller and found nothing alarming. Also, there are Used Oil Analyses out there showing that the cheap Traveller oil can do its job well. Certainly on my old vehicles whose oil I change ever 4,000 miles, this Tractor Supply Co oil is sufficient, and a significant improvement over the lube available three decades ago.
Back in 2017, I wrote an article about how Blackstone Labs — a company that analyzes oil to understand engine wear — found that even cheap modern oils protect engines quite well. I was never a fan of that story’s headline — “Why Expensive Oils Are A Waste Of Money” — because it’s far too simplistic and not strictly accurate, but throw “sometimes” after the word “are,” and I think it works. Sometimes a cheap oil really is all you need. Sometimes it isn’t; you’re going to have to make that decision for yourself.
I admittedly tend to go with Shell Rotella oil for my really old vehicles (brings the oil change total closer to $30), since I like to have high-zinc content on old motors without cam rollers. But I’ve been running cheap conventional oil in my 4.0-liter fuel injected Jeep engines for over a decade, and it’s been working well. I plan to continue doing so, and saving bundles of cash thanks to my favorite supplier of tractor parts.