How long does an oil change take? It depends on several factors. Are you going to a quick lube change center, an auto dealer or doing it yourself.
Regardless, 15 minutes is about the absolute best you can expect (and everything has to go perfect), and an hour is likely the worst case unless you go to a dealer service center at a peak time and have to wait in an especially long line.
We outline all of the tips and tricks to help you make sure you get your oil changed as fast as possible, whether you pay someone of do it yourself.
How Long Does an Oil Change Take at a Service Station?
The short answer is: once your vehicle is on the rack, it should take about 15 to 25 minutes. Life is never that simple though. Wait times, additional services needed (e.g., changing wiper blades), and long lines to pay can all slow things down.
Let’s walk through the details.
First, you have to worry about waiting in line. The best times to experience as little wait time as possible on weekdays are 9:30 – 11:30 a.m. and 2 – 4 p.m. Basically, you want to target times when most people are at work.
As far as days to go, Saturday mornings are the worst, followed by Fridays and Mondays. Clearly, Saturday is a day off for most people. On Fridays, many people are in a rush to prepare for weekend trips. Wait times can easily exceed 45 minutes to an hour at peak moments.
Some centers allow you to schedule a time online. This can cut your wait time to close to zero with a good service center.
The second thing to remember is that most quick service lube centers do more than change your oil. While it’s true that attendants multi-task while the oil is draining, these additional “free” services, although welcome, add time.
Here is an example of included maintenance services from Jiffy Lube, a regional chain.
All of quick service lube centers have the right tools, lift bays and experience to change your oil very quickly. For just an oil change alone, 8 – 10 minutes once your vehicle is on the rack is not uncommon for an expert. That is basically how long it takes for the oil to drain. They multi-task all the other services and/or use two attendants.
Lastly, getting an oil change at your local dealer almost always takes longer (on average) than a trip to a local quick change lube center. Why? Dealer shops work on everything from transmissions to brakes and engine repair.
They only have so many people and slots available, and most will not schedule oil changes in advance. As a result, it is easier to get stuck in a long line.
How Long Does an Oil Change Take at Home?
Obviously, the answer is “it depends.” Experienced home mechanics should be able to finish in around 30 minutes. This assumes they have the right tools, parts, collection pans and work space. Less experienced DIY types may require up to 1 hour.
Knowing the process steps involved will give you a good idea of the time required.
- Let the vehicle run for 5 minutes first. Warm oil drains faster than cold oil.
- If you lift your car with a jack as opposed to car ramps, ALWAYS use jack stands. It is not safe to crawl underneath a car supported only by a car jack.
- Unscrew the oil plug and catch the stream of oil in a collection pan. Replace the plug once fully drained.
- Remove the oil filter and rubber gasket (if appropriate) and add a new filter. Pro tip: use the best oil filter wrench available.
- Add fresh oil using a funnel to prevent spillage.
- Pour the old oil into a jug and take to a recycling center when feasible.
- Return the vehicle to flat ground and check the oil level.
Here is a detailed walk through by an expert.
Key Productivity and Safety Tips
Here are some key safety and process productivity tips.
- Keep all of your tools and oil bottles lined up and in easy reach.
- Lift your car safely. That means using car ramps or jack stands. Never rely solely on a car jack. We cannot repeat that often enough. Also, using wheel chocks is a good idea as well.
- Do not use an adjustable wrench (e.g., Crescent) on the drain plug. It is not safe and you can strip the bolt. Use the proper size, boxed end wrench.
- Put some new oil on the O ring (gasket) before applying.
- Hand tighten the filter as along as you can get it sufficiently tight. Some of the best oil filters have non-slip tops.
- Know where your recycling centers are. NEVER dump oil on the ground
- Check oil levels and for oil leaks the first few days after changing oil at home.
Cars.com has a good tutorial on the oil change process in general, including when to add oil and how frequently to change your oil.
Getting your oil changed is just one of those routine maintenance tasks for cars that has to be done. The good news is that while oil changes themselves are not getting faster, the interval between required services is getting longer.
That’s a nice silver lining for people with busy lives in an increasingly hectic world.
How long does an oil change take? Absolute best cases are 15-20 minutes at a quick service lube station and around 30 minutes at home.
Keep the tips we discussed in mind, and your next oil change will be as fast as possible.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How frequently should I change my oil?
The good news is that while oil changes are not getting faster, fewer oil changes are likely needed. The rule of thumb for cars and trucks has always been 3,000 miles or 3 months, whichever comes first. Now, better engine tolerances and better oil extend that to 5,000 to 15,000+ miles. Synthetic oils are on the higher end of the spectrum. BMW states that some of their cars can go 15,000 miles between changes with synthetic oil. Check your owner’s manual and dealer first, and then stay on schedule. However, don’t just assume the 3 month, 3,000 mile rule always holds.
What about older cars?
Older cars have worse engine tolerances and gaps. Even better quality oil may not extend the interval between changes. Always check the owner’s manual. Also, they are more prone to leakage. It is always a good idea to monitor both the oil levels and the ground underneath where you park (check for dripping) to make sure everything is okay after an oil change. This small bit of maintenance is worth it.
What are the biggest complaints about quick change service centers?
They have gotten much better over the years. Today, many offer nice waiting rooms and free wifi. Always check ratings on Yelp, Google, et al to find the best ones in your local area.
That said, the most frequent complaints in our opinion are:
- Long lines at peak hours (remember to try Tuesday through Thursday in the mornings or schedule in advance).
- Up-sell maintenance services that your vehicle may not need (e.g., clean injectors). If you are unsure, do not feel pressured. Keep your cool and do your research. You can always go back and have the service done later.
- Do not let oil fully drain. Some chains are under such time pressure that they do not let all the old oil drain out before replacing the plug. While this can be an issue, it is much more a fear than actual problem in reality.
- Attendants are not real mechanics. This is likely true. However, they are mainly doing basic tasks (see photo earlier in the article) that they have done hundreds of times in the past. Repetition counts, and practice makes perfect.
- Service attendants over tighten bolts and filters. This can actually be an issue. It is worth occasionally checking the drain plug to see if it looks stripped or otherwise damaged.
Why can’t I use a car jack to hold my car?
Simply put, they are designed to lift cars, not hold cars. There are approximately 10,000 jack related accidents each year. Hydraulic jacks can break or lose pressure. Other types of jacks with small footprints can slip. If you’re going the do it yourself route, use jack stands once your car is lifted or use car ramps. Do NOT crawl underneath a lifted vehicle without one or the other.
How much does an oil change cost?
It depends on where you live and the type of oil used. A good rule of thumb is $30 to $50 for a basic oil change process with standard oil. High-end synthetic oil like Mobile 1 will cost more.
If you do it yourself, an oil filter should cost $5 to $10. You can get five quarts of Amazon Basics Oil for $15 to $20. It is definitely cheaper to do it at home if you do not count the opportunity cost of your time. Most people that change their own oil are “tinker in the garage” types who love routine maintenance.
How long does it take to do an oil change the first time?
We would budget at least an hour. The first time through EVERYTHING just takes longer. The biggest issues the first time through are getting the car safely lifted, getting the oil filter off without making a mess and getting the right torque and pressure applied when replacing the new filter. The good news is the process gets much faster with experience. Keep practicing and it will become second nature.