Sunday, December 20, 2009

Going Synthetic

Tonight I made the switch from conventional motor oil to synthetic. I'd been thinking about switching over to synthetics for a while now but didn't want to shell out the extra money for the technologically superior oil. But since school let out I've been in mechanic-mode so I figured now was good time get under the truck and change my own damn oil and make the switch. Now I'm running Castrol GTX High Mileage in my Dodge Ram (107,500 miles).

I've known how to change oil since I started driving, and for the first few changes I kinda liked doing it. Yet as the years rolled on and time grew scarce I began taking my truck to those quick-change shops, or the Tire & Lube center at the WalMart. I figured $30 wasn't too much to pay to have a professional (in the sense that they get paid to do the job) do all the work properly and dispose of the used oil. I'd never had a problem with their work and it gave me 30 minutes to mine the $5 DVD shit-bin for movie gold.

But I've been in mechanic-mode lately due in part to watching two hours of Spike TV's "Power Block" --a block of four shows all devoted to wrenchin': Extreme 4x4, Horsepower (my fav.), Trucks, and Muscle Car-- every weekend for the last month. All those TV shows recommend synthetic oils and I figured changing my own oil would satisfy my "manly" gene and give me a chance to investigate the synthetic hype.

I went to my local auto parts shop to compare the prices of conventional oil (Pennzoil, Quaker State, etc.) to synthetic oil (Castrol, Royal Purple, etc.). To my surprise, a quart of Castrol GTX High Mileage was only a buck more than a quart of Pennzoil motor oil! That, in my opinion, is a small price to pay to go synthetic. Seeing as how my Dodge only needs 4.5 quarts that translates into a $5 difference. Not too shabby. Also while I was at the auto parts shop I picked up a Haynes repair manual for my Dodge Ram. (I felt slightly embarrassed that I didn't already own one, as any do-it-yourselfer needs a manual for their vehicle.)

Before I took the leap and shelled out my dough for the oil, I figured I'd see what WalMart charged for a synthetic oil change; and here's the price gouge that will really blew me away: $55. That's a shit-ton of money for an oil change, especially when one aisle over you can buy 5 quarts of Castrol GTX for $14 and a Fram high mileage oil filter for $7. Add those together and you can do your own synthetic oil change for $21; a savings of $34! That's huge!
So that's what I did. I bought the fancy filter, 5 quarts of the super synthetic oil, drain pan, funnel, shop towel, and a jug of windshield washer fluid (I was dry), and my grand total: $37. Even factoring in the cost of the Haynes manual I still only spent $57, which is $2 more expensive than the synthetic WalMart oil-change, but lands me all those essential shop tools and the invaluable repair manual.

This post probably sounds like a consumer alert piece, and it is a little bit, but if you have the gumption to change your own oil you will save money and get a better bang for you buck. I'll leave you with one last cost comparison: WalMart conventional oil change-$30; changing it yourself oil with synthetic oil and fancy filter-$21. Now that's thinkin' with your dipstick!

The torque rate for a Dodge Ram oil plug in 25ft/lbs. Thanks Haynes!


  1. I hear you about the whole oil thing and getting ripped off. I used to change my oil myself prior to the days at LCU and then have gotten in the habit of paying someone else. I decided I would do my own 60K mile maintenance and save about $300 compared to what the Toyota house wanted to charge. My favorite aspect of the DIY is putting in the Lucas oil in all aspects of our Toyota.

  2. Hi Justin. Long time no talk. I use Mobil 1 Syn and go 10K between oil changes. Even my beemer tech friend says the new 3 series has it's first service at 15K on this oil. Great post.