Delighted to be back to changing my own oil

December 14, 2009 | By | 7 Replies More

Back in 1974, when I bought my first car (a green 1969 Ford Fairlane 500 – see inset), my limited income as a teenager required me to do most of my own maintenance. That included such things as oil changes, as well as brake jobs, replacing a carburetor, and many other parts. I purchased a big manual for my car and spent some long nights in the garage making lots of mistakes and learning from many of them. I also remember the feeling of being self-sufficient and frugal.

1969 Ford Fairlane; Former girlfriend serving as model

1969 Ford Fairlane; Former girlfriend serving as model - photo from 1975

After I got my first full-time job, I drifted away from working on my own car. Until now. Seeing a $27 oil change sign from a distance, I pulled into Jiffy Lube. Only after I pulled in did I notice that this was a special price that didn’t apply to me because it wasn’t 7-10 am. Then, after the Jiffy Lube guy treated me rudely and then told me that my oil change, using basic 5W30 oil, would cost almost $40, I blurted out, “Forty dollars for an oil change?” The Jiffy Lube guy protested, “That includes topping off your windshield washer solution and cleaning your windshield.”

I said, “No thanks.” I decided to remind myself what it’s like to slide under the car and get oil on my hands, and to do physical work, a welcome change from my desk job. I drove to the local O’Reilly Auto Parts store, where I bought enough oil and oil filters for three oil changes for $40. O’Reilly told me that they would happily dispose of my used oil at no charge. I also bought a gallon of windshield wiper fluid, an air filter and some new wiper blades for a fraction of what Jiffy Lube charges. Jiffy Lube specializes in telling you that you need these sorts of things and then gouging you for them. If you don’t believe me, check the Jiffy Lube web site — what does it tell you when a big company doesn’t have the balls to tell you how much they will charge you for standard services until they have your car hostage?


My jacks and a plastic bottom of my old oil

Back at home with a case of oil in my trunk, all I had to do was find my old jacks (a hydraulic jack for lifting and a stand jack for safety), plastic oil pan, funnel, oil filter wrench and a few other tools. None of this is expensive stuff, in case you’re interested in joining me in the Jiffy rebellion. BTW, my Jiffy Lube story is not unique.

One hurdle: it took me about 10 minutes to locate the oil filter on my ’98 Saturn SL-2 (It’s deeply buried under the back of the engine, requiring me to crawl way under). Because it got dark while I was working, I pulled out my trouble light and that made it official: I was now reliving my teenage years and enjoying it immensely. Take that, Jiffy Lube! Added bonus: I now know exactly what kind of oil is really going into my car and that the right amount is going in. Another bonus:  Next time I give one of the cars an oil change, I’ll give my daughters a little lesson about car maintenance–a passing of the baton. Yet another bonus: In less than the time it takes to drive to Jiffy Lube and back, I will have changed my own oil without burning any gas.

Changing one’s own oil is not a big deal. But saying no to old expensive habits and getting back to a simpler, cheaper and self-reliant way of life, one step at a time, can be a big deal.


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Category: Consumerism, Simple living, Technology

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (7)

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  1. Jay Fraz says:

    I've had the same basic experience and that is why I change my own oil. Hell, I can buy the expensive oil and filters and still get it all for much less than Jiffy Lube. If you don't specify (read:pay a lot of extra money) oil places tend to favor the lowest quality everything. These prices are just outrageous. Most chain stores that conduct repairs prices are outrageous. I once had a broken taillight, the cost, $160 + $45 for a half hours labor. Ordered it online and did it myself for $80.00, NO TOOLS REQUIRED!!! One of my belts needed replaced, got a quote for $250 and $200, guess what? Did it myself in an hour for $8.00. The thing that really saddens me is that people who don't know any better end up paying these prices. Spread the skills to your children so when they are young and broke, they won't be tanked by a greedy chain store. I've noticed chain stores have become the worst for charging outrageous fees for repair. Local places tend to fair better.

    Sorry to rant. Back on topic. I personally favor Mobil 1 synthetic myself. Happy you got to relive the teenage experience.

  2. Ryan says:

    It is always nice when you can save money and have the experience of the personal satisfaction of fixing something yourself. If you do ever find yourself needing car work done, or to pay for an oil change, I have found Affton (Stl suburb) to be a great place to go. I have not found a higher concentration of auto shops in St. Louis, so you can consistently get 14.99 or better oil changes and free estimates or even diagnostics run if you shop around a bit.

  3. Brynn Jacobs says:

    Saw this comic today and thought of your post. Careful, you are now a "dangerous man" 🙂

  4. Erich Vieth says:

    Brynn: How absolutely on-point. Do you think that Homeland Security is monitoring me, since I am attacking "the economy" by changing my own oil?

  5. Brynn Jacobs says:

    Erich: Yes, it's a good thing you don't live in South Carolina, or you might be obliged to register as a "subversive".

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