Motor oils, how much should you pay?

How much should you pay for motor oil? Are all oils the same? Does branding make a difference? Perhaps you’ve pondered these questions and wondered how much you should pay for motor oil – and how much control you actually have over the price? In this article, we look at this question. Unfortunately, there isn’t a definitive answer – once you’ve settled on an oil specification, how much you’ll pay will often be determined by how you get your vehicle serviced…

The answer to our headline question is both simple and complicated. Of course you should choose the best possible oil for your vehicle, while paying the lowest possible price. But as we’ll see, you may not have as much control over price as you’d like.

What’s the best possible motor oil for your vehicle?

What does ‘best possible’ mean anyway? It’ll be different if you run a new Ferrari or a 15 year-old Fiesta. For each there’s an optimum oil and a range of prices depending on whether it’s synthetic, semi-synthetic or conventional oil, how and where you buy it, and how your oil change is done.

It’s worth bearing in mind, and this depends on your vehicle, that you may be able to switch to a higher spec synthetic/semi-synthetic motor oil and extend the change interval – to get the performance advantages of the higher spec lubricant at a similar ‘whole life’ cost to using conventional oil. Your vehicle manufacturer can help here.

Finding the correct specification is easy

Finding correct oil specifications is easy. Just look in your vehicle handbook to find the chart showing the different oil specifications for different operating regimes. From this, identify the right viscosity grade (e.g. 10w-40) for where you use the vehicle. The manufacturer and oil companies went to a lot of trouble – and cost – determining this specification. Use it.

Look for ways to minimise the price of your motor oil

Now you know the oil specification, you can seek ways to minimise the price you’ll pay – without sacrificing quality with low-end oils. Unfortunately, unless you can buy your own oil, this will be hard. If you rely on a garage to service your vehicle you will generally be at the mercy of their pricing. You can expect high quality lubricants (ask them to confirm what they use), but you’ll pay for them. Some garages will let you provide the oil, but others aren’t so keen. However, if you can supply your own, you’re in a similar position to the do-it-yourself oil-changer.

Do-it-yourself may be one way

Do-it-yourself oil changing gives you more control over the oil you buy and where you buy it. And you can shop around for the best price. But bear in mind that when you buy retail you may not get the volume price advantages that the trade can get. There’s the cost of your time too. And do you really have the skill or inclination to get your hands dirty doing oil changes? However, if this is your preferred route, you’ll find a wide range of oil retailers, including car accessory shops, motoring supermarkets; online oil specialists; and even good old Amazon. Because oil specifications and quality vary, it’s always wise to stick with well-known brands or reputable independent manufacturers such as UK-based Exol.

Make sure your chosen oil meets the required specifications and industry standards (e.g. API – the American Petroleum Institute). And when comparing products and prices, always compare like for like. It’s not always easy when different brands offer different products based on subtly different additive blends and other attributes.

Sorry, but there’s no magic price to aim for

magic price to aim for. Once you’ve identified the correct motor oil for your vehicle, you’ve just got to weigh up the pros and cons of DIY versus professional servicing and explore the possibility of supplying your own oil to a garage. If you can do this, you can shop around for the best price and make sure the oil comes from a reputable source. And if you must rely on a garage to supply oil, make sure they’re using the correct specification – neither under-specced or (expensively) over-specced for your vehicle.

And the answer is…

Compared to the cost of failed engines or gearboxes (and the value of your vehicle), the price difference between lower-quality and top-end motor oils is relatively small. Perhaps the elusive answer lies not so much in worrying about a few pounds or dollars here and there, but concentrating on regular oil changes with the best oil you can afford that meets your vehicle’s specification. And always keeping an eye open for ways to do an oil  deal with your vehicle servicer!