Inflation and the Cost of a Quart of Oil: What's Changed Since 1934?

Inflation, as shown by the persistent rise in prices and decrease in the dollar’s buying power, is unfortunately inevitable. While it's easy to see the rising costs of housing and food over time, we wondered what effect inflation has had on things that are tougher to track from year to year.

With more Americans keeping their cars longer, it's reasonable to assume many of them are still using conventional motor oil. Something just as vital to your engine oil is the oil filter you select. You can learn more about selecting the right filter here. At the same time, many cars are moving towards synthetic oils - you can learn more about synthetic oils here. Motor Oil has seen a big price jump over the last two decades. We created this graphic to illustrate how the cost of a quart of conventional oil in the US has changed over the years and what previous prices look like when adjusted for inflation. Check out what we found…

Oil prices inflation

Using the Consumer Price Index (CPI) calculator, we adjusted prices for inflation to do an apples-to-apples comparison of oil pricing from 1934 to 2022. Motor oil has never been the same price as gas, yet both products have the same core ingredient - crude oil. It should be reasonable that the rise and fall of pricing for motor oil, gasoline and new cars would move in tandem. According to our research, this was true until recently. In the past two decades, and especially in the past few years, pricing for both has changed drastically.

In 2009, conventional motor oil averaged $2.49 a quart, but gas prices were often under $2.00 a gallon. Compared to the 1980s, the pricing isn't at all aligned. In fact, the conventional motor oil prices for 2022 suggest a widening gap in the price of gas and new vehicles vs. motor oil. In the past few years both gas and motor oil prices have climbed. Why? This is a big topic of discussion on forums and news sites.

The most commonly suggested reasons for increasing motor oil prices are:

  • Oil change intervals have increased. So there is less demand for conventional motor oil, which reduces production and increases cost.
  • The costs of additives is ever-increasing.
  • The costs for refining and recycling compliance are increasing.

Any or all of these reasons may contribute to the higher price. The truth is, we don’t know exactly why conventional motor oil is now averaging $7.29 a quart while unleaded gas is averaging $4.25 per gallon. What we do know is this is just one way inflation affects the rising costs of car maintenance.