Revised and updated January 12, 2021.
Servicing cars is big business, both in the US and globally. With growing numbers of people driving, and businesses reliant on cars and trucks for transport, there’s always business to be had. The number of vehicles in use has risen in recent decades, with 280 million registered cars, trucks, and SUVs in the US, and every one of them needs its oil changed to avoid costly wear on the engine.
While most auto repair and maintenance is carried out by general purpose businesses covering everything a car might need, oil change has remained as a separate sub-sector of this industry. Oil change businesses, also referred to as fast-lube, let customers get this one part of regular car maintenance done quickly and with the minimum of fuss.
These are often drive-thru businesses and will usually provide an oil change without the need for an appointment. This helps to keep the process quick and easy for customers, and so keeps business flowing. There are over 7,000 oil change and lubrication shops in the US, with average sales of over $900,000 per year.
The US oil change market was worth $8 billion in 2019, with annualized growth of 1.3% from 2016 to 2021. One of the drivers for this growth was declining oil prices, which encouraged people to drive their own cars rather than use public transport or share rides. This led to greater vehicle use and so more need for oil changes.
The oil change industry’s common drive-thru business model has proved to be a benefit in the days of COVID-19. Because customers can often have their oil changed without any direct human contact, it’s been easy for businesses to stay open and keep working. Businesses have moved more toward this model, more frequently using drive-thru and drop-off oil change services to reduce the risk of infection. Expenses to adjust to the pandemic have been small compared with some other industries. Despite this, the slowdown in travel and caution about non-essential contact led to a significant drop in the industry’s revenues in 2020, to $6.8 billion.
The industry is expected to recover strongly in 2021, with 16.9% growth taking it back to its pre-COVID revenues. As vaccinations allow a return to pre-COVID lifestyles and the economy recovers from the shock of the pandemic, people will be driving more and have more disposable income. Some repairs and maintenance can be postponed when money is short, and oil changes are among them. However, cars are such an essential part of American life that this work can only be delayed so long, and the longer an oil change is put off, the more likely that the engine will suffer costly damage.
64.5% of auto mechanic customers are individual households, many of whom are reliant on their cars to get to work, shop, carry kids to school, and engage in leisure activities. As they return to regular driving, delayed oil changes will be carried out and normal maintenance routines restored.
Improvements in how cars are built have created a more long-term challenge for the industry. Many cars can last far longer than before without needing an oil change. This means less frequent visits to these lube shops. The need for these businesses remains, but their core work may see a decline.
To counter this and provide growth opportunities, lube chains have added a lot of extra service options to their agenda, including fluid drain and flushes, wiper blades, tail lights, turn signals, tire rotations, differentials, and more. They are becoming more useful to customers, and less distinct from auto repair and maintenance shops, while still avoiding the parts of that job involving a wide range of experience and expertise or specialist supply chains. By catering to the lower effort end of the auto maintenance market, they provide a less complex business and a more accessible customer service.
1. Jiffy Lube International
Jiffy Lube International is the main player in the franchise segment of the quick-lube chain industry. Today, the company operates as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell within the parent company Pennzoil.
As with most quick-lube chains, the range of services offered has expanded over the years and now includes all kinds of operations in the categories of battery, brakes, engine, exterior and glass, filters, fluids, inspections, suspension, and tires.
Founded by Jim Hindman in 1979 and franchising since that same year, the number of locations has held fairly steady during the past 10 years and currently stands at 2,104 (up from the previously reported total of 2,094), of which none are company-owned and 165 are located outside the US.
2. Valvoline Instant Oil Change
Valvoline Instant Oil Change isn’t as old as the company that started it. Valvoline itself dates all the way back to 1866 as a maker of engine oil (for steam engines in the beginning), additives, and lubricants.
In addition to fast, affordable oil changes, a variety of other services are offered, including transmission fluid, radiator coolant, headlight/tail light replacement, air filter replacement, fuel system cleaning, serpentine belt replacement, battery replacement, air conditioning replacement, tire rotation, displacement fluid replacement, and windshield wipers.
For most services, including oil changes, customers remain in their car during their visit, which has become a key feature during the COVID-19 pandemic. Valvoline sponsors NASCAR racecars, as well as a couple of its own car races.
Founded in 1986 and franchising since 1988, the number of locations has continued marching upwards in recent years from 868 in 2012 to the current total of 1,327 (up from the previously reported total of 1,252), of which 549 are company-owned and all are located in the US.
3. Take 5 Oil Change
Take 5 Oil Change took a cue from Valvoline and offers what it calls “contact-free” service because customers can stay in their car during an oil change – an added benefit during a global pandemic when you don’t want to leave your vehicle or touch anything or spend time in any kind of waiting room.
Take 5 is similar to the other companies on this list in terms of being founded in the 1970s-1980s, but is the new kid on the block when it comes to franchising, which it didn’t roll out until 2016.
When changing the oil, they also do a quick check of other under-hood fluids and replenish as needed, but they don’t offer the dizzying array of other services being offered by their competitors. It will be interesting to see how much the company can grow in a competitive market with its pared-down concept and business model.
Founded in 1984 but franchising only since 2016, the number of locations has expanded rapidly from just 77 in 2016 to the current total of 551 (up from the previously reported total of 344), of which 475 are company-owned and 31 are located outside the US.
4. Grease Monkey
Grease Monkey is the only company on this list where each location tends to also have a carwash (Monkey Shine). Its previous motto of Less Hassle, More Hustle has been replaced with Get in. Get out. Get going.
Besides oil changes, the extensive list of other car-care services includes air conditioning, air filters, alignments, battery, brakes, check engine light, diagnostic services, diesel exhaust fluid, differential service, fuel and emission system cleaning, fuel filter replacement, headlights, lighting, power steering, radiator services, serpentine belt, state inspection, tire rotation, tire services, transfer case service, transmission/transaxle services, washer fluid check and fill, wheel balancing, wiper blade replacement, and windshield repair.
Founded in 1978 and franchising since 1979, the number of locations has risen modestly in recent years from 251 in 2010 to the current total of 369 (up from the previously reported total of 335), of which 120 are company-owned and 66 are located outside the US.
5. SpeeDee Oil Change and Auto Service Center
SpeeDee Oil Change and Auto Service Center offers customers its signature 17-point oil change, but includes an extensive menu of other car-care options, including tune-up services, a/c services, brake services, radiators and fluids, tire services, alignments, fluid exchange, manufacturer’s maintenance, state inspection, smog check, brake tags, maintenance and repairs, filters, lighting, check engine light, and wiper blades.
For nearly a decade, SpeeDee operated as a subsidiary of Midas, but in 2017 it became a subsidiary of Grease Monkey International.
Founded in Metairie, Louisiana in 1980 and franchising since 1982, the number of locations currently stands at 98 (down from the previously reported total of 108), of which one is company-owned and 21 are located outside the US.
An Important Note About Our Methodology
The franchises on this list were ranked according to the number of units in the franchise system. If you are a prospective franchisee searching for franchise opportunities that meet or exceed certain performance benchmarks for sales, profits, and return on investment, please check out this list of America’s Most Lucrative Franchises.