vintage motor oil labels

I Remember When a Quart of Oil Cost $2

It’s mind boggling when we think about how some things have escalated in price over the years while other consumables have become dirt cheap. The cost of purchasing and owning a car gets more expensive every year but would you believe that a quart of oil, excluding the last decade, hasn’t budged too much when adjusted for inflation?

This infographic, created by, shows the price of a quart of motor oil going back more than 80 years. The pricing data was found in public library records, and the inflation adjustment was done using Bureau of Labor data.

“When we put this data together, we were amazed to see relatively flat pricing for motor oil between 1934 and 2007,” says Matt Mylan, parts director at “However, for reasons that aren’t obvious, the price of a quart of conventional motor oil has nearly doubled in the last decade compared to the historical average.”

After adjusting for inflation, motor oil prices have been close to $2 per quart for most of the last 80 years.

motor oil prices adjusted for inflation

“I’d like to say I know why conventional motor oil costs twice as much today as it did even 10 years ago, but I have no idea,” says Mylan. “I have some theories – a regulatory change, perhaps – but it really is perplexing.”

“In the early days, motor oil was often sold in 5-gallon cans. These cans were sometimes made from metal, and sometimes had cardboard sides with a metal spigot. It took many decades to get to the plastic quart bottles we use today.” says Mylan. “Lately, we’ve seen oil sold in pouches. Considering how much motor oil packaging designs have changed, this chart could look really different in another 10 years.”

An analysis of the cost of a quart of oil and how inflation has affected the price is HERE.

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