Engine Oil Changes: Every 3,000 Miles or Not?

| October 10, 2012

mechanic checking oil It’s time for an oil change and you need an auto repair shop with convenient hours. DexKnows listings are a great place to search for one close by, but here’s something to consider: Is that oil change really due?

Car owners have been given the same advice for longer than anyone can remember: Get your oil changed every 3,000 miles. It can be a hassle, but we do it all the same. After all, who doesn’t want to protect the investment they’ve made in their car or truck?

But there are those who argue we’re being misled and wasting time and money on unnecessary oil changes. Who’s right, and what is the best way to care for your engine?

No one knows more about your vehicle than the people who built it. That’s why the first place to look for advice is in the car’s manual or handbook. You can also just call the dealership and ask about the recommended oil change interval. And when you do, you might be surprised.

Let’s say you have a 2009 Ford parked in your driveway. Did you know that Ford advises that the oil be changed every 7,500 miles? (For older Fords, a 5,000-mile interval is recommended.) Other manufacturers have similar advice. Hyundai suggests a 7,500 interval for their newer vehicles while Toyota goes with a more conservative 5,000, unless using a synthetic oil, in which case 10,000 is okay.

So are we all victims of a gigantic scam?

Not at all. What’s happened is that engine and motor oil technology have advanced. New car and truck materials are harder — and manufacturing is better — so engines wear less. Also, chemists have developed lubricants that do a better job of coating surfaces and are more resistant to breaking down.

But there are still personal situations one must consider. A soccer-mom minivan leads a very different life than a sedan used for a long distance commute, and both could be driven in a wide range of climates, from arctic cold to dusty desert. These different usage patterns mean that oil degrades at different rates. (Frequent short journeys in cold weather are hardest on an engine.) So, oil change advice has been geared to the worst case scenario. Going too long between oil changes can damage an engine. Changing it more often than necessary only damages your pocketbook.

To remove this uncertainty, some vehicle manufacturers have made oil condition monitors a standard part of their engines. Most Chevrolet models now come with an Engine Oil Life System that monitors driving conditions and turns a light on when an oil change is due. Testing by Edmunds.com has shown that even these systems are pretty conservative, with many miles of oil life remaining when the light comes on.

So how about real research on the subject?

The State of California studied how long engine oil can last and found that there is no need to change the oil any more often than recommended by the manufacturer. To back this up, they’ve launched a website, http://www.checkyournumber.org, encouraging car owners to cut back on oil change frequency. One of the reasons is that it cuts down on the amount of oil that needs to be recycled. The site states that nearly 40% of the pollution in America’s waterways is from used motor oil.

Here’s the bottom line: Engine oil needs to be replaced because it breaks down over time. However, advances in engines and lubricants mean that for most of us, the 3,000 mile rule is obsolete. What’s a car owner to do? Call your local auto dealer and ask what the manufacturer recommends. You might save yourself some time and money.

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Category: Auto Maintenance, Autos

About the Author ()

After twenty years in the automobile industry the craft of wordsmith called. Putting down the wrench, Nigel picked up a keyboard on which to express his passion for all things automotive.