If you ask ten people how often they should change the oil in their car, chances are they will say “every 3,000 miles.” But is this rule of thumb really true?
There was a time when changing your oil this often did make sense, back when motor oils were not as advanced as they are now. In those days, if you left the motor oil in the crankcase too long, it turned to sludge. However, that’s no longer true with today’s sophisticated fully synthetic motor oils.
Under the best driving conditions, some synthetic oils are safe up to 25,000 miles, yet most car owners still have 3,000 miles on the brain. Unfortunately, the only ones pushing the 3,000-mile oil change are those in a position to profit from it: repair shops, quick-lube chains and dealers’ service departments.
The best advice is to check the service schedules in the owner’s manual. Ford, VW, and Porsche recommend oil changes at a 10,000-mile interval, as does Toyota on some engines. BMW says those owners who use synthetic oil can go 15,000 miles between changes. Some companies like GM recommend changing the oil at least once per year, regardless of how much you drive the car. A safe bet is to change it every six months, and have the tires rotated at the same time.
Certain driving conditions may shorten the recommended interval, so it is important to check your owner’s manual for the specifics for your vehicle. Most cars will require more frequent oil changes in heavy duty conditions such as stop-and-go driving, short distance driving, lots of idling, rough roads, or temperature extremes. In other words, if you spend a lot of time commuting in heavy traffic, waiting in long pick up lines at school, or driving like a taxi, your oil may need changed more often. Short trips mean the oil doesn’t get warm enough to trap most contaminants. As a result, brief trips around town count as severe driving conditions as well.
In addition to costing money, unnecessarily frequent oil changes also lead to millions of gallons of extra oil being extracted and disposed of, which can be harmful to the environment. Unnecessary oil changes can be so harmful to the environment, in fact, that California has launched a public service campaign about “the 3,000-mile myth” to urge drivers to wait longer between oil changes.
One of the sources of confusion about this issue is a lack of understanding about oil changes versus oil filter changes. The general rule is: change the oil filter every time you change the oil. That’s true for most modern cars. If you have an older vehicle, you might need to change the filter more often than the oil to keep the engine healthy. The Service Engine light may also be an indicator that the oil filter should be changed. The light means the engine isn’t running as well as it should, so more contaminants may be in the oil. Changing the filter will get rid of the nasty grime and debris circulating in the engine.
The 3,000-mile myth is well and truly busted for modern vehicles 10-15 years old or newer. Technology in cars and oil have improved that much. Check the maintenance schedule in the owner’s manual for unbiased advice – the people who built the vehicle know best. The manual will also tell you what type of oil to use. It’s critical to follow this advice.
To learn more about the best ways to take care of your vehicle for the long road, visit MightyAutoParts.com, a leading provider of quality auto parts to honest auto technicians across the country.