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Consumer Rant – Oil Change Interval

by Yau-Man Chan, Feb 22 2009

(Some makes and models of cars mentioned have been omitted to protect the guilty!)

I’m going to sound like a conspiracy theorist – it’s my grumpy rant about oil-change interval for our much beloved automobiles. I don’t know why, but I get terribly bugged by this every time I happen to buy a new car – which I did last month.  I just feel liked being “bullied” into not making the right decisions about our environment and my pocket book.

For years, the recommended oil change interval for gas-powered cars in the US has been every 3,000 miles.  This 3,000 miles interval is so well programmed into the psyche of the driving public that for many, drivers, mechanics, and dealers alike, it’s sacrosanct.  I’m trying to break a superstitious habit.

Let’s start with the fundamentals – why we need to change the oil in the engine?  Because oil gets “used up.”  This means that after being in the engine crankcase, churned at high temperature by the crankshaft and circulated throughout the bearings, it will eventually lose it’s lubrication quality.  This lost of lubrication is due to contamination from the engine (anti-freeze, unburned gasoline, metallic particulates from the bearing) and physical destruction of the oil molecules due to intense heat and sheer forces which the oil is subjected to.

But why 3,000 miles?  This number has been considered the useful life of the oil and everyone who is alive today seem to know that number from “way back when I first learn to drive!”  Some 30 years ago, it was brought to my attention that we in the US may have been taken for a ride.  A visiting scholar from the UK decided to buy a car while he and his family were in the US so they could see the country. He bought the same car (make and model) as his own at home as he’s familiar with it. As the shade-tree mechanic at that institute, I was asked to help him check out his find. His first question after scanning through the US version of the owner’s manual was why the recommendation to change oil very 3,000 miles whereas the identical model he owned in the UK had a recommendation of 7,500 miles interval. Oh really?  I did an informal survey among our overseas visitors from Germany, Japan, UK and France and indeed everyone said that their oil change intervals at home were anywhere from 5,000 miles to 10,000 miles.  So, was their oil better than ours?  Is their driving conditions less demanding?  Are their gasoline (petrol) cleaner? The answers were no, no, and no.  Car owners outside the US were just not brainwashed with the superstition that oil only lasts 3,000 miles.

15 years ago – I bought myself a brand new luxury car and the recommended oil change interval list in the users manual was every 7,500 miles!  Wow.. finally?  But no – after signing all the papers for the purchase, I was introduced to the service manager and the first thing he reminded me was to make sure I bring the car back every 3,000 miles for an oil change! No, no, no.. I protested – the manufacturer recommended 7,500. I also found out that the same car sold in it’s native country of Japan (but under a different make and model name) had a recommended oil change interval of 15,000 kilometers (almost 10,000 miles.)  So, nice Mr Service manager started to explain to me why I should ignore the manufacturer’s recommendation and get the oil changed every 3,000 miles. It’s CHEAP INSURANCE to protect an expensive car.  I was not convinced – and assured him that I will bring my car back to his dealership every 7,500 miles for an oil change – and since they have very good record keeping, I don’t expect them to hassle me about my warranty if anything goes wrong with the fine engine during the warranty period.  (It also helped that their charge for oil change was only $10 more than the neighborhood quick-change outfit and they thrown in a free rental car for the day and they wash my luxury-mobile before I pick it up – so it worth taking it to them.)  But after each oil change, they put a sticker on my window to bring the car back after 3,000 miles – which I duly ignore and brought the car in again at 7,500 mile interval plus or minus 200 miles.  They never harassed me again for a couple of years until a new service manager came on board and he started all over again about bringing the car in very 3,000 miles.

In the last 50 years, technologies we encountered in every aspects of our lives have improved greatly – so why not the automobile industry?  Shouldn’t oil have a longer useful life now than 50 years ago?  Shouldn’t the oil filters be better at removing contaminants from the oil then 50 years ago?  Shouldn’t metallurgy have improved the engine bearings? Shouldn’t engines have a much better combustion control systems to keep uncombusted contaminates off the crankcase?  The answers are of course yes, yes, and yes!  But we are being bullied and intimated by the purveyors of more frequent oil change proponents who have a lot to gain by our acquiescence to their scare tactics?

To satisfy my own curiosity and to shut Mr Service Manager up, I decided to actually send my oil to a lab to be tested.  There are many laboratories that will test used oil and will give you a list of contaminants and a report of the general health and well being of the engine from which the oil came from. It only cost about $25 and a 4 oz sample of your oil. Many large fleet owners use these labs rather than depend on mileage or hours of operations to determine when oil should be changed. (Google “oil analysis” and you’ll find these companies.)  When my luxury mobile had about 120,000 miles, I sent in a sample each at 3,000, 5,000 and 7,000 miles after the oil change.  The results that came back was astonishing and very educational.  It showed that all the 3 samples had pretty much identical metallic contamination – very very low – indicating very little wearing of the engine.  They all indicated no anti-freeze – indicating that the head gaskets were good and the integrity of the engine block.  The oil analysis report also indicated no gasoline contamination – indicating that the piston rings and combustion metering was perfect. Most importantly, the report indicated that all three samples showed very little change in viscosity over the period of use, indicating that the oil had not deteriorated.  I shared the reports with the service manager, buttering him up with kudos for the fine engineering of the brand’s car engine. He was satisfied that I’m not ruining the car by changing oil every 7,500 miles – I claim that I could have gone another 7,500 miles with the state of the oil they just poured out.

But the saga continues.  At 200,000 miles, with the car in almost mint condition and engine  purring like a kitten, I traded it in for a Hybrid. (I missed my 14-speaker, power-everything luxury-mobile but changing from a 15 mpg to 50 mpg commute-mobile was good for my pocket book and green-conscience.)  My new hybrid came with a factory recommendation of 10,000 miles between oil change.  Hallelujah – amazing – a manufacturer finally stepped up to the plate and is willing to say that oil chemistry, engines control and fluid filtering technologies have improved and we don’t have to waste oil changing it so often when it’s obviously not needed.  But guess what, after the first 10,000 miles with the hybrid, when I brought it in for its first oil change, I was accosted by the service manager who tried to convince and cajole (more like cohere and threaten) me into bringing it in for oil changes every 3,000 miles! No.. No.. NO.. I protested – unless he can show me a recall notice, service bulletin or service manual addendum from the manufacturer, I will stay with the recommendation printed in the users manual. So, I duly took the hybrid in to the dealer every 10,000 miles for the oil change and they duly slap a next-service reminder sticker after each service to come back in 3,000 miles, which I duly ignore!

Last month, I succumbed to the ultra-cuteness of the Smart Car “fortwo” model (even the model name is too cute!) and bought one.  The overjoy salesman was more than eager to tell me all the great things about the little bugsy looking two-seater – the highlight of which was that it only needs service (ie oil change) every 10,000 miles.  I starred at him with a look of incredulity!  “Yea, that’s what you and the manual say, but what would your service manager tell me?” I hissed.  So, we walked over to the service manager’s office and I asked him directly to which he replied “we do what the service manual says and if it says oil change every 10,000 miles, then every 10,000 miles it is.”  Now, that’s different.. but we’ll see. I only have 950 miles on the little thing and when I bring it back at 10,000, I know if he really meant it.

So, if I were to make this 3,000 mile oil change nonsense into a conspiracy, who is perpetuating it and who benefits from perpetuating it?  Every good conspiracy theory has to have a beneficiary (usually the US Government, Big-Pharma, etc) The three obvious suspects are 1) Oil Companies, 2) Car manufacturer and 3) Oil Change service industry including car dealerships.

  1. Oil companies are one of the least beloved industries in this country so it’s tempting but as I see it, we cannot hang this one on them.  Yes, they’ll sell more oil if we change more often but they can charge more for longer lasting oil.  In fact many brands proudly tout that you can leave their oil in for 25,000 miles and more. It is in their interest to flaunt how good their oil is and give customers more confidence in using their brand.  They make money charging 5 times more for oil that will last 3 time longer.  It’s good profit for them.
  2. Car manufactures are recommending longer and longer intervals between oil changes.  Intervals of 5,000, 7,500 mile intervals are very common and many are recommending 10,000 miles intervals.  They understand that their engines are much better made than 50 years ago with higher quality material, more accurate fuel/air mixing resulting in cleaner burning engines.  Since they have to underwrite the warranty for their engines, it is in their interest to recommend the longest possible interval they can statistically justify.  So, if they recommend 10,000 miles you can be assured that it will be good, for the penalty is on them to fix a bad engine at a cost to them financially and more importantly, their reputation.
  3. Oil Change businesses are the only ones to lose if you change your oil less often. As car engines become more and more reliable; as computer technology took over more and more of the engine control, there is less and less things that are repairable in the engine. The modern automobile engines are now so complicated and computerized that most of the problem can only be diagnosed by specialized computers and software, specialized for a particular make and model of the engine. This means that dealers are doing most of the repairs but even then, with the reliability, their main income stream may well be the “routine” maintenance, oil change being one of them.  They want to scare you into bringing your car back for more “routine” maintenance.  The street corner gas station has long gotten out of the repair or maintenance business.  The “quick-change-while-U-wait” is the fast-food equivalent for the auto-industry and is entirely dependent on routine maintenance.  They really really want (need) you to visit them every 3,000 miles to stay in business.  In addition to changing oil, they will also try to sell you additives for every liquid in your car.  They will try to convince the naive and uninitiated to buy the additives and come back more often for  oil changes by showing them how “discolored” the oils are compared to new clear right off the can samples. How else can “Quicklee Lube” charge only $19.95 for an oil change?  Note: discoloration of your engine oil after even a mile of driving is not an indication of anything special!

Seriously, I don’t know if there really is a conspiracy perpetrated by the oil change businesses.  It is really up to us consumers to rid ourselves of this superstition that oil formulated by laboratories with 21st Century know-how and used in engines with advance electronic management can only be good only for 3,000 miles. The manufacturers know better – go with their recommendation for they have everything to lose by recommending too long an interval.  If there is a problem with what they recommend in the owners manual, they will have a service bulletin issued to the dealers and an amendment to your manual.  Don’t waste oil – yes, I know they get recycled but why waste the resources to recycle more oil than is needed.  And especially for your pocket book and inconvenience, why change oil 2 or 3 times more frequent than is really needed.

End rant ..

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103 Responses to “Consumer Rant – Oil Change Interval”

  1. Thank you!
    I’ve long suspected the same thing and you’ve done a super job, especially with the chemical analysis of the used oils.
    Bravo!
    Thanks 10^6!
    Rich

  2. Freddie says:

    This is a great story, and I would immediately feel proud of myself for being frequently behind on my oil changes except for the fact that my car was built in 1996. I could argue that I’ve been ahead of the curve in my delinquency, but after reading this I started wondering if there was a gradual improvement in car engines in the last 50 years, or if there was a landmark period where engine technology made enough of a leap to effect oil efficiency. I’m pretty sure the most recent engine revolution happened after 1996, but I guess I should just check my owners manual and see what it says.

    But it shouldn’t matter anyway, because my favorite part of the oil change sticker on my windshield is that it always says to return after 3,000 miles, OR 3 MONTHS! So I guess if I only drive my car once a week for less than 10 miles a week, after 3 months my oil will get lazy and bored from lack of use and need to be changed out for the sake of a happy engine.

  3. MadScientist says:

    Ahem. 150,000km is a wee bit under 100,000 miles. Perhaps you meant 15,000km? Of course if you’re reading european numbers you might see 15.000km instead – wouldn’t it be awful if you had to change the oil every 15 km – not to mention the ‘.000′ seems to imply that it’s absolutely critical that you change the oil at 15km.

  4. Matt says:

    I’m not trying to defend the whole 3,000mi thing, but having lived in England and Japan, I have notice that the life of cars seems to be much, much shorter in those countries. Cars seem almost disposable over there. Maybe just the fact that Americans seem to drive their cars quite a bit longer justifies the more frequent oil changes? Doubtful, but just a thought.

    • Jeff says:

      What part of England did you live in? I just returned from a 3 year assignment there and the oil change intervals for the two GM Europe cars that we owned were 15K or 1 year. While there I commented many times on how many more older cars you see on the road than in Illinois where I am from.

      Jeff

  5. MadScientist says:

    Well my car gets a change every 6000km; about 3750mi. The car’s 20 years old and still going. The shaft seals are weeping a bit but I don’t dare replace them – for such an old car it leaks less oil than most. I don’t trust most auto mechanics though so I tend to change the oil and do most other work myself. The rare exceptions are when I simply haven’t got the tools, required skill, or patience. For my car, when it does get an oil change the oil is already pretty opaque. My boss tells me I can run the car for 10,000km before an oil change, but I’d rather drain oil from the sump and not some form of tar. So I think the 3000mi thing is still sensible. For my bike it’s a different story; if I followed the owner’s manual I’d be washing the chain every weekend and changing oil every month. As it is, I change oil as I do with my car and the bike oil comes out pretty clean still.

  6. SionH says:

    I get my oil changed when my car has its annual service, so for me, about every 25,000 miles. I’ve never had a problem with the car related to the engine, only brakes and tyres and the odd blown bulb. Toyota. Love ‘em.

  7. Skad says:

    As a former mechanic in the U.S. Army I can tell you that they do use a lab to test their oil (virtually every base has an oil analysis lab). Even with the amount of heavy use it was not uncommon for vehicles to go over a year without having their oil changed. In addition to less oil changes it allowed for many problems to be identified early such as metal, water or coolant in the oil. Seems to me that this is a perfect opportunity for a new business model to compete with dealerships or oil change shops…

  8. w_nightshade says:

    Thanks for this, Yau-Man. Not only is this an excellent treatment of the subject in its own right, but it is always good to see examples one can use to educate a layperson about critical thinking in our everyday lives (anti-vaxers get me upset, UFO- and Ghostie-ologists are boring to me, and I can’t stop laughing at creationists). Cheers!

  9. Jason R says:

    We just bought a high MPG Honda and the dashboard has an indicator for oil life. It gives it as a percentage and it got down to about 60% after ~5000 miles. I’d be curious to know how that sensor works and how the percentage is calculated.

  10. LovleAnjel says:

    I know growing up my dad taught me to change the oil every 6,000 miles (I grew up in the 80s/90s). When I bought my ‘first’ car in 2001 (before then I had used family hand-me-downs) the dealer told me it was 3,000 and just blurted out “When did THAT happen?! Isn’t this a better car than my 1980 Ford Grenada?” It took years to get my husband to come around to the fact that even 7,000 miles is not too long between changes.

  11. Milton_A says:

    Check out synthetic oil. A representative of Mobil told me that Mercedes-Benz ran tests on Mobil1 and concluded that they would recommend 12,000 oil changes while using that product.

  12. Yau:
    Call the guys at PBS’s Car Talk and chat them up on all this. It’ll make for a great podcast! Your rationality based approach is refreshing!
    Richard Drumm The Astronomy Bum

  13. Amsoil says:

    Contrary to belief, there is not a lot of companies out there touting the 25,000 mile oil change. There is only one and that’s Amsoil. I use this oil and change it once every 25,000 miles. My gas mileage has gone up 4 MPG on the current car I have after switching. I’ve seen numerous vehicles use this oil going anywhere from 300,000 to well over 900,000 miles with only 1% wear on the engine. I think it’s absurd that anyone would get their oil changed so frequently. The thing is, you also need to use an oil filter designed to last 25,000 miles to go with that oil and Amsoil makes those as well. I change my oil about 4x every 100,000 miles. This oil is perfect for fleets or leased cars where people want to spend the least amount of money and get the largest amount of protection and savings.

  14. Yau-Man Chan says:

    Thanks MadScientist for catching my “zeros” hanging out.. corrected.

  15. LOL says:

    @Amsoil
    “the thing is, you also need to use an oil filter designed to last 25,000 miles to go with that oil and Amsoil makes those as well.”

    thank you for vendor lock-in.

    • Vendor lock-in? You can change your engine oil at 25,000 mile intervals if you use the appropriate oil and filter, but only one company among dozens actually has the brains and balls to manufacture and distribute such products, and you whine about vendor lock-in??!! Why don’t you whine about the dozens of oil and filter manufacturers who make the lowest quality products they can get away with, and then snow-ball you into thinking they are doing you a favor?
      Yeah, it is vendor lock-in. They didn’t pick to be the only ones providing the right stuff…. they just are. Lock me in all day long when the quality and marketing is right.

  16. autoengineer says:

    You’re right. I’m a powertrain engineer for an American auto company. Our dealer council had significant input into maintenance intervals in the 90′s. It was quite common to see different requirements on European vs. US vehicles with identical engine content. In the EU cost of ownership is a large contributor to the purchase decision. Not so in the US. Hence there was much greater incentive to report and advertise longer service intervals in the EU (particularly in the UK).

    As for the US, the opposite was true. Most customers are conditioned to “3000 miles” and cost of ownership is not a purchase consideration. By recommending (argument by authority) the more frequent service interval dealers enjoy not only robust profits, but also higher showroom traffic. Think about it, if you can get your customers to visit your showroom three to four times a year your chance of repeat purchase is improved and you can develop a personal relationship with your customer. And make a little more money.

    Regarding the dash oil life indicator, I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but there is no “oil life sensor”. It’s purely driven by mileage. If you have a 10,000 mile service interval, 60% oil life remaining means you’ve driven 4,000 miles. The technician resets the timer as part of the service call. There’s no magic.

    Finally, Amsoil = scam. If there was ANY product that would give me 4 miles per gallon (abd 25K service interval) I’d release it across every vehicle I design. The problems is that when we independently test these products, they all fall short.

    Excellent work sir.

    • J Michaels says:

      Most of what you wrote is correct and has meaning, When it comes to your crack about Amsoil, you don’t know what the hell
      you’re talking about. Check out the specs man, that’s what a “real” engineer would do.

  17. oldebabe says:

    Yau-man, exactly, and glad to hear a discussion re. Altho not a mechanic or mechanically inclined, I’ve always suspected that the 3,000 mi change was superfluous, a waste of time and $, and I go 5-6,000 mi before a change, and simply ignore mailings, etc. from the dealer on every car I’ve owned. My current 1997 Jeep Cherokee (6, w/4 wheel drive) with not the best mpg, has 150,000 miles, and going strong, tho of course some repairs and maintenence along the way…

    Amsoil: are you saying “numerous” vehicles last 300,000 to 900,000 miles? I’m very skeptical of your claim.

  18. tmac57 says:

    Richard Drumm The Astronomy Bum : Click and Clack (Car Talk) have been on this case for some time. They routinely tell people to change their oil per car maker’s recommendations which usually vary from 7000 to 10,000 miles nowadays.
    I liked Skad’s idea of a new business model for oil analysis. It would be an evidence based approach that could make good business and environmental sense.
    One thing that might be lost in all of this though, is that sometimes frequent trips made to the oil change depot can help spot other problems, such as loss of fluids, low tire pressure etc. that many neglectful car owners might overlook.

  19. Yau-Man Chan says:

    Just a note about getting oil out of the engine to be analyzed. As I mentioned there are many labs doing oil analysis and I like the business model of getting car owners to do it as a part of routine maintenance. What I didn’t mention in my blog is how difficulty it was to extract 4 oz of oil without getting all oily and dirty or end up draining a quart !!! Picture yourself lying prone under your car with a wrench to loosen the drain plug while holding a bowl to catch enough oil – before you know it, you have oil dripping down your elbow and sleeve! Only die-hards like me would want to do it! I tried using a tygon tubing to take it off the small opening for the dip-stick but it’s not any easier. If your oil-filter is bolted facing up, you can just remove the filter and pour some oil out of the filter (it holds 8-12 oz) but in most cars, getting to the filter is knuckle-scrapping operation in and of itself! So, here’s a gadget one of you can make and sell to us car geeks – an after-market spigot to replace the oil-drain plug!

    • Aloha GR says:

      Still looking for a simple way to obtain small oil samples w/o any mess??? Check out Fumoto Valve – just what you’re looking for and been around for years. I use them.

  20. Patrick says:

    Very interesting stuff. I bought a Civic Hybrid a few years back, and the manual recommended an oil change every (I think) 5,000 miles. I just kind of assumed was because of less strain on the engine than non-hybrid cars.

    I’ve always been a bit lazy about getting my oil changed and just this morning was kind of getting a little down on myself for not having done it in a while. Now I don’t feel so bad!

    I don’t think it’s a “conspiracy,” but it’s certainly is a myth that service providers may see no reason in correcting. It seems plausible to me that the large chain oil change providers (Jiffy Lube, Q-Lube, etc.) might set their own standard, based on an unchallenged myth, and everyone else follows suit, because they either don’t know better or just figure “Hey, that’s the cultural standard.”

    Good stuff! Thanks Yau-Man!

  21. gk says:

    my honda has the sensor too. I think the car is nearing 20k miles and i’ve changed the oil twice and had it for nearly 2 years.

    I think it’s combination of mileage and age that they use to determine how long the oil will last.

    We drove the car ~2k miles over the holiday and the minder went from 100 to 90%.

    Thank you for writing this. This is indeed one of the stupidest most annoying scams that goes on in our country. It’s bad for so many reasons.

  22. Engineer says what? says:

    Might be worth your while to look into the actual engineering behind this stuff. I absolutely (as an engineer) agree that most of the marketing gimmicks surrounding the 3k mile marker is hogwash, but it does need clarifying. Most automotive oils (non synthetics) will incur viscous breakdown with cyclical heating almost immediately…and it will continue to failure depending on its flash point and “your driving style”. The main element that causes breakdown is heat. With a common flash point for most oils around 390 degrees F, the best way to lengthen the time between changes is keeping engine temperatures within operating ranges and to minimize unnecessary cyclical stressing.

    How? Keep your cooling system up to par. Routinely check your thermostat, water pump, and radiator. Avoid Barr’s Stop leak. Don’t drive aggressively (keep your RPM’s low and steady…think highway driving). The reason marketing has branded the 3000 mile oil change is based on a factor of safety. Not every driver is a calm and easy going driver who can maintain their car.

    I for instance, drive like a fricken maniac. I love downshifting and hitting the rev limiter for giggles, but I also understand that doing so requires me to maintain all engine fluids on a more frequent basis.

    Other factors to consider. As modern engines are getting more power from smaller displacement, they require more heat to do so. That is why you will see most newer cars using sythetic or synthetic blend oils that have higher flash points. Do not skimp out on synthetic if it is OEM standard! It will last longer too!

  23. Anonymous Coward says:

    One thing to remember: never ascribe to malice what you can explain by incompetence.

  24. Oil Can Henry says:

    This article is all well and good for newer cars and engines, but what about people driving 1979 Datsuns and 1982 Chevys? I do all my own mechanical work on my vehicles and I can tell you truthfully that an 80′s Chevy 350 with semi-shot valve seals and worn rings needs an oil change every 3000 miles. ;)

  25. infidel says:

    I’m itching to buy one of the Tesla sedans. No oil changes ever again!

  26. gingin says:

    I always wondered why after going 3,000 miles or 3 months after an oil change my onstar monthly diagnostics always said I still had 75% or so oil life left.

  27. Awesome post… I’ll be linking back to this on my blog. It’s an issue that has always bugged me!

  28. Yau-Man Chan says:

    To Patrick: Check your service manual – my 2004 HCH manual list 10K miles as the recommended interval for “normal” driving condition and unless you are using you car as a taxi in Manhattan, you are driving under “normal” condition.

    To AutoEngineer: thanks for the info – I’ve never looked at it from the marketing perspective – now it makes a whole lot of sense why the different recommendation between EU and the US.

    To Oil Can Henry: After your next 3K oil change, send a sample to be analyzed and see if the oil really is at the end of its useful life! Black cruddy looking oil does not necessarily mean it needs to be changed. For many older cars, just changing the filter and topping off every 3K miles is more than sufficient.

  29. David says:

    Thank you for taking the time to conduct those informal surveys and getting your oil tested as various mileages. This was a great experiment. You should consider posting this on myscienceprojects.org – I have been directed there several times from Reddit, Google, and other sites for many interesting proofs (like my girlfriend’s 21st birthday jello shot recipes!). I’m sure even more people would get to read about your helpful experiment if you submitted it there as well. Knowledge is power. Thank you.

  30. Robin says:

    This is interesting. I bought a Mini Cooper last year, and it comes with a 3 year service agreement. Under that agreement, they will only change your oil every 10,000 miles (or once a year). The guys on the message boards HATE this. They’re dead set on the 3,000 mile thing, and often change their own oil in between scheduled maintenance. I’m going by what Mini tells me, and I’m about to take my car in for her first oil change. I guess we’ll see if their cars last longer than mine! My old car was a 1986 Nissan Stanza Wagon. I changed the oil every 6 months or so, and it was about 20 years old when I sold it.

  31. Mike says:

    Thank you for that… I have also been made to feel guilty for going 5k between changes.

  32. Ton says:

    I’ve noticed tube stations in the US while in Europe we’ll have quick repair shops, but not specialised oil change shops.

    Being European and driving Italian cars (Alfa Romeo) I can tell you that the oil change requirements that are still being passed on to consumers must be fron the 70s. My Mercedes 200 from 1979 needs an oil change every 10 thousand KM. But my 2007 Alfa Romeo 159 needs an oil change every 30 thousand KM, or every 2 years!

    Either American engines have not improved in the last 30 years, or you’re being shafted on a massive scale.

  33. Ton says:

    tosses L up (lube stations)…

  34. Adam says:

    Very well-written article. Thank you!

  35. Yonda says:

    An oil change after only 3000 miles? You Americans are crazy. Modern cars are so well engineered that even the manufacturer recommendations are overly pessimistic. You could drive a new quality brand non american car for ten years and you would lose no oil and it would still be clean.

  36. Max says:

    California’s Integrated Waste Management Board had a whole campaign about this.
    http://www.3000milemyth.org

    That website lets you look up the manufacturer’s recommendations for your car.

  37. Max says:

    California’s Integrated Waste Management Board had a campaign about this.
    http://www.3000milemyth.org

    That website lets you look up the manufacturer’s recommendations for your car.

  38. Bryan says:

    I agree with the 7000-10000 mile mark for oil changes, and even then its debatable. I’ve used Royal Purple synthetic in street cars and racecars (saw 12hp/14lb-ft torque increases with it over castrol) and very little metal/degradation in the oil over a SEASON of racing on one motor. RP is a little pricey though but if you only change your oil once or twice a year, it looks pretty damn cheap. You’d be surprised how good of shape your oil is in when you change it.

  39. Donny Griffin says:

    I have a 1994 Chevy Camaro V-6, standard transmission. The oil has been changed every 10,000 miles since new, using Castrol Synthetic. The car has 340,000 miles and never any engine problems. The dngine has never been into and still uses no oil. I am a firm believer in synthetic oil and 10,000 mile intervals for changing.

  40. Dojo Man says:

    The recommendation I’ve seen usually is 3,000 miles OR 3 MONTHS.

    As I happen to have a very short commute, it’s the 3 months that hits first — often when I’ve driven fewer than 1,000 miles, nevermind 3,000. So, my question is: Is there any reason for the 3 month suggestion? Does it get contaminated sitting in there without the engine running?

  41. asad says:

    You’re an idiot and a liar.

  42. Francois says:

    I live in the US and have just bought a Mercedes SLK350. The the recommended oil change interval is 13,000 Miles…

  43. rza says:

    as an ase certified mechanic i cant call a total bluff on this article, however ive seen a large number of vehicles come through the shop that havent had their routine maintenance done and it certainly negatively affects the overall life of the car.

  44. Cliff says:

    Had the same argument with the service manager. Why in Canada are we told to get our oil changed every 3000 kilometers while the exact same vehicle can last 3000 miles across the border. It’s the Canadian dealerships and Oil change business picking up a little extra cash by having you come in a little earlier.

  45. Jeffrey Moeller says:

    Does oil change = filter change?

    How does the filter life compare with the oil life?

  46. Paul Lysiak says:

    A lot of inaccurate and misleading information in both the article and the comments. Built in oil change interval meters, are usually based on some sort of sensors or calculations, more sophisticated than mileage interval. How long between oil changes depends on the car (quality of the engine, how old, inherent characteristics, etc), driving environment (driving habits, weather, if the car gets warmed up sufficiently, etc.) and the quality of the oil (syn vs regular – huge difference, oil filter capacity and life, that little two letter code before the viscosity rating has been changing over the last 50 years – that is a indication of product improvement in the oil). The lab tests he referred to are a nice start – but simplistic. (Maybe he just left out a bunch of things because he didn’t understand them?)

    When to change the oil? – when the blow bys and contaminants start to damage the engine. When is that? Anywhere from 3,000 to 20,000 miles. The simplistic answer? Ummmm 3,000 or 12,000 or 20,000 miles. It depends on the variables listed.

    I don’t consider myself an expert, but I was an engineer in a tribilogy (the study of friction) and lubrication lab for two and a half years. Personally, i put synthetic oil in my cars once a year, get 12-16,000 miles on them. I also change the oil filter every 3-5 months – not sure if that is even really necessary. Today regular oils are definitely WAY better than oils of 20 years ago. In a good, tight, quality engine very long intervals are possible – but depending on the other variables, losing an engine is pretty expensive compared to an oil change.

  47. Greg says:

    If you want to read more definitive information, do a web search on “motor oil bible” and/or “3,000 mile oil change myth”.

    If you want really long oil change intervals check out “bypass oil filters”.

    The same applies to the “the annual anti-freeze change myth”. Your anti-freeze doesn’t wear out. I haven’t changed anti-freeze in over 30 years. I see the car makers are adopting long term changes, at least with my wife’s 2007 Ford. You may want to add a water pump lubricant or rust preventive occasionally, but I don’t even do that, with no adverse effects.

  48. Frye says:

    Interesting, but not a lotta fact/ discussion of chem makeup of oil… discussion of additives, how “oil” is engineered… what it does in the engine (clean, cool, lubricate)… I understand that it may be a way to increase traffic through showrooms (for those consumers who actually trust a dealership)… but understanding the components of oil (it’s not really something that just comes out of a hole in the ground… but is rather painstakingly engineered with different components/ additives… and can vary quite a bit).

    Anyway… you may not “have to” change it, but isn’t it just cheaper to change it and not have to worry about build up of acids inside the engine, changing viscosity, blow-by crud(technical term) or crud scraped off of the piston walls and into the oil (as it’s supposed to work)?

    Might wanna look at site: bobistheoilguy.com for info about lab testing of oil at oil changes which can tell you which internal components my be wearing down based upon the particulates found in the oil… but then again… maybe it’s just cheaper in the long run to drive a car into the ground and not worry about the wear inside the engine ??

    I’ll keep changing my oil (using synthetic… changing it at 10K intervals – using dino oil at 3K).

  49. Richard says:

    Yau-Man….there is a way to get just a small amount of oil out of an engine but it takes 2 people and a shop vacuum. Remove the oil cap and put the nozzle of the shop vacuum (switched on of course)over the hole. When you remove the drain plug the vacuum on the top of the engine will prevent the oil from draining out. Break the seal of the shop vacuum just slightly on the top of the engine and the oil will slowly begin to flow out. I spent my late high school and early college years working at a Jiff Lube and this was a trick we would use to replace a leaking drain plug without draining the oil out of an engine.

  50. tmac57 says:

    rza:”that havent had their routine maintenance done and it certainly negatively affects the overall life of the car.” I think Yau’s point still stands here because routine maintenance as defined by the car maker’s is usually 7k to 10k miles not the “recommended” 3000 by the oil change people. They do give lower figures for cars driven under harsher conditions though, so the bottom line for me is read and follow your car’s manual.

  51. autoengineer says:

    Richard, putting a Shop Vac on your engine is a really bad idea. You’re putting a significant pressure differential across the cam cover seals and gaskets, front cover gasket and crank seals. Any pressure differential above 2 psi puts the rotating and static seals at risk. This is why designers include crank case ventilation. If you crack any of the joints (or invert the seals) you’re asking for an oil leak down the road.

    Unfortunately the Jiffy Lube customer isn’t going to associate his or her oil leak with a poorly performed oil change. They’re going to blame me, the manufacturer.

  52. Skad says:

    This is how we did it in the army:

    http://www.polarislabs1.com/Vampire.htm

    Some tubing is needed but it is simple and works well.

  53. WOW, go mr. chan, we need more posts like this! I was worrying abut my oil change, don´t know what the service manueal says but 3000 miles is just a waste of my time and of resources.

  54. Rachel says:

    I loved this article! When I bought my Escort 10 years ago, I actually read the manual (shocker!). It said I needed to change the oil every 3,000 miles if I was towing or doing “extremely heavy” driving, and if I was driving normally I should change the oil every 5,000 miles. I asked the mechanics when they recommended that I have the oil changed every 3,000 miles why the manual said every 5,000 then?
    They stared at me with incredulity. It was obvious they had never looked at any of the owner’s manuals for these cars, and were just as shocked to find someone who HAD looked at the manual. They simply had never paid attention – this is what they were taught, this was the standard that “everyone knew” and they never questioned it.
    20, 30 years ago when 3K miles was the standard, our oil wasn’t nearly as good as it is now – I remember as a child my father thinking about adding this “new, variable weight oil – 10W40″ into our car. It can take an entire generation to remove established thinking like “change your oil every 3,000 miles”.
    I must admit my motives for changing my oil every 5,000 miles wasn’t nearly as altruistic: I was looking for a way to save money! :-)

  55. bobby b says:

    In a previous career, I directed lubrication-needs surveys and lubrication-product testing for industrial machinery. I’ve been working on cars, rebuilding engines and whatnot, since I was 13. Moreover, I like slippery stuff. So, let me just add a few points:

    1. 3000 is a figure put out to cover the safe average. Live in a dust bowl? Drive your car for seven minutes each day (and thus never heat up the oil enough to clean out moisture)? Think the best way to warm the car on a cold day is to floor it immediately? You’ll want to change more frequently. Treat your car well? You can do it less frequently. But 3000 is still a good average.

    2. Basic human psychology. If you absolutely need people to change their oil every 15,000, tell them they must do it every 3000. You’ll still fall short on average, but cars will run longer.

    3. I can put in a synthetic, such as Amsoil, in place of a non-synthetic, and easily – easily – gain more than 4 mpg. Of course, I live in Minnesota, and the difference lies in the flow characteristics of the two choices in cold weather.

    4. I change my oil every 3500-5000 miles. I change the filter at the same time. I only use synthetic oil. When I tear into an engine, I can see the difference.

  56. Hazel says:

    I would like someone to comment on the TIME interval requirement, i.e., 3,000 miles or 3 months, whichever comes first. I now drive my Subaru very little, less than 1,000 miles in 3 months, albeit in-city driving mostly. Do I change the oil every 3 months, wait for more than 9 months to reach 3,000 miles, or wait even longer for the generally recommended 7,500 miles in the manual? I contacted Subaru customer service online, and it was changed to 3,000 miles in view of my driving habits.

  57. Maria Marques says:

    The global economic crisis looks “constructed” . Can Skeptics comment about it?

  58. Ryan says:

    I collect vintage snowmobiles, and I have some anecdotal evidence about how much better oil is nowadays. On a ’70s sled, the maintenance literature and decals on the machine say to run a 20:1 gas to oil mixture (these are two stroke engines where you run oil in the gas). Old snowmobile oil cans will say the same thing. Modern oils recommend usually 50:1, and I’ve had several mechanics tell me that’s what should be run even in the old machines when using modern oil.

  59. disdaniel says:

    Great post! Glad I ran across it.

    I just want to point out the downside to not changing your oil…it can lead to engine siezure–your car stops, you need a tow, then you have to replace engine.

    I’m speaking from semi-personal experience, my mother was/is oblivious to gages–she’s run out of gas more times than I can count. But somehow we were all surprised when she ran out of oil! Even worse was the fact that she ran out of oil the very next year! Ugh never seen my dad so mad! (It was the early 80s and she was driving a van–well before mini-vans came along.)

  60. tenshi says:

    The 3000 mile oil change interval is CORRECT for conventional oil. That is if you want to keep the engine in good shape. Conventional oil tends to sludge the more time you burn it, and even changing your oil every 1000 miles you will always leave some old oil inside the engine which will eventually sludge and stick to engine parts. Changing your CONVENTIONAL oil every 3000 miles will eventually keep this oil residue to a minimum. NOW synthetic oil is a different story. Synthetic oil will never sludge no matter how much you burn it BUT it will loose its properties. If you do not want to change your oil every 3000 miles I suggest you buy synthetic oil. Mobil 1 sells one that can provide protection up to 15000 miles which I have tested personally and it is really good. With synthetic oil you can change your oil anywhere from 5000 to 7000 or even the 15000 miles but it all depends in how you drive and what you drive. Also, engine parts have NOTHING to do with the oil you put in your car, oil will behave how its suppose to no matter what. And by the way car companies do not care about what oil you put in your car or oil for that matter. Car companies do not benefit from the oil industry no more than we benefit from drinking water. Just because we have to drink water does not mean we get paid for it. Also SYNTHETIC oils have little to non crude oil so synthetic oil prices do follow demand rules. While conventional oil is mostly made up of crude oil…

  61. I’ve thought the miles-per-oil change thing was marketing chicanery since I first drove in 1970 and now I am vindicated. I heard different numbers from everyone. All these decades I thought I was merely being curmudgeonly.

    “Maybe just the fact that Americans seem to drive their cars quite a bit longer justifies the more frequent oil changes? Doubtful, but just a thought.”

    We Americans drive our cars longer because everything is further apart here than elsewhere in the world.

  62. JonA says:

    This was no rant. This was a very well thought out and researched argument. Don’t apologize for yourself!

  63. Anurag Somani says:

    Thanks Mr Chan!
    Insightful review indeed. Here in India many scrupulous dealers will insist on oil change every 5000 Km (2500 miles approx) warning/threatning of grave damage to the vehicle if not adhered too.
    And the best of it is that if your oil is still in good condition they’ll bill you for the complete oil change and just top it up instead of changing it completely!
    I now stick to my manual for a 10000 Km (5000 miles) oil change. Somewhat less than US because of the relatively dusty road conditions here. And I make sure that I stand right besides the servicing guys to oversee a “complete” oil change! It all happens only in India :(

    • CaseyJ says:

      Did you mean to say “unscrupulous” dealers? Or might this be a different sense or meaning of the word, in Indian English?

      Myself, I speak only plain ‘Merican, if you know what I mean. So, I need to ask.

  64. Frank Spicer says:

    One concern that has not been brought in this discussion is oil consumption. Many of the newer engines have oil level monitors to alert the consumer when the oil needs to be topped up. In older vehicles without oil level monitoring the oil change visit is when the average consumer gets their engine oil level checked. We routinely check our customer’s oil level before draining and find that 4,000 miles or 4 months is a good average with conventional oil. At this interval the oil sample does not show any significant deposit buildup. The engine is usually zero to 1.5 quarts low on average – still within the safety zone. We perform a planar chromatagraph on each oil sample. When the customer has exceeded the 4,000 mile interval the deposit buidup increases dramatically. A good independent repair shop that inspects the vehicle closely at each oil change interval will also keep up on the tire rotation, tire pressure, burnt out light bulbs, etc. Another consideration is the sludging condition that occurs with convential oil that is driven short distances in an environment where the weather is cool with a high humidity. Frequent oil changes prevent this problem from occuring. Synthetic oil does not suffer this sludging condition. We regularly suggest synthetic oil for our customers that have frequent short drive cycles. We find that 6 months or 5,000 miles is a good average interval for the synthetic oil on most vehicles. Keep in mind that the oil filter can only trap so many particles and then is bypassed. Some manufacturers such as BMW and Mercedes take this into account and have significantly larger filters with improved filtration media. Our bottom line is: The oil and filter change when performed by a good shop that really inspects the vehicle is cheap insurance for the average comsumer that wants to keep their vehicle as trouble free as possible.

  65. Ralph says:

    I’ve been doing oil testing for the past 3 years.

    I have 3 motorcycles and 4 cars. I live in Texas where temperatures frequently exceed 100F. I only use synthetic oil, even where dino oil is acceptable. My daily commute is 11 miles each way — mostly freeway. I take 3-4 long trips per year. So all my observations are based on these variables.

    Observations:

    1) Mercedes recommends a flexible service schedule based on a sensor — which usually breaks down to a 13,000 mile interval — but on my E430, the oil tests say the synthetic oil is shot around 11-12,000. My E300 diesel appears to need more frequent oil changes. Based on oil testing, 7500 to 10,000 appears to be the magic number.
    2) Honda recommends a 10,000 mile normal interval and a 5,000 severe interval. The oil tests indicate with a good synthetic oil, you can get more than 10,000. I don’t take it past 10,000 for fear that it might cause warranty issues later, but I certainly tell the dealer to kiss my gluteus maximum on 3,000 mile oil changes.
    3) My motorcycle do need more frequent oil changes. According to oil testing, their oil is shot around 5,000 miles.

    Someone asked what it is that has improved the oil life dramatically in cars and I think it should be pretty obvious: fuel injection and computer regulated combustion cycles. Carburettors used to just dump gasoline in an engine when it was started and were pretty sloppy with fuel delivery when you would “floor it”. This would lead to more rapid contamination of the oil.

    It’s funny to look back on now, but the manufacturers really didn’t want to go to fuel injection and computer controls despite all their benefits to the longevity of a car’s engine. It was essentially the government who mandated strict pollution standards which required them to go to more sophisticated fuel delivery techniques. A side benefit, albeit unintended, was that car engine life was improved and manufacturers had to use tricks like turbocharging and multivalve heads to increase the horsepower robbed by pollution control equipment thereby creating more efficient engines overall.

    Even though, I don’t believe CO2 is the demon gas its made out to be, let me tell you something funny about all the hysteria which is actually going to be good. CO2 production from an engine is directly proportional to fuel consumption. So if you mandate the amounts of CO2 production from an engine, you are, in effect, mandating fuel economy standards from a different perspective.

    By focusing on CO2 production, the government can push us toward hybrids and out of non-hybrid big trucks and SUVs. Frankly, it wouldn’t bother me because I’m sick and tired of “freedom” being used as an excuse to import 66% of our oil which serves as our excuse to be conducting military operations in places we never should have been.

    Even if we drilled every bit of oil left in the country and the national preservation areas were opened, we’d never go below 50% importation of oil without a drop in consumption. It seems a matter of national security, to me, that we have much higher fuel economy standards and regulating CO2 emissions would be another way to get us looking at smaller, more space efficient transportation.

    I know I’m probably the skunk at the dinner party, but I’m no longer buying the Republican rhetoric about freedom being the issue. Freedom without responsibility leads to decadence and decline — exactly what we see today. The government may get a lot wrong, but when transportation is contributing to the meatgrinder of war, we need a national solution to the problem because we’re too individually selfish to drive smaller and more efficient cars.

    Vote for me, 2012! :)

    Ralph

  66. Jim says:

    Somebody help me on this.

    I seem to remember hearing in the 90s that the Army had inadvertently let a bunch of cars or trucks go for many years without a single oil change. They found there was no detectable difference between the performance of these vehicles and the ones that received some oil changes. I’ve tried Googling this every once in a while, and it seems to be one of those few things I still can’t recover online. Anyone heard of this? Thanks!

  67. Suzanne says:

    I just left the oil change place, probably having been flipped the bird as I drove out. It infuriated me that he would not change the sticker from 3,000 miles, even with my manual plainly stating 5,000 (I go 7,500 – 10,000 on synthetic – manual does not address regular vs. synthetic). In my opinion this is fraudulent and should be challenged. Thank you for your well researched information.

  68. Tim says:

    I have not changed my oil in 8 years. I do change the filter about every 4-5 months and add oil.
    Never had engine trouble and all my cars have been Well over 200K miles.

    • Tim says:

      Hey! I had the name Tim first. Just so there is no confusion, I am the crazed libertarian who posts on Mr. Shermer’s blogs about economics and such, and this guy is somebody else. :-)

  69. john reimann says:

    Something important is not mentioned in the preceeding posts. An engine burns gasoline that has some sulphur in it. So, sulphuric acid accumulates in the lube oil. The Ph goes acidic and metal engine parts are being eroded microscopicly. It’s small but significant. I expect modern oils have additives to combat this problem but if you grossly exceed the oil’s capabilities then your engine is being etched away as you sleep. Also, in extreme cold climates water condensation will accumulate, become acid etc. There is also the problem of other particulates in the oil and the fact that cheap oil filters allow too big particles to circulate. Everything is about economics, so if you expect a reasonable 250,000KM out of a vehicle I’d change the oil every 5000miles. No more than that.

  70. L505 says:

    It’s more important to keep an eye on the oil level than it is to change oil. Most people forget to top up the oil at gas stations when you are filling up. The owners manual usually says for you to check your oil each time you fill up with gas, or similar. I’d guess 1 out of 450,000 people actually check their oil level at every gas station fill up!

    What happens when people don’t change the oil is that the oil level goes down, especially on older cars. It can go down one half a litre or one litre after 3000-10000 miles. When this happens significant damage to the engine can occur. Not because the oil is dirty usually, but because the engine is starved. At least this is my experience – the only engines I’ve seen go bad are ones that have had coolant in the oil, or engines that have had the oil level go down way too low.

    If you check your oil level frequently you can also monitor how dirty the oil is, and you can monitor for head gasket problems (coolant in oil).

    In my opinion it is better to monitor the oil level than to change the oil. Also one can smell gas in the oil when checking it frequently.

    If you top up the oil, you add new oil to the engine which dilutes the old oil. True that the old oil is still there, and true that if you are diluting the oil that much then you must have an engine in bad shape, but you still are diluting the oil making it cleaner than it was before.

    I have had cars in the family that have had oil changes every 3 months regardless of kilometres, and all those cars lasted long (over 200,000km) except for the one that lost half a litre of oil due to a leak out the dipstick seal! This particular car, even though oil was changed every 3 months, had bearing failure and a knock after it was driven with very low oil level. I realized that the major factor that damaged engines was a loss of oil, not how much you change the oil. Another car I had with bearing failure had coolant in the oil once due to head gasket failure.

    Another issue to consider is that other things will happen to your vehicle anyway. Most people abandon there cars or sell them long before their engine fails due to not changing oil. Usually the suspension, rust, electronics, even cracked windshields, and a combination of many things cause a car owner to sell or give the car away. What does this mean? It means you should not change the oil as often because you probably won’t keep the car for 500,000km anyway.

    I’ve seen far too many cars in scrap yards with engines that are still very good. Some of the cars my family has owned has gone to the scrap yard purely because of suspension and rust problems, especially front wheel drive cars with all sorts of suspension/drivetrain issues!

  71. L505 says:

    “Everything is about economics, so if you expect a reasonable 250,000KM out of a vehicle I’d change the oil every 5000miles. No more than that.”

    Interesting that you pull some magic number (5000) out of a hat and apply it to all cars no matter what car it is. Sounds like pure B.S. to me. Sounds just like the “every 3 months” or “every 3000″ magic B.S.

    All the cars I’ve owned with over 300K on them have had lots of other problems unrelated to dirty oil. For example, terrible rust and suspension issues, steering issues, transmission issues, these all can cause people to take a car to a scrap yard which has nothing to do with dirty engine oil.

    Other times I’ve seen cars go to the scrap yard because the engine just wouldn’t start, and no one had time to fix it, and the car was rusty, and only worth a resale value of about $900 since it was old. Never have I seen a car been taken to a scrap yard due to an engine that seized because of dirty oil. Now of course there may be some cars which actually had seized engines due to dirty oil, but often it’s because of a combination of other problems unrelated to the oil, like windsheilds, suspension, rust, computers, low resale value, ugly paint job, not starting after sitting for years, etc.

  72. L505 says:

    Quote:”Maybe just the fact that Americans seem to drive their cars quite a bit longer justifies the more frequent oil changes? Doubtful, but just a thought.”

    Ughhhh, what?

    If you drive the car longer, you put on more miles. Unless you are talking about running the engine in parking lots of long periods of time?

    Driving highway miles where stuff is farther apart in USA is better for the engine. So this logic of yours fails, that USA should have some magic low 3000 number. If everything in USA is farther apart (more country roads and rural areas) then this should give USA folks and Canadian folks longer engine life, not shorter engine life.

  73. Carbon Boy says:

    You are way out there. You may as well drive a Prius. I’ll keep pouring gas and money into my gas guzzling Hemi powered vehicle and feel good about it. I pay to live in this fine country and I, going to enjoy it while I am here. Some terrorist plot will ruin this world before the environment takes us out.

  74. George Augustine says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and the results of your research.This is enlightening…keep them comming..:-)

  75. Mary says:

    You tuned up my ’78 Toyota and changed the oil way back then (1978-80), but I was a lax customer from then on. The car lasted 17 years nonetheless. Thanks! I traded it in on a 3-yr-old Acura Legend, which lasted 15 more years with relatively few oil changes. I now have a 2003 BMW (purchased in 2008) and haven’t had the oil changed yet, as my yearly mileage remains low. I think I’ll continue to take your advice that I’ve adhered to for 30 years.

  76. pete says:

    Its correct , the oil changes for eurapean cars are around 10 to 12,000 miles, or recomended full service
    having lived in the states i was amazed by the 3,000 oil change but have done it, i had thought that due to the incleased climate. i, e flodida it required it
    oil changes used to be recomended every six months or 6000 miles up until the late eighties
    personaly if somone is having piece of mind from paying 30$ every three months then there choice, you pays your money,

  77. Matt says:

    My 2009 Saturn Sky Redline manual says that the Engine Oil Life System is based on engine revolutions and temperature – not mileage. The manual also states that while the OLS might not indicate oil change required for over 1 year – the filter must be changed once a year.

    My Honda’s likely use a similar method. The 2007 Accord that I had went about 10,000 miles or so to get down to 10% oil life – which is generally about when I would have it changed.

  78. Tony Virkamaki says:

    I’m skeptical of all that.
    I’ve run several cars up over 150K miles, with only three or four oil changes each. I got tired of driving them long before there was any damage.

    I learned from my dad who ran one of his cars to 100K miles with only three oil changes. Oddly enough, it was rust perforation that got him to quit driving it. Out of curiosity, I took the engine apart to see all the damage no oil changes would cause. It didn’t have any. In fact, some things were worn considerably less than the shop manual specs, such as the ring ridge, which would be a very solid indicator of excessive cylinder wear.

    For people who drive 5 or 6 miles to work and back, the more frequent changes may be a good idea.
    If you drive your car enough to actually warm it up, 50,000 mile oil changes won’t hurt anything as long as levels are up and filters get changed once in a while.

    Keep in mind that money has some value, too.
    If you invest the money you’d ordinarily spend on oil changes every 3000 miles, you’d find 3 things…
    1. your engine isn’t that fragile
    2. if it did fail, which it probably won’t, you’d have the money for a new engine (short block only)
    3. you’ll have more money.

    The absolute worst case scenario is that your car has a new engine in it at, say, 100,000 miles, and that’s not all that bad.

  79. Mark Fendley says:

    I actually got to this page after Googling ‘why do Americans change their oil so frequently?’ after another idle surf got me wondering…

    I am actually gobsmacked at the 3,000 mile thing. Since I have been old enough to be aware of the subject (the 80s/90s) cars here in the UK have had 10,000, 12,500 or higher service intervals. I can remember a Ford Fiesta from 1984 requiring 6,000 mile changes but that seemed very often.

    Also, changing oil here certainly does not cost only $19.95 or equivalent. I’d say more like £100.

    My current BMW 3-series tells me it will want its first oil change after 18,000 miles/2 years – this seems perfectly reasonable to me.

    Different strokes for different folks I guess…

  80. Bill says:

    I personally drove Army Vehicles for over 20 years. not once did I have to perform an oil change on any truck or car the most that I ever did was change the filter and bring to oil up to the correct level the army only changes oil as directed by the lab

  81. May i make a suggestion? I believe you’ve got a little something good in this article. But imagine you added a number of links to a internet page that backs up just what youre saying? Or perhaps you might give us something to look at, a specific thing that would connect what you’re saying to one thing concrete? Just a suggestion.

  82. David Ray says:

    I pretty much agree with the concensus of opinion so far in this excellent blog. There is one part of the subject that deserves a little more attention however. As everyone seems to agree there is a strong culture in the US which says that 3000 mile oil changes are a good idea. This culture has resulted in old technology oils still being sold in the US which do require these more frequent oil changes. The whole thing has become sort of self perpetuating. In recent years it is the improvements in oil quality that have permitted extended oil drain intervals. These old technology oils are not available any more in Europe, but you can still purchase API SA oils in the US. Must go now….. gotta finish my column for Lubes’n'Greases magazine on why 3000 mile oil drains are still common in the US!!

  83. john reimann says:

    To Mark Fendley— WHAT? 100 Pounds ($200) for an oil change?? No wonder you do not change your oil. I am an ex Brit and in the 60′s and 70′s British cars either leaked or burned oil to the point you just add oil. Those vehicles lasted maybe 70,000 miles if you were lucky.

  84. Nahan says:

    Oil over seas like in europe has ASH in it US oil does not that is why US oil breaks down faster and you need to change it sooner. If you want european oil tell the gov’t where to go and maybe they will make it legal?

  85. oil change needs to be done as often as possible to maintain the good performance of any kind of machinery :;~

  86. Phillip Holmes says:

    I bought a 2007 Mitsubishi Raider with 14k miles on it about four months ago. It seems to run great but as I changed the oil myself 3weeks ago I noticed a small leak around the engine seal. I took the truck in to the local Mitsubishi dealer for service yesterday. They told me that the engine oil had built up sludge (due to lack of oil changes)and that my 5-year/50K mile warranty was void .

  87. Joe Nial says:

    It is all about operating time and driving conditions. Maybe we should tell the National Hot Rod Association that Top Fuel dragsters are not allowed to do a complete engine over haul and oil change after each quarter mile pass down the drag strip. I routinely added oil to hard driven service vehicles on a daily to weekly bases, quarts per week and or gallons per week. That’s how hard a vehicle can be driven and how much oil can be consumed in the combustion cycle. Similarly, aircraft engines can consume oil at the rate of gallons per hour and they operate routinely at “red line” revolutions per minute which consumes high amounts of oil. Service limits based only on miles driven are only adequate only for light use passenger cars and does not take into account total operating hours. Vehicles that spend their entire life out of doors have the winter months to contend with as well. Unless you keep the vehicle parked in a garage where temperatures never drop below 50F, the winter driving season will decrease the over all service life of an engine. Henceforth the creation of lighter oils for year round use as it flows easier to critical engine parts in cold and extreme cold temperatures. Ideal operating temperature for motor oils is 200F.

  88. James says:

    Lots of variables play into how often oil needs to be changed. Miles, time, driving habits. With a new vehicle you should change the oil after only maybe 1000 miles since the engine is breaking in. Of course people can do what they want. With all the new vehicles I’ve purchased I do an oil change at 1000 miles, then again at 3000 miles. After that I ususally run at least 5000 miles between changes and use full synthetic. The number of miles does sometimes go well beyond 5000 depending on how the miles were put on the vehicle. If it’s mostly highway, 7500 miles is fine but, lots of city driving and short trips shorten oil life and require shorter oil change intervals. There are a lot of people out there who are totally oblivious to oil changes. This is why it’s scary to buy a used vehicle, you have no idea how it was treated.

  89. Victor says:

    I completely disagree, For one I own a small local repair shop in my area and have been in business for 30 years. I would never ever EVER change my oil every 10,000 miles and I don’t even care what the manufacturer recommends. For example some early 2000 model Toyota cars were having problems because TOYOTA stated in the owners manual to get the oil changed every 8,000 miles, Needless to say the engines got “sludgy” and TOYOTA was paying for brand new engines to be put in the customers car free of charge because they were blowing up. The one thing that the little company does not test for is the general “dirtyness” of the oil. I recommend to my personal customers to change regular engine oil every 3,000 and synthetic oil every 5,000. The longer you wait to change your oil the dirtyer it gets producing engine sludge and coating the engine with sludge, and if you dont maintain your car regualrly you will be buying a new engine for your car like the gentlemen who has his Mercedes Benz getting a new engine ($8,000 parts and labor) because he never changed his oil! I have customers whom have been coming here since I opened my business and been servicing/ repairing there car since they have gotten out of warranty. And the cars that get there oil changed every 3,000 or 5,000 depending on what oil you use look brand new inside even after the car is 15 years old, and I know this for a fact because I am honest and therefore I have loyal customers who only bring their car to my business and whoms car’s have only been worked on by me.
    So you can listen to who you want… The gentlemen who wrote this article who has probably zero experience in the automotive industry, or a fellow small business owner with 30+ years of experience.

  90. McKenzie Thomas says:

    Consumer Alert: Big problem with oil-life monitors they can’t tell the difference between oil quality.

  91. David says:

    How bout a copy of those tests?

  92. Joe says:

    Bottom line is when the manufacturer offers free scheduled maintenance it’s at least 7500 miles between oil changes. When we have to pay for it it’s 3000 miles. That’s BS. I have 3 cars and I am religious about changing oil every 7500 miles period

  93. Allen says:

    Yes the book says every 5000k miles and the light comes on after 5k miles but I change more often so I just reset the counter. i have a 2005 toyota corrola.

    I can feel in my acceleration when an oil has become gritty. I have only used castrol gtx 5w30 for 7 year and over 100k miles now.

    Remember, “the life of your engine is in the oil” and as the old mechanic said in the fram comercial as he held the new filter in his hand. You can eiter pay me now or pay me later. I would rather pay for 2 extra oil changes a year, and have some peace of mind that that grit and acid is not eating my engine.

  94. Ricky says:

    I personally have an ’88 Ford Escort (24 years old) with 518,700 miles on it. Over it’s lifetime it’s probably averaged an oil change about every 4K miles (5K mile interval recommended by Ford Motor Company). Even with the shorter intervals in the last couple years it’s began having problems with sludge blocking the screen in the oil pump pick up tube. There’s no way I’d allow my vehicles to go 10-15K miles between oil changes. While many manufacturers now are increasing the distance between oil change intervals many of them are claiming that oil consumption of 1 quart every 1K miles as being acceptable. A quart of oil every 1K miles certainly wouldn’t be acceptable to me in a new car. My Escort was at between 250 and 300K miles before it ever started lowering the oil on the dipstick. I’ve driven many cars in the 200-300K mile range using 3-4K mile intervals. I’ve seen very few cars that ran this long without the engine being rebuilt using 10K mile intervals. One engine needing rebuilt because of poor maintenance would pay for a lifetime of 3-4K mile oil changes with money left over. I’ll stick to my gut feeling!!

  95. ajr says:

    Love everyone’s “rants, raves, and opinions”. Just my 2 cents and history on one who had driven over a “million miles” without an engine failure.
    77 Dodge Charger 187,000 miles. 5000 mile interval. Rusted out.
    89 Ford F150 180,000 miles. 5000 mile interval. Still going.
    90 Ford Ranger 212,000 miles. 5000 mile interval. Wrecked.
    97 Ford Escort 198,000 miles. 5000 mile interval. Sold.
    96 Mazda B2300 157,000 miles. 5000 mile interval. Sold due to size.
    2000 Buick LeSabre 137,000 miles. 5000 mile interval. Wrecked.
    2004 Chevy Impala 142,000 miles. 5000 mile interval. Sold.
    2005 Chevy Impala 88,000 miles. 5000 mile interval. Still going.

    Recommendations: Keep the fluids topped off, checking every 2-3 tankfuls. Fix leaks ASAP. Change coolant every 3 years. Drive ’til the wheels fall off.

    As a side note, I service and repair all my vehicles. If you have an automatic transmission, do not neglect a fluid change every 50-60,000 miles.

  96. Luigi Stugatz says:

    A great post. If you mention oil on the WEB and every shade tree mechanic become experts with PDH’s. They ALL “know” the oil they use is so much better than the oil you use and if you don’t use Amsoil at $10 a quart you engine is going to blow up. The most heated arguments I’ve ever seen oil was the issue.