Do You Really Need An Oil Change Again?

How to save big money on your car repairs without risking your engine's health.

Americans are always looking for the most efficient route to Point B, there's no doubt about that.  Some may call us lazy.  That's fine.  But the automotive industry must think we're incredibly stupid, too.  

For decades, the automotive industry has sold us on the idea that the oil in our vehicles needed to be changed every 3,000 miles[3].  And that we'd be better off paying someone else to do it.  

But many drivers enjoy the experience of changing their own oil.  Not necessarily for the grease aspects of the chore.  Getting under the hood of your car lets you see exactly what condition it is in, and enables you to prevent minor issues from turning into major ones.  

I used to do oil changes myself, because I was saving money.  Like, a dollar, at least.  Then I took a job at a lube shop to earn some extra money to pay off debt.  More about that in Four Easy Steps to Debt Freedom.


My professional experience up to that point consisted of hanging out in a shopping mall, selling jewelry.  Most of my coworkers were women.  Not a bad gig, but over time chasing the American Dream with these she-warriors was a bit emasculating.  Having the only male viewpoint in a room full of women isn't the best odds, at least not in this culture.  I thought working in a lube shop would be a great way to earn some 'man points,' along with a few dollars, both of which I did.  

But I learned a lot more than I expected.

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What's So Special About Oil, Anyways?

Why oil is such an important part of your car's performance

Turns out oil is in more components than ever before[2].  From the plastic dash panels to the rubber on the road, oil is in it.  And if it's not a direct input, you can bet it is used to power the production process.  

Oil also lubricates the moving parts of your vehicle.  This becomes increasingly critical when those parts get hot.  Oil prevents the metal parts from becoming too hot, and lengthens their useful life considerably.  When you keep the parts of your engine cool, you improve your fuel efficiency[1].  

Did I mention oil is already billions of years old?

So why do we need to change it after only 3 months?

Good question.  Nothing lasts forever, especially if it's already been around almost forever.  So the oil guys did some research, and found out that after a certain number of miles in a vehicle's engine, the oil began to break down.  It lost its ability to lubricate because of all the metal particles that came loose as the engine did its thing.  

Technology back in the day only allowed manufacturers to make engine components within tolerances that we would scoff at today, even for a high school class project.  Based on the performance of these components, the oil began to lose its ability to lubricate after arond 3,000 miles.  

Given that the average driver logs about a thousand miles a month, the logical thing was that we change our oil every three month.  So the oil industry told us "Change your oil every 3,000 miles."  And we did.  


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Synthetic Oil to the Rescue!

Recent advancements in both materials and petroleum technologies have allowed engine manufacturers to recommend longer intervals between oil changes, especially when using synthetic oil.

Vehicle owner's manuals from Honda and Acura both recommend oil changes every 10,000 miles under normal driving conditions.  Manuals from Toyota and Lexus are recommending oil changes for their latest vehicles every 5,000 miles.  And German manufacturers Audi and Volkswagen recommend oil changes for their vehicles every 10,000 miles.  Most of these recommendations are based on using a synthetic oil, or at minimum a synthetic blend.  You don't have to use the best synthetic oil, just a full synthetic.

Synthetic Motor Oil(113002)Credit: Wikipedia

If you like to push the envelope, there are oil manufacturers such as Amsoil that provide oil change interval recommendations when using their products at every 25,000 miles.  You can also read various books on the topic.  All of these resources are assuming you are driving a majority of your trips on trips longer than 5 miles (the engine's systems can become fully warmed up at this point), you do not operate your vehicle in dusty conditions (deserts and gravel roads), and are gentle to your car, i.e. no hot rodding.

And nowhere in any car owner's manual does it reference any type of oil becoming useless after 3 months.  That's plain ludicrous.  You can find some lively discussions on this topic at the various manufacturer 'enthusiast' forums.  Proceed at your own risk.  :)

Eric the Car Guy shows how to change your oil

for the DIY type

What To Do Next

Three steps to take immediately.

First, find your owner's manual.  Read it.  Seriously.  I know this is a hard thing for most folks to do, but there is just too much information in there for you to ignore!  Break it down into chunks, and work your way through.  You don't have to memorize it, just know what's in there.  This is the best step you can take in avoiding getting ripped off at a shop.  I recommend picking the section commonly called "Maintenance Intervals" for answers to our question, if nothing else.

Second, decide to change your oil on the frequency you find in there.  It will feel a little like gambling at first, but stick with it.  Your car manufacturer wouldn't recommend you mistreat your vehicle.  They're looking for ways to earn your loyalty, not your anger.  Go with it.  If it will make you feel more comfortable, go with the full synthetic oil.  It costs a little more, but the peace of mind of sticking exactly to your manufacturer's recommendations can go a long ways in improving your driving experience.

Third, talk about it with your local lube shop.  Most modern lube shops have computerized systems to help their staff guide you to the right decisions, based upon your vehicle's manufacturer recommendations.  With your Owner's Manual in hand (trust me, this is a BIG way to get those guys to pay attention to your question and answer honestly), ask questions like "I'm used to changing my oil every 3,000 miles, but it says here I can wait longer; what do you guys think?"  Don't be afraid that they'll try to convince you it still needs to be done every 3,000 miles or every 3 months.  You have your Owner's Manual in your hot little hand, and armed with the knowledge you learned here today, you're well on your way to showing those guys you're no dummy.


Take these three steps immediately, and you'll enjoy greater peace of mind and a more enjoyable driving experience, knowing that you're treating your car's engine to the best possible treatment.  

Now go forth, and save yourself some time, money, and stress.  You now have the knowledge (and power) to take proper care of your vehicle.  Have fun!

Let us know how your next trip turns out here in the comments.

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