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Do You Really Need An Oil Change Every 3 Months Or 3,000 Miles?

By Edited Aug 20, 2015 13 17

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)

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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Oct 1, 2012 8:29am
Very interesting, and insightful article. Well written!
Oct 1, 2012 8:31am
Thanks, Shivon! Like most people, I don't like visiting the mechanics' shop typically. But I like wasting money even less!
Oct 1, 2012 3:48pm
Great article and congrats on the feature. Unfortunately, lots of people are still stuck in the 5000k or 3000 mile oil change mindset. My 08 Ranger has a manufacturer recommended change interval of 12,000k. That's with fossil, not full or partial synthetic. I'm sure I could stretch it out to 15k with synthetic. That having been said, changing oil in the driveway costs around $20-30 and is so simple that I tend to err on the side of caution and change mine more regularly than recommended. I also spring for the $4 filter each time. Although not necessary, it's cheap and easy and helps with resale value.
Oct 1, 2012 5:35pm
Thanks, migreig! I found that although it is cheaper to do it myself, transferring the risk to the local lube shop not only gets the job done just as quickly, but it also gives me a little peace of mind, knowing that having three or more people looking at various systems on my car keep me attuned to potential problems. Ditto on the filter- that's the way I was taught by my dad. And soon I'll be training my son to do this. Every man should know how to change his own oil.
Oct 1, 2012 8:13pm
I agree that everyone should know how to change oil! I do it because I'm cheap and I used to work as a mechanic so it pains me to pay others to do something I can do myself.
Oct 2, 2012 6:58am
I don't mind paying for someone else to do it. They can also spot things on the car that I may not know to look for, since they look at cars all day long, and many of them (like I'm sure you did) pride themselves on knowing as much about car repair as they can. I would argue that it also supports the local economy more than DIY.
Oct 8, 2012 6:39am
Nice post. I was thinking about something along these lines when I got my car maintenance done a few months ago. I have a VW Golf and use synthetic oil. I always wondered why the shop told me my car didn't need a change every 3 to 5,000 miles but could actually go longer. My previous cars always suggested the 3K change. Insightful article...thanks.
Oct 8, 2012 6:45am
I'm glad this was helpful. The guys at the shop are usually the best source (assuming you're at the dealership and not a lube shop). When in doubt, check the owner's manual. Thanks for stopping by!
Oct 11, 2012 12:36pm
I was getting my oil changed every 3,000 miles, until one day something told me to read the owners manual..and it was recommended every 6,000 miles. The newer version of my make and model says every 7500.

Great article.
Oct 11, 2012 12:43pm
Chick- I'm glad you listened to that little voice! What are you driving these days? Thanks for reading!
Oct 12, 2012 11:11am
Nice and easy to understand and apply, great choice of topic!
Oct 12, 2012 1:15pm
Thanks for reading and your kind comments.
Oct 28, 2012 11:48pm
I'm not a mechanic and I don't know a lot about cars like most mechanics do. I just know enough to do my own oil change and a few other basic things like changing a tire. I like to keep my car out of the shop as much as possible. The only time I will put my car in the shop is if my friends or I don't know whats wrong with my car and how to fix it.
Mar 28, 2013 11:52am
RME40, I like your enthusiasm. I just had my 1993 Isuzu Trooper in the shop for a new timing belt, and it wasn't fun ($$$). It's good for another 100K miles now though! That project was more than I could handle, anyway. I'm more of a tinkerer anymore when it comes to cars.
Apr 8, 2013 11:54am
3000 mile intervals sounds crazy! I have been driving since 1975 and even cars I owned back then said oil changes every 6 months or 5000 miles. Good writing, entertaining and good info.
Apr 8, 2013 1:23pm
Absolutely crazy, Philtrate! What surprises me the most is how few people actually refer to their owner's manuals. It's all in there, even answers for the pushy salesperson.
Mar 23, 2016 6:31pm
I earned my "man card" again last month when I took my new RV with a V-10 Triton engine in for an oil change. The Ford dealership put in fully synthetic oil and then recommended that I return in 5K miles for the next service. However, they also said that if I couldn't make it within that mileage suggestion it was ok to go to 10K if I had to as synthetic oil would still be doing it's job. With that they issued me my official man card and away I went with a smile on my face knowing that now I had the down and dirty facts of oil changes...finally!
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  1. "Breakdowns, Flashpoints And Other Reasons To Change Oil." Engine Builder. 8/04/2013 <Web >
  2. "World Without Oil." New Colonist. 8/04/2013 <Web >
  3. "Are 3000 Mile Oil Changes Really Necessary?." Performance Oil Technology. 8/04/2013 <Web >

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