Want to save money? Don’t change your oil so often

The 3,000 mile per oil change mantra might have been true in the good ol’ days, but it doesn’t seem to ring as true anymore.

At that rate, the typical American driver, who on average drives more than 13,000 miles, would change their oil about four times a year. But California is leading a push to tell drivers to cut back on the number of oil changes per year.

The reason is pretty simple. You’ll save money. It’ll cut down on the amount of oil wasted by unnecessary oil changes and help the environment.

On top of that, most automakers don’t advise oil changes every 3,000 miles anymore. Most car makers recommend oil changes at 5,000, 7,000 or 10,000 miles for certain vehicle models.

But Americans have been told 3,000 miles that it’s all they know. (It also probably doesn’t help that quick-oil change stores put stickers that suggesting an oil change every 3,000 miles. Or at least the place I go does.)

“It’s been built up in the consciousness of people over generations that 3,000 miles is the standard, and they’ve accepted that with such certainty that they check their manuals for everything but that,” Jeff Danzinger, an agency spokesman, told The New York Times in a telephone interview. “They don’t check it because they know it’s 3,000 because that’s all they’ve ever heard.”

CheckYourNumber.org, a site launched by the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, lets drivers check your number with a few mouse clicks. However, it only shows the recommendation for cars made after 2000, but cars owners can also check their manuals to get the manufacturers’ recommendation. (For example, Hyundai suggests I change my oil every 7,500 miles).

The reason the 3,000 mantra isn’t true anymore is because of advancements in oil production and the quality of seals and engines in modern cars. As a result, oil has a longer life than it used to.

The bonus by changing your oil less is you’ll save money. If Americans get four oil changes per year, you are spending around $120 per year (based on my rough guess of $30 per oil change) on getting your oil changed. If you cut back, you could cut that amount in half.

36 Comments

  1. ReligionISForTheWeak

    Sorry, this is an old “tip” that’s not exactly truthful. I have put on 200k miles on all my cars while I see others get engine trouble starting at 100k . The way the traffic is in Houston, you need to change it 3,000 miles. An extra $40 a year isn’t going to kill me but paying $2400 to rebuilt an engine might.

    #1
  2. Dan X. McGraw

    ReligionIsForTheWeak, many automakers have recommendations for severe and normal drivers. Even for severe drivers, the 3,000-mile mantra is too often. I’m not saying one way or another, but it’s there recommendations. For some, it’s also not all about the money.

    #2
  3. Cindy Pao

    When I was growing up, it was 5000 miles. I refused to succumb to the 3000-mile hysteria. My new VW goes 10,000 miles between changes, making me a happy girl.

    #3
  4. ntangle

    Agreed, Dan. I listen to the manufacturer more than an oil change chain. Even though the mfr isn’t a disinterested party either (many of their dealers offer quick changes too). OTOH, they must honor their (ie. 100k mi.) warranty.

    I look at this as I would people buying a higher octane rating than they need. You don’t gain anything with too much. You gain little (if anything) by changing the oil too often. Even some folks that do may overlook other important considerations. Such as allowing a little warmup time before engaging the car in gear. Or before revving it. Best to wait a minute or so until the valve guides and bearings, etc. are oiled up. Use the mfr’s recommended viscosity for your car & climate. Check the oil level frequently, esp. if your warning lights don’t include it.

    #4
  5. Old Oil Exec

    The main reason that everybody knows the 3000 mile oil change is because the oil companies put out a huge advertising campaing telling you so. They did this because they wanted to increase revenue and they knew it would generate a huge return and it did. Now that we are living in a new age and the supply is shrinking they want you to use less but pay more so they still get their returns…..

    #5
  6. M.O.

    I have my oil analyzed after every change, currently every 8k miles, and i track this baby once in a while. Everything is fine. I’m not in it to save money (the synthetics and tests negate the savings) but i do appreciate the peace of mind that my engine and oil is doing well, and that i save time by not going under the car as much.

    #6
  7. djones

    absolutely correct, for the most part. if you drive a vehicle with a turbocharger, you might consider 3,500-5,000 miles, as the oil will see a lot more heat, but otherwise, no worries. one thing to also consider, todays vehicles run at such a better state of tune. the amount of fuel consumed is pretty much dead on, as well as ignition timing… what does this mean? less gasoline blowing by into the crankase and around the rings, keeping the oil from being contaminated….

    run synthetic on a normal vehicle and you can easily get 7,000 out of an oil change, even with houston’s heat and traffic… the modern oils are just so much better… my last few vehicles have had over 150,000+ trouble free miles on 5-7,000 mile oil changes.

    #7
  8. Long Distance

    My engine gets synthetic oil. Years ago I’d change the oil every 3000 miles and put in new oil and filter, they still didn’t last as long as newer engines with the synthetic oil. Over 150k and it still doesn’t smoke, even when it is first started in the morning. American made engine, too.

    #8
  9. Juan H

    My truck recommends to change at 8K miles, and that’s what I’m sticking too. The computer generates a light when you close to that 8k mark also.

    Saves money and time at the lube store.

    #9
  10. GabeC

    Houston gets way too hot during the summer to NOT change your oil at 3,000. Maybe during the cooler months it’s okay to delay changing your oil, but definitely can’t delay changing it during the summer heat.

    #10
  11. ChemE

    The advancement of lube oils and synthetics has come a long way since the early days of transportation and refining. Synthetics are engineered to remain stable at higher temperatures therefore they do not degrade as quickly into those low carbon number fouling molecules. The limit to how long between oil changes has come down to the lifespan of the oil filter and not the actual fluid itself.

    #11
  12. Mr. Herp A. Derp

    Many higher end, new model vehicles use computers to take into account when you oil should be changed by using an algorithm based on how hard you drive, temperature, etc.

    #12
  13. catscratchfever

    We use Amsoil products (including their filters; that’s a must) and go about 18,000 to 25,000 miles between changes. (Went about 21,000 on a diesel PU once. Changed the filter only @ 10,000)
    I’ve been doing this for a long time and have never had any problems. That oil doesn’t break down, and it’s loaded with detergents. Their filters are great. They’re made out of synthetic fiber and are able to hold a much larger amount of filtered material than the $5 filters you get a walmart.
    It’s more expensive to do a change, but it’s way cheaper in the long run.
    I even know a dude who went for 80,000 miles on conventional oil once in his work truck. He added oil when needed and only changed the filter. If he did that with no ill effects, you shouldn’t worry about 20,000 with a high quality synthetic.

    #13
  14. mary ashley

    $30 dinner at Luby’s, 2 breakfast @ Madeleine, less gas tank, you get the picture.

    #14
  15. You’re changing the oil every 3000 miles for the person that owns it after 150K+ miles. If you’re not going to keep it that long 10K to 20K miles is fine. Most of today’s cars will run fine on 2 – 3 quarts of oil.

    #15
  16. mark

    I want to know why after the big run up in oil and gas prices a few years ago oil went for under $2 a quart to over $4 for just regular oil, and the price has never come down. It’s price gouging. It’s so high that for just a little more you can buy pure synthetic which last longer. Me I change my oil when it’s starts to look pretty dirty. In my old turbo charged car I changed it around 3000 miles because turbos are hard on oil. Now in my truck I’m around 5 or 6000 which used to be the recommended amount in the old muscle car days of the 70′s.

    #16
  17. henry

    I change my oil every 12k, and the filter every 4k. Synthetic. All Houston traffic driving. 180k miles and runs smooth as new. so there :P

    #17
  18. EdC

    Just do what the owners manual says to do. They made the car and know when the oil needs to be changed.

    Also you should change your oil every six months if you don’t drive much. Additives break down over time.

    #18
  19. Mike H.

    Getting rid of leaded fuel helped to reduce internal corrosion in auto engines. They had lead scavengers, like EDB, that would break down into acids. The other part of the is oils have gotten better, most of the API oil grade changes were improvements in oil life and/or reduced wear.

    #19
  20. Chris

    No thank you. I’d rather spend a few extra dollars than for a $4000 short clock motor for my truck. It’s the heat and dirt that destroy costly components. The last time I check, Houston had plenty of both.

    http://www.thecarcounselor.com/

    #20
  21. TXPILOT

    If you do anything other than what the owners manual says then what are you basing that decision on? The advice of the guy selling you the oil? I’ll bet no one has ever done testing on their own. Just because 15,000 works for someone else means nothing. Follow the book and you at least are getting advice from someone who is a little better informed than your Jiffy-Lube expert.

    #21
  22. Seymour krooks

    Not all oil filters are good. Check out and avoid the bad ones.

    #22
  23. William Price

    Well, if you want to risk your motor, then listen to these turkeys. But, otherwise, if you want to keep your motor, and lessen the more expensive repairs, then work right maintenance. $120 a year on oil changes is nothing compared to buying a new car or replacing a motor. I just bought a 2011 HHR, and trust me, this car’s oil will be changed regularly at the dealership. More expensive? Yeah, but worth it.

    #23
  24. I’ve always thought every 3000 miles was a little excessive, but getting those old codgers to change their habits is frightening.
    Mark, I agree. Oil is tied to gasoline prices, but you certainly don’t see the fluctuations in its price like you do at the gas pump. And I’ve noticed that as oil prices rise, so do synthetic oil prices. Wonder why that is?

    #24
  25. eldicko

    I had a 75 marquis pos that leaked so much oil that I added a quart of re-refined oil every 3 days.I had things screwed onto the spark plugs so they wouldnt be fouled with oil.

    #25
  26. Donald

    Motorcraft has what is called a free flow filter. Instead of oil pressure having to build up as in many other filters, the free flow allows oil to get to the bearing quicker. In one study they did in side by side new engines run 1000 hours, they found some parts with 30% less wear than the check valve type of filters. And they make them for many cars besides Ford.
    I am sure other manufacturers make free flow filters also. Worth checking out at the manufacturers web site in my opinion.

    #26
  27. Atheism is for the Stupid

    That is all.

    #27
  28. Firmgrip

    As a “Boomer” I grew up with single weight oil and a change every 1,000 miles. The change to 3,000 was a miracle. Hmmm…in Houston, I would say that the heat is exceptionally detrimental to oil. Given the mantra of a 5,000 mile oil change, I personally don’t think that todays “oil filters” are up to the task. I would go further and suggest that they are more than done at 3,000 miles, not even going toward 5,000 miles. If you want blow by in the cylinders where smoke emits from your tail pipe after the contaminants have scoredd the bores, just keep on buying this 5,000 mile to 7,500 mile oil change recommendations. If you think that there is an oil shortage, you’re really being buffaloed by the Big OIl” corporate structure. Do you think your dealer cares whether your car runs for 200,000 miles? He gets the big buck for his oil changes as well as possibly the new engine or rebuild at 125,000 miles for you sherkers.

    #28
  29. Firmgrip

    As a former “Final Inspection” foreman for the Ford 5.0L (302 CID) I would like to hear an automotive engineer check in and give his thoughts on the oil contaminant points, definition of a severe environment for an engine, as well as the suggested effectiveness of oil filters at various times during their operational lifetime. I know positively that contaminants are one of the biggest detriments to engine life. That would include acids, varnishes, particles and the like which can cause an engine to fail. We’re not even consideering oil and water galleries of the engine being blocked or poor cooling because of a poor radiator.

    What good is an oils life cycle if the filter that is supposed to degrade or stop contaminants has failed at 4,000 miles or above and your engine bites it on acids and failed rings. The tolerances of todays engines only magnifies this theory.

    #29
  30. TXPILOT

    Firmgrip,in your first post you “suggest” they are done at 3,000.Have you examined any or is this a supposition on your part?Do you still believe we need eight glasses of water a day? Why not just the facts.Old wives tales are just not cutting it anymore.

    #30
  31. KaliGhoulish

    Hmmm.. I don’t care what they say.. I will continue to get my oil changed at those intervals. I realize that the oil may not break down as easily as it used to. With all the additives and what have you that delay its breakdown at higher temperatures and allows it to maintain its integrity, but to maintain clean oil in the engine, will give it a longer life with less problems.

    #31
  32. Medic8023

    Personally, I change my oil every 3-3.5k miles whether it needs it or not. I save money doing it myself, and I use only Mobil 1 and K&N filters in it.

    I could care less what the “experts” say… They have never driven in Houston in the summer. My 1100cc bike gets the oil changed every 1-1.5k miles..

    IMO, if you think your oil needs changed, change it.. And do it yourself.. You will feel more satisfied that way..

    #32
  33. Skew2

    Well, I wouldn’t advise you guys going to 10k between oil changes…that is dumb. The biggest problem is dirt. If you use a good synthetic, you can change the filter and top off the oil…then maybe 8k. Another big problem is the temperature here. In the summertime, extreme temperatures will help break down the oil and in this nasty dirty dusty environment you will never see the engine life that you could if you keep it clean. Clean oil helps with fuel economy as well. Although it is almost a moot point with all the alcohol they toss in the fuel these days!
    Of course I drive my cars for hundreds of thousands of miles…if you are one of those 3 year and done people… no big deal.

    #33
  34. Robert Hinman

    Strange, I have on-star and get a message on my system and on email that it is time to change oil at the, “Recommended” frequency of 3,000 miles that I have followed religiously since purchasing the car new. If it is not important please explain the system built into the car to oversee the frequency of changing the oil?

    #34
  35. my Saturn recommends changing at 5-6000 if you follow the oil life indicator on the dash. my ford truck goes through a quart every 1k miles so by the time i get to 5k i’ve almost replaced the original oil anyway. lol. truck has about 245k miles.

    #35
  36. ntangle

    Strange, I have on-star and get a message….the frequency of changing the oil?
    ————-
    Maybe it’s on the wrong frequency.

    #36