Don't Be Fooled Into Thinking an Oil Change Every 3,000 Miles Is Necessary

Anyone who takes their vehicle to an oil change place typically receives a little sticker to put on their window that reminds them when the next schedule oil change should be. More often than not they simply add 3,000 miles to your current mileage or suggest three months. If you have a vehicle that was built after the 70′s or 80′s you are more than likely throwing money down the drain if you are getting your oil changed every 3,000 miles.

Check Your Owner’s Manual First

The first place to check to see what your car manufacturer recommends is in the manual. You are likely to find that they recommend an oil change every 5,000 to upwards of 10,000 or more. Even if they recommend 5,000 you can probably even extend it a bit further if you do primarily highway driving.

[nomopay morelink="Access the rest of the oil change tips after completing a 20 second survey."]

Change Oil Light

Many newer vehicles now come equipped with an sensor or monitor where a light on comes on indicating you should change the oil. If you are lucky enough to have one of these you will soon realize how much of a waste it would be to change your oil every 3,000 miles.

Our vehicles both have these and they are fairly new (2003 and 2005) . In the manual they recommend about a 5,000 oil change schedule, which is a good start. But, what is even more interesting is that the change oil light typically comes on well past the 5,000 mile mark. The light on my car came on at just shy of 8,000 miles, and I do very little highway driving. Our other vehicle generally gets over 6,000 before the light comes on.

Check Oil Quality Yourself

If you don’t have a sensor that monitors oil quality yourself you can check it in about 30 seconds and you don’t even need to be a mechanic. New oil is generally an amber type color, not black like most people picture. Oil turns black over time in the engine as it picks up debris in the engine and as it breaks down from heat and wear. So a good practice would be to check your oil occasionally once you hit the 3,000-4,000 mile mark. If you notice it is very black you may want to go ahead and have it changed.

What About Synthetic Oil?

Most of what was said above has to do with standard oil derived from oil drilled from the ground. You may have seen commercials about synthetic oils that last 50,000-75,000 miles. While these are certainly a valid option it is important to note that they can be significantly more expensive and may not be suitable for all engines. Check with your manufacturer to determine if this type of oil would be appropriate for you.

The Savings Can Add Up

Over the lifetime of owning a vehicle the cost of regular maintenance such as oil changes can add up. A quick oil change place will generally charge between $17-$30 per change, where the main difference in cost comes from the brand of oil used and the size of your engine. So let’s take a look at an example to see what this can really cost. Let’s say you own a vehicle and drive it 150,000 miles for the time you own it. And let’s also assume you go to a place that charges $25 per oil change. Here are the total costs over the 150,000 mile period:

Every 3,000 miles: $1,250
Every 5,000 miles: $750
Every 8,000 miles: $468.75

As you can see, even by going a couple thousand miles more than the 3,000 they recommend can cut your costs in half or more. While it may not amount to much on an annual basis it is still foolish to spend more money than you have to. Not only that, but less frequent oil changes means lower oil consumption as well as helps the environment with less oil waste that has to be disposed of.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately the frequency of your oil changes will come down to your specific vehicle and driving habits. An added benefit to going somewhere to have your oil changed is that they typically inspect other areas of your vehicle as well such as air pressure in the tires, washer fluid (possibly a free top-up), coolant condition, grease joints, etc. If you are particularly busy or just lazy the only time you ever have these parts of your vehicle monitored is during an oil change. So, maybe more frequent changes help you to make sure your vehicle is in overall good condition.

One thing is for sure and changing your oil every 3,000 won’t do any harm, the only thing it will do is make your wallet a bit lighter than probably necessary. Some people feel more comfortable with frequent changes, but if you take a moment to determine how often you should be changing the oil you are likely to find you can save some money if you do what is appropriate for your vehicle. [/nomopay]

Author: Jeremy Vohwinkle

My name is Jeremy Vohwinkle, and I’ve spent a number of years working in the finance industry providing financial advice to regular investors and those participating in employer-sponsored retirement plans.

56 comments
use cheap quality oil
use cheap quality oil

I have a HUYNDAI ELANTRA 2008..and almost done 350,000 km on the odometer.here is the funny thing,mostly I been driving in highway ..and been changing oil and filter every 5000 km.but I always put cheap oil from super market , no one buys those oil,I have heard these are recycled oil, so no one buys them.last week I went to Hyundai to have my engine checked so that I need to know whether I need to change the engine or not.but looks like there is nothing wrong with my engines..I never had any repair done..besides changing oil and filter and timing belt..so thanks to the cheap low quality oil...

...Alex from australia

michaellutz
michaellutz

Coming to Canada from Europe, I couldn't believe how much more wasteful countries like the US and Canada are. I knew about the waste of gas (people still go for Pick-up trucks and large SUV's instead of way more economical "normal" cars while moaning more and more about gas prices...) but changing the oil every 5000 km is totally ridiculous! I never heard of anything lower than 15000 km in Europe in the last 30 years! But you can see this carelessness everywhere. People don't ask why. And that's what the big corporations want. They recommend something and people follow. Instead of oil CHANGING places (never seen one in Europe) they should develop some sort of quick oil quality CHECKING device at gas stations. But it's all about USING up oil... not getting the most out of it.

FinancialTales
FinancialTales

Now that I think about it, I haven't seen the oil light in years.

Tech__Junkie
Tech__Junkie

My take on this after doing an exhaustive amount of research is this... Like the author said you should check your recommended mileage in your owner's manual, but also consider the following.

 

There are usually two recommendations in those manuals; normal and severe. The average time it takes for oil to get up to temperature and start doing its job of clearing dirt, not just lubricating, is about 45 minutes. If you are doing a lot of stop and go driving or frequently have the engine running for less than thirty minutes then you are exposing your vehicle to severe conditions. If you frequently warm up your car before traveling and/or mostly do highway driving than you could take the normal driving recommendation as stated by the vehicle manufacturer. 

 

You can also utilize synthetic media filters and oils to extend the change interval but use your discretion and common sense. Although you can do what ever you want to do with your car remember that a lack of records indicating an oil change history based off of the recommendations can void a warranty or even lower the value of your vehicle when you are looking to sell it or trade it in.

 

Being that I am fairly handy when it comes to fixing most things on my car I don't honestly care that the recommended mileage states 4,500 miles. I am no longer under warranty and will probably keep this car for a while. I use full synthetic oil and a synthetic fiber filter that makes me feel comfortable with a 10,000 mile change interval. Pretty much every six months I change the oil and also because of the timing plan other maintenance such as the transmission, air filter, fuel system, etc.

 

Hopefully this helped some of you. Always do your research and trust the vehicle manufacturer more than a product label.

Artan
Artan

I have a VW Passat 1.9 TDI 2003, filled up with Fully Synthetic Oil in 2003, since then the oil hasn't been changed for 200.000 Miles, i still drive the car. I regularly check teh oil viscosity which is as it is new. Dont waste your money for nothing. If you change the oil they take that black oil and put one spoon of chemical and from bleck it becomes amber in color and then they pack it and sell it to you in a store. We are living in the world of fraud!

Alt2Att
Alt2Att

Glad to see I'm not crazy. I've been changing my oil every 5,000 miles for as long as I've been driving. It has seemed to work so far.

Jason
Jason

I have a 2005 Toyota Camry and ive driven my car about 1000 miles past its recommended mileage but the oil change light hasn't come on yet. I checked the oil and there was still a sufficient amount left and the color was still amber-ish. Should I wait til the light actually comes on or should I go ahead and get it changed?

Fat Boy
Fat Boy

I have a 2002 Ford Explorer with 180,589 miles on it, and at around 15,000 miles, the check oil light has come on after about 14 miles from the 3000+ put on the sticker. The truck runs great.

Beverly
Beverly

I bought a new car 2009 Lexus, but I rarely drive it because I travel to work in a van pool. Often times my mileage is under the number before the oil change date. My friend who thinks he knows about cars andsays I should change the oil based on the earlier of. The date comes way before the mileage for me because my car is often sitting in the garage. How often should I change my oil? Based on the date or based upon the number of miles I drive? He says based on the date, and I disagee.

Adam
Adam

You should change oil if you are using those non-synthetic cheap oil. (30 dollars oil change)

If you are using synthetic oil for your car, read the manual of your car. (80 dollars oil change). It is between 5.000 to 10.000 miles.

Joshua
Joshua

Chris Tengler, on average, people keep a car for 2-3 years, then they trade it in for a new one. Nothing will happen to an engine if you change your oil every 5-6 thousand miles for 2-3 years of driving the vehicle.

Chris, you are just playing it silly with an oil change.

Watch more TV and read more newspapers, they tell you how to live the life cause you are the stupid one and you don't know how to live it yourself.

Smurfy
Smurfy

Just paid $4400 for a used (14k miles) engine in a 2003 Honda Accord w/ 99k miles, because of unspecified oil leaks. Burned oil like crazy. Two different mechanics diagnosed "infrequent oil changes" as most likely culprit. I pointed to the owner's manual, which says it only needs oil changes every 10,000 miles. They say it should be 3,000 miles regardless. Am a bit cranky at Honda for putting that in the owner's manual, what the heck! In any event, engine purchased. Even if I got fleeced - and I don't think I did - I'll spend the $20 at Jiffy Lube, even if it only prolongs the engine slightly, $4400 is a lot of oil changes to get thrifty on.

Jason
Jason

... Says the guy who changes his low end cars more than he changes his oil since 2000

Jason
Jason

well i have access to good quality oil for cheap ($15 oil and filter) and i change the oil myself on my 06' acura rsx every month regardless of the km i put on it... sometimes i dont even travel 1000km a month and still change it, and she runs fine and smooth. I guess it all depends on the person.

jim
jim

The smart thing to go is get your oil changed every 3000 to 5000 miles.
The people who go 10000-15000 miles(16,000kms!!!!) without changing the oil are nuts and I doubt these people even check the oil level. Your car will start to burn it or leak, I had a car that burned a quart every 600 miles, highway driving.

I change my oil every 5000 to 7000kms. I do it myself, costs me about 30 bucks, using good synthetic oil(bound to come on sale between changes) and filter.

TheVanMan
TheVanMan

I thought most modern cars and vans now only need an oild change every 20,000 miles or so - mine does in any case.

john
john

yes and i want to save a couple of hundred dollars by not changing the oil ( and in the process blow up my 40,000 audi ) ya right. what a load of crap.

joe
joe

I found the best way to check my oil is to put some between my fingers from the oil stick. If if feels like watery with no oily feeling, it's time to change your oil. I always change my filter with an oil change. The filter is even more important than the oil.

Tony (RamPB331 on DieselTruckResource)
Tony (RamPB331 on DieselTruckResource)

The only way to "know" how long you can run your oil is via oil analysis. The Army uses an oil analysis program (AOAP) to test both the oil for service life, and the engine and other lubricated power train components for potential mechanical breakdown. This is done on a 90 day cycle, and catches problems before they get expensive (i.e. one part failure causes another and so on). We don't change the oil until the analysis indicates the oil needs changed. That is based on fuel contamination and the ability of the oil to neutralize acids created by the combustion process. That abilty is expressed as Total Base Number (TBN) and most modern engine oils can go well over 3000 (more like over double in normal service). The additive package in the oil is what gives the oil its ability to suspend particles (detergent) and neutralize acids (TBN) When the oil gets too thick (viscosity) and/or incapable of neutralizing acid (low TBN) and suspend particles (detergent capacity is "full") it's worn out. Not really before. Regardless, it's a safe bet, and less trouble if you change per the manual recommendations. That way, you don't have a Magnusson-Moss case to fight. I would, however, recommend getting an oil analysis done on your oil (about $20) on at least an annual basis, and ESPECIALLY a month or two before the warranty expires, to catch any internal problems before they catch up to you and your warranty. Then, you get to fight with the dealer and manufacturer over who gets to pay to fix something that "technically" isn't broke. But, you have proof if it does break right after the warranty expires.

Alex
Alex

I have been driving many different cars since the year of 2000 and I've always changed the oil every 7000 miles. Never had any problems with that.

Those who change oil every 3K miles, are suckers that listen to to their mechanics which don't give a damn thing about you, but try to sell as much as possible.

jade
jade

Well here's what I can add...

Not changing your oil for 60,000 miles on a leased 2000 Volkswagen Jetta will cost you close to ten thousand when you blow the engine.

Hypothetically speaking, of course.

dgreen
dgreen

Unless you're driving a car you purchased new within the past two or three years, I wouldn't go longer than 5,000 without changing the oil. But don't take it to have changed. Changing oil is very easy and cheap. If you drive older cars like many frugal people I feel changing your own oil accomplishes a couple things. First, saves you a couple bucks over taking it to have changed. Second, it will help you bond with your older car. Many people take real pride in how well their older cars run or how many miles they have gotten out of them. Changing your own oil gives you a chance to get the know what you're car looks like on the bottom side. While you're there take a look around at the tie rods, hoses, exhaust, tires, etc. I'm not a mechanic by any means but changing my oil has given me the confidence and knowledge to do some other minor repairs and preventative maintenance.

Li
Li

I just want to say to everyone that the mechanics that recommend you to change your oil every 3 months or 3k miles are not ripping you off. Do you even know why oil change is so cheap? Well the reason is that they want you to bring your car in to check for damage parts like: brakes, timing belt, and others parts that needed to be repair. To tell you the truth, they only make 5$ every oil change.They make their money on parts and labor but certainly not oil change. When you bring your car in they look for things that they can make money off also at the same time they checking for your safety. Saying that you can save money by prolonging your oil change is just dense.

Jarhead
Jarhead

I use synthetic oil in my car. I change the oil every 10,000 miles 2,500 above the reccomendations in my manual. I have not had any problems at all yet. I still get my car serviced every 30,000 miles as well

don millard
don millard

i beleive engine wear is according to driving and driver... stop stomping the gas and the brake pedal...
if you have a V8 keep your rpms under 2200... 7000 miles on oil change is suffient... i have had cars where i never changed oil "just added when needed"... "no problems"...

Ken Gregory
Ken Gregory

I've been changing my oil on average of 10,000 miles for decades. I get a lot of milage out of my cars. the last one was donated at 221,000 miles after the trans went, but the engine was fine.
A word about filters. All filters are designed to become more efficient as they filter smaller particles. It is not until they begin to inhibit the flow of the material they are intended to filter that they need to be changed. This would show up as an increase in oil pressure on a gauge, and I have never seen this even in cars with a lot of miles and with as many as 12,000 between changes. Changing a filter to soon probably can't hurt, but it isn't being allow to reach it's peak efficiency. All that being said, I think it's best to follow your vehicle manufacturers schedules for all the reasons previously stated in this post,

Veerendra Jote
Veerendra Jote

Well My honda Civic says that it requires Oil change every 10,000 miles under Normal conditions & 5000 miles under severe conditions.
My Honda dealership (in irving TX) puts 3,000 mile reminder-stickers.
On my 30,000 mile service they kinda forced me to get an "Induction service" done.
Whats the induction Service & how beneficial it is, has a big question mark on the it.
I called the Honda Customer care and initiated complaint against the Irving Honda Dealer (McDavid Honda) for fleecing customers to do un-due services and stuff like that.
I take great care of my car and i fill up at good gas stations and there is no chance that my engine would have huge amounts of carbon deposits from use of inferior fuel. Even my mileage per gallon of fuel suggests that.

All in all i'd say change Oil at 6000-8000 range for normal drivers and driving and around 5000-6000 range for people who dont drive too much every day and are involved in very low or very high temperatures, stop & go driving (delivery vechicles) etc should change oil according to time rather than mileage.

worldceleb
worldceleb

Nice post.

I love that all places still religiously put the 3,000 reminder sticker in the window. I am sure that it helps their business.

I was recently trying to explain to my wife, that those little stickers are irrelevant for most newer cars. I took a little convincing.

used vans girl
used vans girl

Thanks for the tip for the oil change. Does the fact that the oil light has come on indicate that damage is starting to occur to the engine, or just to inform you the oil needs changing. many thanks.

Mark
Mark

You are correct!! Engine oil is so well engineered today that you don't have to change it as often. Just another way for companies to make more money off of uninformed consumers.

Thanks!

Keith
Keith

Yea, I drive my turbo Rx7 only 1,000 miles in nine months. Normal driving down the highway. So after nine months do I change my oil and filter?
I just do it once a year or every 2,000 miles.

Fred
Fred

You're right. Today's oil quality is very high and there is no need to change it too often.Cadillac Seville: (synthetic) oil change 30.000! miles...

Not Lazy
Not Lazy

I agree with the main idea that your oil doesn't need to be changed at the rate the sticker says. We're not lazy, we consider just these cheap oil changes a good way to picking out problems early.

My husband and I drive about 6000 miles/year on our 11 year old cars. We take our cars in every 3 months and pay about $17/ oil change. We don't get the oil changed because we think the oil is dead; we do it so that our trusted mechanic gets a good look at our cars regularly. At the age of our cars, we're in the period where things need to be replaced. We rather catch that when it costs $100-200 than when it costs several times that. We just went last week and because we're regulars they charged $11 bucks for each oil change. My car was fine and off it went. My husband's car was leaking stuff and a gasket needed to be replaced. We're pretty happy with the way this works.

sJ
sJ

If not 3000 miles, what is the ideal number ?

sam
sam

The 3000 mile thing is definitely a money maker for oil change businesses and they have convinced a large part of the driving public that it is an absolute necessity. My advice is to follow the intervals in your owners manual. In my Saab, that is 10k miles.

Jeremy
Jeremy

For Michelle and r who had questions about different driving habits. Again, these guidelines are for typical driving conditions. If you drive very little and it takes a very long time to reach 3,000 miles this assumption may not be appropriate.

I'm not an automotive expert so I don't know what effect infrequent driving has on your oil. It may require that you set up an oil change schedule that isn't so much based on miles but instead based on time. But for something like that I would check with a trusted mechanic or refer to your owner's manual for the vehicle.

Michelle
Michelle

My problem (not really a bad problem to have) is that it takes me 6 or 7 months to hit 3000 mile mark. Do I wait that long, even though "they" say to change every 3 months or 3k miles??

I tend to wait until about month 5, even though I'm nowhere near 3k yet. Opinions??

r
r

Great topic!

What about if you only drive about 3k miles a year anyways? Or even less? Do the recommendations need to be altered?

Driving Blind
Driving Blind

Yeah, I can agree with this, as I did a 13000 mile road trip with my brother over 3 and half months without ever changing the oil the entire trip. In fact I don't think my brother changed the oil in his truck for about another 2 months after we got back, so you can definitely go quite a long way without the "recommended" oil service.

Q at $1 Million to My Name
Q at $1 Million to My Name

Definitely get in there on a regular basis and check your oil level. If you're burning oil, you need to know about it.

Her Every Cent Counts
Her Every Cent Counts

As someone who just purchased her first car under a year ago, I've bee wondering about that 'every 3,000 miles' oil change. It just seemed fishy to me that every car would need an oil change at the exact same time, and that all the folks pushing the timely switch would profit from frequent changes. Thanks for sheding some light on this lie. :)

Dy (www.dyphan.com)
Dy (www.dyphan.com)

I'm always telling my wife that we can prolong our oil change intervals but she freaks out every mile over 3000.

Ted
Ted

Be careful! You might nullify your warranty by not changing the oil according to your dealer's specifications. You need to read your warranty agreement if you have a new car and follow their schedule for maintenance. Otherwise they might rightly choose not to cover that $5000 transmission when it breaks.

michaellutz
michaellutz

@Alt2Att The norm in Germany is ONCE a year (or about 9k-10k miles). I was shocked when I came over here!

Dave
Dave

If you are using conventional oil and your car doesn't get driven much then changing the oil every 3 months is great for it. Oil just sitting around breaks down. I don't know why people try to get as much as they can out of oil, it's cheap in my opinion. Your engine depends on it, newer oil is always going to be better than used oil. Plus, if you can change it yourself, it's super cheap! It's best to go with a fully synthetic oil too. A little more money but soooooo much better than convetional oil. This oil can go longer even without much driving on it. I use full synthetic in my cars and go 4000-5000 miles or 4-5 months btwn changes, depends which happens first and how I drove the vehicles. If most is highway driving I'll go 5000 miles. Some say I'm wasting my money but I don't think oil cost much and I sleep better at night knowing I have good oil in my engines. Alot of short trips and periods of non use is what wears out oil. Now that I do my own oil changes it only costs about $28 out the door for fully synthetic oil and a filter. Used to cost my $35 to go to the quick lube and get conventional oil. I now spend less and the oil lasts longer. To those who like to drive their oil for 7500 or even 10000 miles, do whatever you want, I'll do what makes me happy.

michaellutz
michaellutz

@Smurfy German "norm" is about 10k miles or roughly once a year (been like that for at least 30 years). Newer cars (maybe with a different filter or whatever) can go much further.

Mechanics probably diagnosed the same thing because they "diagnosed" wear. It's not necessarily the result of "old" oil.

Artan
Artan

My friend i never ever changed the oil in my car, never. The 3000-5000-10000 miles change is what the companies want. The car doesnt need that oil change. You just check the viscosity and its fine. VW paasat 1.9 TDI is my car still running, 200000 miles now i never changed the oil since 8-9 years. Cheers Artan from kosovo.

Me
Me

"To those who like to drive their oil for 7500 or even 10000 miles, do whatever you want, I’ll do what makes me happy." Haha....calm down bro....it's just oil!

Me
Me

"To those who like to drive their oil for 7500 or even 10000 miles, do whatever you want, I’ll do what makes me happy." Haha....calm down bro....it's just oil!