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.
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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.