It may be a sign of people tightening their belts, but recently many people have called the show to ask me “Do I really need to change my oil every 3000 miles?” The answer is simply no. There are no circumstances by which anyone needs to change their oil that often.
The biggest reason for the longer intervals is tremendous improvement in the quality of oil products. Over the past decade or so, technology has advanced greatly to enable oil to last longer and be more tolerant to heat. Of course, the automotive service industry has tried to keep this quiet it appears.
Many of us grew up being warned to change your oil every 3000 miles, and the consequences for not doing that seemed dire. I grew up being scared to go even 3100 miles without a complete oil change and a new filter.
If you are not 100% sure what your car’s manufacturer recommends as your oil change interval, you should find out ASAP. The car companies spend millions testing oil change intervals as well as the proper weight of oil. They have a vested interest in your engine lasting as long as possible. You should follow their recommendation. You can find it in your owner’s manual or scheduled maintenance guide, and if you cannot locate it, go to this website: checkyournumber.org.
According to Edmunds.com, the average recommended oil change interval for all new cars in 2010 was 7800 miles. I suspect that number is even higher as the 2013 models are rolling out.
One big mistake people make is, they base the time to change their oil on that little sticker the lube place puts in the top left corner of the windshield. Many people think that is the gospel, but many lube places put the 3000 mile interval on the sticker, and you may not even realize it. If you use the same place all the time for oil changes, they have a good idea when the 3000 miles have passed, and they send you a somewhat urgent postcard, and they may even call you to further to add a little urgency.
You have to understand that for many “quick lube” places, the oil change itself is not the big issue, and many do oil changes at prices that are actually a loss. They know however, that the more often they can see your car, the more often they have an opportunity to sell you something else.
More and more, newer cars are coming with oil life monitoring systems. In the old days, it was just a reminder based on time and mileage. Today, these type systems actually monitor the wear of the oil. Even I was skeptical at first, but many post-oil change studies of the old oil have shown these systems to be wildly accurate. I love these systems because it takes the elements out of the equation. In cases of extreme heat for instance, this type of monitoring will keep you from changing your oil too soon or going too far.
Bottom line here, if you are still changing your oil every 3000 miles, you are wasting your money and only aiding the people that do the oil changes and the oil companies themselves. Fewer oil changes are also good for the environment!