The 3,000 Mile Myth of Oil Changes

Published 9/25/07 (Modified 6/24/11)
By MoneyBlueBook

What do you think about this statement - true or false? To prolong the life of your vehicle, experts recommend that you change your vehicle's engine oil every 3000 miles.

The answer? False! Modern engines today are much more advanced and don't require oil changes every 3000 miles, and research has shown that frequent oil changes have no appreciable benefits. The only experts that push for this are those from the oil industry.

The 3,000 Mile Myth

The long handed down concept of the 3000 miles oil change was the brain child of Jiffy Lube and propagated by oil industry officials. While it's not exactly a scam per-se, it's quite a lucrative myth for the engine oil maintenance industry. The average American drives 12,000 miles in a year, and with an oil change every 3,000 miles costing in excess of $25 each, that's $100 annually for each customer. Every visit to the auto mechanic or oil change facility gives them yet another opportunity to push for other pricey maintenance services such as air filter replacement and transmission flush.

Although oil companies and quick engine lube shops like to promote this idea, it's usually not necessary. Instead, drivers should consult their vehicle owner's manual oil change schedule for more credible guidance. Most vehicles driven under normal conditions can reliably go 7,500 miles or more between oil changes. Some models now even come with monitoring systems that alert the driver when the oil needs changing. Depending on driving conditions, they can help extend oil change intervals further - to 10,000 or 15,000 miles.

If you want some test trial and research backing, just take a look at what Consumer Reports discovered. They performed an experiment to test engine oil performance in 1996 using New York City taxi cabs. After examining the results, they concluded that:

Even in the severe driving conditions that a New York City taxi endures, we noted no benefit from changing the oil every 3,000 miles rather than every 6,000. If your driving falls into the "normal" service category, changing the oil every 7,500 miles (or at the automaker's suggested intervals) should certainly provide adequate protection. (We recommend changing the oil filter with each oil change.)

My Vehicle's Correct Oil Change Interval

I checked out my Honda Accord's driver's manual and lo and behold, the car manufacturer recommends oil changes every 5,000 miles for severe driving and every 10,000 miles for normal driving. Every car model's different, but in my case, my manual indicates that severe driving is characterized as mainly operating the vehicle under the following conditions:

  • Driving less than 5 miles per trip, or in freezing temperatures, driving less than 10 miles per trip,
  • Driving in extremely hot (over 90 degree) conditions,
  • Used primarily as a delivery vehicle or taxi that is driven mostly in stop and go traffic and/or parked with the engine idling,
  • Trailer towing, driving with a roof top carrier, or driving in mountainous conditions, or
  • Driving on muddy, dusty, or de-iced roads.

My owner's manual also notes that if you only occasionally drive under the above severe condition, than you should follow the normal driving conditions maintenance schedule. With this in mind, I would consider my driving to be fairly normal with more highway driving than local since I commute to work mostly via public subway transportation. Thus, I now get an oil change every 6,000 miles (a compromise between severe and normal), which comes out to twice a year, and I find it to be very sufficient.

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47 Responses to “Oil Changes | Oil Change Frequency | Money Blue Book” 

  1. Chris says:

    I am trying to justify the once a year thing. Does oil have a shelf life? If it is just sitting there and not being used how can it go bad?

  2. Raymond says:

    I think if the motor oil is stored properly - not too hot, not too cold, it should be okay for several years so long as it is capped tight. I don't believe they have a shelf life but if the oil is in your engine, that is a different matter. Dust and dirt naturally accumulate over time even if the car is sitting in your garage all this time.

  3. JLS says:

    I have taken to buying Amsoil filters (expensive at $17-20) and Mobil1 synthetic oil. I will drive 15-20k before changing oil. The filter and oil will handle at least 15k.

  4. Sheila says:

    I've heard recently that they have done research that says oil after 3,000 miles starts to break down the rubber gaskets or seals and that's another reason to change the oil every 3,000. I wonder- if you are changing the oil regularly at least every 5,000 miles why do the gaskets break down if it is NOT the oil? Thanks....S

  5. Fishtail says:

    Years ago I asked a Chicago taxi fleet owner how he addressed the oil change issue. He told me "All we do is change the oil filter every 10K miles and add new oil along the way as needed. We never drain it." Who knows, this may not be smart with todays engines.

  6. A. munez says:

    when i went to mechanics school, we were told that oil does not break down.
    yes it does get dirty.
    if as they now claim, oil does break down. why do they filter it and sell it back to the consumer? are they selling broken down oil.
    also how does oil break down on an engine that hasn't been run for 3 months
    " the change oil every 3000 miles or 3 months whichever comes first.
    by the way i have owned 2 cadillacs and i never change the oil
    one had 230000 miles my other one now has 138000 miles.
    art

  7. T.A.S says:

    A. munez ... I hope you never touch one of my vehicles.... You never change your oil? I use Mobile 1 syn and change it every 5000 miles on my Jeep Grand Cherokee 5.2L with hard driving. I have a rear oil seal that does not leak until the oil thins down about after 5000 miles which shows me oil does change after time. I have 256,430 miles on my Jeep and does not burn oil... high compression. I have always used Mobil 1 Syn and changed oil @ 5000 miles and will continue to do so on all my vehicles. Oil changes are too cheap compared to rebuilding an engine.

  8. jay says:

    I read every statement on this site. I work at an oil change/maintenance shop. I see good points and some rather ridiculous suggestions. I have worked as a mechanic long enough to know that it is in fact cheaper to properly maintain a vehicle than to just let something break and replace it. new fluid is by far much better than used fluid. hence the reason GM nor FORD nor honda will ever take the old oil out of A. munez's cadillac and put in a new camaro or mustang motor. Further more, oil doesnt break down. it is the additives and detergents mixed with the oil that breaks down. If the oil is better the additves can last longer due to the oil not being affected as much by the temperature and such. hence synthetic oils. all oils have shelf lives when poured into a vehicle due to exposure to condensation/moisture. change your oil. change your transmission fluid. change any fluid you have. and another thing is there are additives in all oil to help control swelling and shrinkage of your gaskets and seals. once those additives break down your oil offers no protection for them causing oil leaks. for this reason oil companies have made a killing off from stop leaks and sealants and other bottled additives you can purchase to pour into your engine oil. As far as the intervals of changing your fluids. keeping things cleaner is much better. change it all regularly. The filter is there to keep fluids clean. If the fluid looks dirty chances are the filter can't filter anymore and ya need to change ur sh!t you cheap as$ basturds

  9. jays the sh!t says:

    jay your the sh!t you tell those cheap bastards!!!!!!!! wooooo

  10. Rob says:

    Jay is right about oil constamination in some respect, but doesn't know how little those things effect an engine in the long term (I am talking about a sound engine of course). This is why I do my own work on my vehicle. The color of your motor oil has NOTHING to do with its ability to continue lubrication. I am willing to put my money on "jays the shit" also being Jay. I have a 1986 Toyota 4x4, I run mobil 1 synthetic, and now mobil 1 extended performance synthetic (its a group 4, as mobil 1 full synthetic was before Extended Performance came along. I change my oil once a year, winds up being around 12,000-14,000 miles on a single oil change. The truck has 419,000 miles on it. I have an 06 Dodge dakota, I have been doing once a year changes, about 12,000 miles per change, No issues. If your really interested in this sort of thing, join a forum like BITOG that has thousands of people who have paid for oil analysis to proove motor oils are good into the 15,000+ mile range, even in the most "Severe" of driving habits. I have no run across an engine that was mechanically sound that could not handle running a good synthetic for 10,000+ miles. I am talking about POA synthetics, not "royal purple" or other junk. Mobil 1, Amsoil, or Castrol Syntec.

    Stop wasting your money. Take it from a guy who has been using synthetics since the 80's, along with my whole family. We change the oil once a year. I spend $50 a year on my pickup in oil. A standard oil filter is fine for the entire duration. Again go to the BITOG forum to learn more.

  11. Carel W. Fisher says:

    I am an automotive professional from Master Mechanic to Fleet Administrator I have always changed oil in fleet (Non-Diesel) vehicles at 6000 or more miles. and never used additives.

    I traded my last Pickup at 148,000 miles, still going strong. I traded for the new designed model with more bells and whistles.

  12. Raymond says:

    Well I guess if you have the money and can afford frequent oil changes once a month, go for it as it'll probably keep your engine nice and super clean, but for everyone else it makes more financial sense to follow the car maintenance schedules provided by your auto manufacturer. All else is marketing hype by the oil change industry in my opinion.

  13. Dar says:

    I have a 2000 Chevrolet Van express that has just been parked for a year without any start up (battery eventually died). The van has been stored and not driven because I did not need to use it and so its just parked. I would like to use it soon and what should I do as far as the oil is concern. My thoughts is to get an oil change but would have to drive an hour to get to a service station (I live in a rural area). Please give me your recommendations.

  14. Wayne Englehutt says:

    I drive a 1998 Z-3 Roadster and I have been constantly told that I have to change my
    oil at every 5000km or 3000miles I use synthetic oil with a BMW original oil filter
    so can I change my oil at 5000miles or is it better 3000miles

  15. Name says:

    All I know is what I see with my own eyes.
    I have one truck that has had the oil changed only when it's in the shop for some other reason. (In for brakes, might as well change the oil) 450,000 miles and still running strong. I put 5 - 9,000 lbs on it and run 230 miles EVERY DAY.

    I have a Chevy Express 3500. New oil only when it's in the shop for brakes or some other breakdown. It carries 3 - 5,000 lbs for 130 miles, 5 days per week. 380,000 miles and still running strong.

    I have a Dodge Ram Cargo Van. Same as above, except this one only runs about 80 miles per day with less than 1,000 lbs. 211,000 and running strong.

    My personal car, of course, doesn't get the payload or the mileage of the others, but on the same oil change schedule. 150,000 miles, no problem.

    None of my vehicles burn oil. The truck has a minor leak which requires a quart to be added about every 3,000 miles.

    And these are just the ones I CURRENTLY own. I won't even talk about the many others I've had over the past 25 years.

    It's always been my belief (just from my own experience and deductive reasoning. I claim no supporting science) that frequent oil changes
    1) have always been a steady stream of business for the oil and maint. industries
    2) produce more waste that must be dealt with (bad for the environment)
    3) stir up sludge that has settled to the bottom of the oil pan so that it can get in your engine and really begin to cause problems
    4) The technology has existed for years to intall better filtering systems which will recycle your oil while it is still in the engine. With the advanced filter at a high point in the system, it could be changed without having to lose a quart or more, leaving the oil itself in the engine, never to be drained.
    5) WE ARE SHEEP doing as we are told and not questioning our betters.

  16. Mike says:

    Alot of great information, and after reading about this all of the internet I would agree, every 3,000 miles is way too much.

    I read about another test a while back, similar to these were they took two identical new cars and changed the oil (using synthetic). Then they changed the other after 12,000 miles and did a comparison on the engine where and noticed no difference!

    So if you can, I highly recommend you to USE SYNTHETIC! With doing alot of work on my car I have personally seen the horrible things that regular oil does (like build up and gunk everywhere in the engine). Also, change your oil, but wait till atleast 5,000 miles or a half a year before you do, because its overkill if you change it any more than that.

  17. Counterman says:

    I worked in the automotive aftermarket for some years, and I have also worked as technical writer focusing on the automotive aftermarket. The 3,000 mile standard is an old one put in place when oils did not have the additives they have today. That standard was also put in place because old, nonsealed ball joints, U-joints and other drive and chasis parts needed to be lubricated on that schedule. Now, those are sealed in most applications. As for driving, most people, whether they realize it or not, do not drive "easy" miles and are closer to the "extreme" conditions listed in service manuals. Heat and moisture from combustion will break down an oil. When oil is not changed, sludge forms. If you change the oil AND filter on a regular basis sludge should not be an issue. There is no sense in changing oil and not changing the filter, and there is no sense in changing the filter and not changing the oil. Do both together. And when you change your oil, check the air filter and PCV valve. Sludge can have more to do with bad PCV valves than it can anything else. If the air filter and PCV valve need replaced do so. Also, check the oil once a week. More engine damage is done by low oil levels than has ever been done by "old" oil. As for synthetics. I have no recommendations. Use what you like that is of quality and meets your car's requirements (read the owner's manual) As for the oil you turn in, it is not filtered and turned back into motor oil. It becomes heating oil, asphalt, packing grease, burned in power plants, etc.

  18. Chris says:

    In Ref to Rob's comment on Amsoil as a lesser oil to Mobil one.
    FYI.....................................
    " AMSOIL synthetic motor oil is a pure synthetic motor oil that falls into the Group IV classification. AMSOIL synthetic motor oil uses a polyalphaolefins base ..."
    Quote:
    "not "royal purple" or other junk Mobil 1, Amsoil, or Castrol Syntec."
    I guess" his " version of "Mobil 1" is a well hidden secret or something.?
    I use Amsoil 24 k 5w-30 in my trucks and cars. The olds has 150k and is like new.The Amsoil Tranny fluid is gold. The solenoid, and all other front wheel drive components love it! Smooth!

  19. Chet says:

    Great article! Everyone who owns a vehicle should be required to read it (along with the accompanying report conducted by the taxi company). It would certainly save millions per year when you add up how many people fall for the oil companies' "3000 mile" marketing gimmick.

    Oh and as the article said, using synthetic is not only more expensive, the taxi study proved that synthetics are no better at protection than standard oil. So much for another marketing gimmick shot down (but don't tell Chris above, he's so proud of his Amsoil at about 3x the cost of standard oil, wouldn't want to break his little heart).

  20. Symon says:

    As humans get older our blood tend to age as well.It be nice to replenmish our bodies with young blood because younger blood has greater ability to help nurish our aging bodies & restore problem we have in our slowly destructive system hence wear & tear. Likewise , the automobile is the closing thing to an actual human. We need water to drink and cars needs gas to operate & this case motor oil is one the key element we must pay closely attention to; afterall purchasing a vechicle is an investment from the start and we all know in order to prolong the lifeline of one vechicle we have to take care of it. In my opinon this topic is broad and probably been beat to death all around the world but it doesn't take a genus to figure out why motor oil is important for your car. It all very on type of car,engine size, grade of oil, driving condition and the condition of the vechile it self. In order for one to argue this topic , one should understand how a vechicle operates. Everything other thing affect everything. So I bet people are naive when following their owner manual when they recommend oil filter removal at 12,000 miles or driving beyond 5,000 miles. You acutally think oil doesn't get burn away before it next oil change. Oil is what keepin your engine from crack piston, damage seals, or even some bent valves. Then you wonder why you engine is always ticking, the only reason why people keep driving because overtime oil build a base layer in your engine that remain lubing engine parts but it eventually dry out due to excessive heat & higher friction. My Point is if you want to prolong and avoid costly repair in the future then don't be a cheapskate & skip out of an oil change. Inaddition not all oil is the same. Pay the extra dollar for quality oil & use the correct grade of oil. Don't complain abt the cost of the oil because it is what you pay for. Of course you went go to Nascar and dump 93 Pump gas during a race because type of gas do make a difference(get it race fuel). As for synthetic motor oil please it only recommended for low miles car pretty much not 100,000 or over who never seen synthetic. In order to switch over you have to completly flush your engine, go the extra mile & rip that motor apart & take it to a machine shop so they clean it & bake it then you can run synthetic motor oil that my two cents. (Likly suggest synthetic blend) for your confuse individuals who want to increase their MPG. Likewise do the research before you do or buy anything, that why googles was invented. One Word IS R&D (Research & Development) & Yeah 3,000 miles is a wonderful myth because like us human we need to get check up so just like us car need to follow up on these intervals because during this time it not just oil we concern about it the entire car itself, engine, fluids,suspension, the body , etc. Also, I Really hate those Taxi Drivers & NYC is crowded to begin with I wonder how far a adverge cab drives. MM Not enough open road to consider that unless you want to run over people. Feel free to comment* Becuz I'm done Talking

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