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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.

Other Great Ways to Save on Car Maintenance

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