How often should you really change your oil?
If you ask your dad how often you should change your oil, he’ll likely tell you to change it every 3,000 miles. It’s not that he’s wrong, but the answer isn’t as simple as 3,000 miles or every 3 months. It’s a bit more complicated and has a lot to do with the type of oil your vehicle requires, your personal driving habits, and numerous other factors to consider. Keep in mind, oil and engine efficiency has come a long way and most modern engines require your oil to be changed anywhere between 5,000 miles up to 10,000 miles or between 6 months up to 12 months. While having your vehicle looked at every 3,000 miles is beneficial, it is absolutely not necessary to change the oil that frequently. Although, keep in mind there are other services required in that time frame.
Today, most mechanics are unfairly judged as dishonest thieves. Not that there aren’t dishonest mechanics out there, but let’s put this in perspective; If you were to go to the dentist and the dentist recommended you get your teeth cleaned twice a year, you know that likely you aren’t going to lose your teeth if you don’t follow their recommendations, right? Are they lying to you or just trying to take your money? I wouldn’t think so, I think they are trying to prevent disease and other problems associated with the lack of dental care. Same goes for the “traditional” 3,000 mile recommendation. It doesn’t hurt, except for maybe a little bit out of your wallet. It is likely unnecessary to keep your car on the road. Most repair shops like to see your car at least 3 times a year to keep an eye on what’s failing or needs serviced with your car. Which is partially why mechanics use the 3,000 mile oil change rule.
If you take your car to a repair facility to just get a “once over”, it could cost anywhere between $20 to $100. Or you can take your vehicle in for a $30 oil change and get the same inspection along with the peace of mind that your oil is changed and your engine is healthy. I’m not saying you should actually go in every 3,000 miles or 3 months. I’m merely saying that taking it in every 4-5 months is ideal and will get you the most out of your car. Most manufacturers have 5,000 mile intervals between different types of services in the maintenance schedule anyway. Some go as little as every 2,500 miles before there is a specific service or component inspection that needs to be addressed. So, you should be seeing your mechanic for those other services 2-3 times a year, not just for oil changes.
I want to challenge you to open the owner’s manual, look through the maintenance section and note how often you should really be changing your oil. While you’re there, take a mental note of all the other services you have neglected on your vehicle so far. It seems as if we were able to get it through that your oil needs to be changed, but what about other services? Such as, cooling system flushes, power steering flushes, transmission fluid changes, etc.. If your oil is the lifeline of your engine, what are these often overlooked maintenance items to those components? I would suggest passing on oil changes every 3,000 miles and using the saved money to put towards other necessary services.
There are a few stipulations if you decide following dad’s golden rule is too excessive. First and foremost, check your oil level often. Most manufacturers accept minimal oil consumption as a normal condition and place the responsibility on owners to make sure it is full periodically. Another thing to note is the length of time your vehicle is running at a time. If you are making short trips, your vehicle hasn’t had time to maintain a steady operating temperature. Most vehicles run somewhere around 210 degrees. Although heat does have a drastic effect on the reliability of a vehicle, it also helps clean the impurities and burn off moisture. So, if you aren’t maintaining operating temperatures for an extended period of time, your engine oil will need to be changed more frequently.
So, let’s get to the point here. The intention of this post is to inform you of how often a car owner needs to change their oil and, the easy answer is to refer to your owner’s manual or ask an auto repair facility that you trust. Most cars have service reminders now as well. Using those reminders are fine, as long as you’re sure the technician is resetting it at every oil change. You can also find a lot of handy tools online to help you make your decision. There isn’t an exact science to it, but make sure you don’t surpass your recommended schedule. Yes, auto repair shops use your oil change intervals to sell you on other services. Some are needed immediately and some can be put off while you prepare your budget. My recommendation is to find a shop you trust and they should be able to educate you about all the services your car requires and help you come up with a good schedule to maintain and repair your vehicle.