The 3,000-Mile Oil Change Myth

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Here’s the scenario: You head into the quickie lube garage and drop $30 or so for an oil change. As you drive away, you notice a sticker in the upper corner of your windshield telling you when you’ll be due for another oil change—the classic “three months of 3,000 miles.” Unless you want to waste money (and use more oil than is necessary, which is bad for the environment), don’t trust the sticker.

An auto maintenance article in the Boston Globe reminded me of the 3,000-mile myth. I think many drivers suspect that changing the oil every 3,000 miles is overkill, but they want to play it safe and protect the life of their vehicles—and hey, it’s only $25 or $30 here and there. Some drivers push it an additional 1,000 or 2,000 miles, but even changing your oil that frequently may be unnecessary. Depending on your car, you might be able to drive 7,500 or even 10,000 miles between oil changes without putting your vehicle’s life expectancy at risk.

Another key point in the Globe story is a warning about the pressurized—and public—upsell that drivers are subject to when bringing a car in to get serviced:

“Those quickie oil change places have spent a lot of money on marketing and studying what drives people to make retail decisions,’” said Tony Blezien, vice president of operations for LeasePlan USA. “And one of the things they have found to be most effective is to call people out in front of their peers. It’s almost as if the customers are embarrassed and feel like they need to buy those extras.”

Of course, you can save money by changing your car’s oil and doing other routine maintenance yourself. It’s just not for everyone, and if you don’t know what you’re doing, the DIY method can cost you in the long run. Thirty bucks is money well spent if it means your engine isn’t going to cease. But spending $30 twice as often as you need to is doubly annoying. Some oil change specs from the Globe store:

Oil Changes: The “three months or 3,000 miles’” mantra for how often oil changes need to be performed has become so common that many drivers don’t realize that it’s an oil industry marketing pitch. Blezien said drivers should check their vehicle’s owner’s manual to see what the manufacturer recommends, as some newer vehicles can go longer in between changes.

Some newer vehicles are equipped with a warning light that tells the driver when the car is due for an oil change, and in some cases it may be up to 6,000 miles in between visits. “The important thing there is once that light goes on, you should get your oil changed within two gas fill-ups of your vehicle,’” Blezien said.

Read your owner’s manual to find out about the recommended oil change schedule. That’s the only way to really know what to do. What’s funny—in the aggravating, drive-you-crazy way—is that you can even bring your car into a dealership to get an oil change, and a worker there will put the same 3,000-mile warning sticker on your car, knowing full well that the vehicle in question only needs oil changes every 5,000 or 6,000 miles.

If you’re not sold that the 3,000-mile rule is a myth, check out some quotes on the topic from Consumer Reports, NPR’s “Car Talk” guys, and other experts.

2 comments
MatthewLBlair
MatthewLBlair

Hello Brad, you are wrong about the oil change interval. Nobody can just drive 5, 7, or 10,000 miles between oil changes because it is all based on the condition of their vehicle. I know this because I am a general manager at a Jiffy Lube, and I have seen what happens when people believe they can drive extended distances on the same oil, just because their dealership told them so: disaster. Vehicle manufacturers are telling customers that they can drive farther in between oil changes because people want a maintenance-free car, or don't want to have to keep putting money back into their car. It's a selling point. And as for you, saying that you don't need to change your oil, put this in your pipe and smoke it: if it costs $40 every four months to change the oil in your car, to keep it healthy, and to keep it properly maintained, that's less than what most people spend on coffee a month. Going farther in between oil changes, regardless if you have a brand new vehicle or a twenty year-old clunker is similar to a dialysis patient going a few days longer without getting treatment. Even with the synthetic and the synthetic blend of oil grades, it is still highly recommended that you change your oil twice a year. So based on your statements, and the language and specific wording you used (don't worry, I'm not treading into unfamiliar territory here as you are when you are writing as an authority on motor oil because I studied journalism and graduated from college with my degree in English, Language, and Literature) you might lead people to believe that despite the condition of their vehicle and engine, they can now drive farther between oil changes because you wrote "don't trust the sticker." Let's say that a gentleman with an oil leak in his 2004 Honda Civic hybrid reads your article, scoffs at the thought of changing his oil, or maybe even routinely checking it, because, based on your recommendation, he read his owner's manual and it advised him to change the oil every 10,000 miles, and now his engine locked up because it was running too low on oil. What then? What manufacturer would say "Oh hey, you followed our recommendations for oil changes, but your car still messed up, have a new on us."? None, that's the answer. The solution is to routinely change your oil based on the condition of your engine and your (trusted) mechanic's recommendation. P.S. You look a lot like Jason Bateman in your picture.

JeanneMeier
JeanneMeier

Any idea how long a 2011 Ford Escape can go?  I don't know what kind of oil is in it. Had the oil changed once and now per the sticker I am 5,000 miles over. Most are highway (interstate) miles, if that matters, but I noticed this today and am a little worried.