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An Oil Change Every 3,000 Miles is a Waste of Money

This article was written by in Consumer. 18 comments.


When I graduated college, my father surprised me with a car: a very used 1987 Toyota Celica. I didn’t know much about owning a car at the time, and the Celica required quite a bit of car. For example, it required not only replacing engine oil occasionally, it required filling engine oil from time to time. I discovered this the hard way. Like many people who have cars but don’t know the first thing about maintaining them, I blew a hole in the motor.

I didn’t know what happened, but on a day I was planning to drive home, I found myself on the side of Interstate 95 in Delaware waiting for AAA to tow my car. I learned my lesson. In fact, the replacement in the form of a rebuilt 1986 Celica engine had problems burning oil, so I found myself adding a quart of oil every few stops at the gas station. I was diligent about changing the oil every 3,000 miles. Since that fateful day, I’ve slightly increased my knowledge about cars — not by much.

I do know this. Today’s cars, when in good condition, don’t need oil changes every 3,000 miles. This may have been the case in the past, but modern cars are designed not to require these frequent changes, though specialty stores will be the last to admit it.

Follow the guidelines in the manual. For example, the manual for my Honda Civic recommends changing oil every 10,000 miles or one year, whichever comes first. For drivers in severe conditions, the manual recommends 5,000 miles or six months. The dealership, on the other hand, offers a reminder to come in for another oil change after 7,500 miles.

Changing oil without the help of a mechanic is supposedly not difficult. There is a prohibition on working on cars in the parking lot of my apartment complex, so I haven’t bothered to learn how to do it myself and save a few dollars every year.

How often do you replace your car’s engine oil? Of course, if you sustain your travel needs through public transportation, this is one of the many things you will not have to deal with.

Here’s more on this topic from the New York Times.

Published or updated September 14, 2010. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Stevedh

6,000 – 8,000 miles or whenever I might have “rode it hard”. After a recent trip out west with mountain climbing and 115 degree Vegas days I changed oil upon returning even though it had not reached the mileage limit. BTW it’s not just the cars, oil products have also improved significantly over the years. Although I don’t want to get into a car reviews the last Buick I put out to pasture (we both retired) had 247,563 miles on an engine that had never been repaired. (Of course alternators, A/C, brakes, and electrics had been replaced but the engine and transmission had never been cracked open for repair)

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avatar Lulugal

I got my car from a dealership and they were running a program where we get free oil changes for life if we come in on the 3000 mile schedule. It was not an added cost so I go ahead and do it every time it is due because if I lapse and then need one I will have to pay for it. I think if I had to pay each time I might go a little longer since I don’t drive my car hard, but in this case I do go in every 3K miles.

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avatar Candide

Here’s an example of where the economic incentive is detrimental to the great good. You’re not wrong to take advantage of the free offer, but you’re wasting perfectly good oil in the process, which is a net negative.

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avatar Freeby50

Most new cars can go 5,000 or more between oil changes. But I’d just go with what the manufacturer says. Some cars makers still do recommend 3,000 mile intervals.

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avatar Yana

I get the oil changed every 7500 miles/9 months or so.

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avatar Matt_SF

Every 5000 miles or 12 months, whichever comes first. I don’t drive that much, and the driving I do is stop-and-go.

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avatar Money Reasons

I have mine changed every 5,000 miles.

We cheat by getting both cars serviced at Walmart (although now we are thinking about SAM’s club instead). We bring in both cars to be changed while we go grocery shopping! That way the process is a win-win…

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avatar Nachos

I use Mobil1 synthetic motor oil and change my cars once a year. I drive about 6000 miles a year.

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avatar ctreit

My father in law just changed the oil in my Toyota Corolla after 7,000 miles. I only had two quarts of dirty oil in the car. I think I went a little too long without an oil change. He spent $16 on various things like oil and an oil filter. – I got a coupon for an $18.95 oil change in the mail the same day. That makes me think that doing the oil change yourself is not worth the trouble.

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avatar Money Funk

I just started using synthetic since I drive 800mi/week for work alone in severe traffic ridden freeways. I change it every 6,000 with a tire rotation.

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avatar Evan@MyJourneytoMillions

My real question would be is there anything wrong with changing it every 3 months? Or is the point that it is a waste (although not much) money?

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avatar KAT

YES, IF OIL IS CHANGED TOO FREQUENTLY, IT ‘COULD’ PROMOTE DAMAGE. THE BEARINGS IN THE VEHICLE REQUIRE LUBRICATION, IE: OIL. WHEN REPLACING THE FILTER AND OIL, THERE IS A SMALL PERIOD OF TIME WHERE THERE IS NOT MUCH OIL GOING THROUGH THE VEHICLE DUE TO THE CLEAN FILTER. NOW, MOST NEWER VEHCILES DO HAVE SELF LUBRICATING PARTS NOWADAYS, BUT IF DONE TOO TOO OFTEN, WELL… I SUPPOSE IT CAN WEAR DOWN THE BEARINGS AT A QUICKER PACE. AGAIN, I SAY ‘COULD’ VERY LOOSELY… BUT IT’S JUST BETTER AND RECOMMENDED TO CHANGE THE OIL WHEN THE VEHICLE NEEDS IT. SOME PEOPLE IGNORE THE MANUAL ALL TOGETHER! OIL NEEDS TO FEEL SLIPPERY… PULL OUT THE DIPSTICK, WIPE OFF A BIT WITH YOUR FINGERS. IF IT FEELS SLIPPERY (YOU CANNOT FEEL THE RIDGES IN YOUR FINGER TIPS) AND IT STILL LOOKS A BIT BROWNISH, YOU ARE OK. THE OIL LEVEL SHOULD ALSO STAY BETWEEN THE 2 DOTS/LINES ON THE DIPSTICK. THIS IS BEST CHECKED UPON A COLD ENGINE. IF THE OIL LEVEL IS LOW, DARK IN COLOR, OR DOES NOT HAVE THAT ‘SLIPPERY’ FEELING, YOU SHOULD CHANGE IT! JUST CHECK IT EVERY FEW THOUSAND MILES. MAKE A HABIT OF IT. :) HOPE THIS HELPS… I CAN GET A BIT CARRIED AWAY WHEN TYPING SOMETIMES!

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avatar Midwest saver

Wow- I knew we drive a lot, but we apparently drive a LOT more than most people (at least those who posted here). My wife & I average 20-25,000 miles/vehicle/yr. We changed 2 yrs ago to getting the oil changed every 6000 miles- at the same time we started using synthetic motor oil. I haven’t seen any change in performance, etc. They did recommend that you watch your oil level closely after the 1st change, as it may use a bit until it all gets cycled through.
Anyway, we figured we were saving money, even though the switch to synthetic increased the cost of the oil change by about 50%. For example, if a regular cost us $30 and we did it every 3000 miles, vs $45 every 6000 miles, we were money ahead.

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avatar Bucksome

We change the oil every six months which works out to about 5000 miles give or take.

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avatar Cass ♦0 (Newbie)

In agreement. Only commercial vehicles and trucks require very frequent oil changes.

Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves. ~Albert Einstein

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avatar Damon

I change mine as close to 3,000 as I can get. If I go over by a few hundred its not the end of the world. However, I firmly believe that changing the oil at this interval is important to the various parts of the car, and I think that any preventative steps I can take to keeping my car in good shape is a no brainer.

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avatar Richard

I never really changed my oil.. I’d instead change the filter about every 6 to 8 thousand miles and add whatever oil neede to top it off.. Unless of course you have a blowen head gasket or some other contamint in the oil.. Then I would check what it was fix it and put fresh oil in.

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avatar Hank

You might consider this. If the owners manual says change every 3000 miles to need to adhere to that. If you have a engine problem and the dealer discovers that you have not followed the manual’s advise they can deny your warranty, because you didn’t stick to your end of the bargain. I heard that if you take your Ford in and the crankcase is overfull your warranty is void on the spot. I believe I would follow the book

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