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Don’t Change Your Oil Too Frequently

Written by Nickel - 27 Comments

Here’s a money saving tip for you… Don’t change your oil any more than necessary. The idea of changing you oil every three months or 3,000 miles has been pounded into our heads by the oil change industry for years. But is it really necessary? Maybe, maybe not. But many people buy into the idea that frequent oil changes are “cheap insurance,” so why not do it?

While changing your car’s oil too often won’t hurt it, doing so is a waste of money. And besides, if you go to one of those Quicky-Lube places to get your oil changed, do you really want a minimum wage grease monkey messing with your car any more than is absolutely necessary?

According to Tom and Ray Magliozzi (a.k.a., Click & Clack of Car Talk fame), a general rule of thumb would be to change your oil and filter every 5,000 miles. They do, however, recognize that this will be too soon for many people, and a bit late for a few.

As far as I’m concerned, the best approach is to check your owner’s manual. While some cars still need to have their oil changed every 3,000 miles, others can safely go as far as 10,000 miles between changes. Keep in mind that most manufacturers recommend a shorter interval between oil changes if you drive under ‘extreme conditions’ such as extremely high temperature, exceptionally dirty/dusty operating conditions, regularly towing a load, or frequent short trips in cold weather. If you’re concerned, err on the side of the extreme driving conditions. But there’s no need to blindly follow the 3,000 mile rule of thumb.

Published on March 2nd, 2006 - 27 Comments
Filed under: Automotive

About the author: is the founder and editor-in-chief of this site. He's a thirty-something family man who has been writing about personal finance since 2005, and guess what? He's on Twitter!

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27 Responses to “Don’t Change Your Oil Too Frequently”

  1. 1
    Flexo Says:

    Good tip. I usually go about 10,000 miles before getting mine changed. (2004 Honda Civic.) As it gets older, it may start burning oil faster… so I might go to about 7,500 at that point, but hopefully not more frequently than that.

  2. 2
    Steve Says:

    This is a good article. Unfortunetly Jiffy Lube and others base their entire business model on this practice.

    I have a Honda Civic and they recommend changing it every 5000 miles, even under ‘extreme conditions’

  3. 3
    FMF Says:

    GREAT tip! My owner’s manual says once every 5k but garages/dealerships constantly put 3k stickers on my window when I get the oil changed. Who are they trying to fool?

  4. 4
    Blaine Moore Says:

    I change my oil every 4 or 5 months, which is usually around 3000-4000 miles or so. I don’t go to the grease monkey pits, though; I normally get it done when I am having some other sort of regular maintenance or checkup doing at my garage to keep from having to drop it off more often. Tire rotations, tune-ups, and state inspections are usually the real reason it’s getting dropped off.

  5. 5
    Nick Says:

    My MINI Cooper automatically takes your driving habits into account (long distance country driving vs. stop-and-go city driving) and calculates your oil change interval as you travel. I used to have a 90-minute commute through mostly farm land, so my first oil change wasn’t for 18,000 miles. Now that I’m just 10 minutes away from work and do most of my driving within 5 miles of home, I expect my next oil change after just another 12,000 miles.

    Some cars also run on synthetic oil (like MINI Coopers). They only need their oil changed every 10,000-15,000 miles or so. But synthetic oil is more expensive.

  6. 6
    mapgirl Says:

    My car’s manual says 3,750mi. My dad is an old school mechanic and says 3K, but ‘there’s no hurry’, which I take to mean, pass 3K and take it in when you get the chance and that’s about 3,750.

    I find that my car can go longer than that, but it requires having the oil topped off every once in a while, something I hate doing with I’m freezing my hands off at a gas station. I think most folks don’t realize that you can check the oil on your car with the dipstick. It does get browner/blacker/dirtier over time. (When I say most folks, do I mean women? I’m not sure. I’ve met some pretty clueless men too.)

    Along with Nick’s synthetic oil comment, I’ve heard once you use synthetic, you can’t go back to regular oil. Is that true?

    What I’d really like to do to save money is change out my own oil and filter. It’s apparently easy to do. All you need is proper disposal after you’re done, and a lot of the major branded auto shops will take it for a small fee.

  7. 7
    Emma Says:

    I think it depends on the quality of the oil you use as well. We don’t change the oil every 3,000 miles but maybe 5,000. Still, if you’re worried about the money you’re spending on oil changes, you’ve got bigger problems. :)

  8. 8
    jim Says:

    I use synthetic and change at around 10k.

  9. 9
    eric Says:

    Regardless of how many miles between oil changes be sure to check the level regularly.

    Get an air pressure gauge and check your tires once a month also. Underinflated tires costs you in terms of miles per gallon as well as tire wear.

  10. 10
    RS Says:

    That’s a really good point FCN. It is something that I never really thought much about. I always just try to go in when they say to on that little sticker from the garage. I have a 98 Civic and I honestly have never read the manual at all. Guess I should check it out, but it sounds like about 5000 miles from the above comments. Thanks.

  11. 11
    nickel Says:

    RS: Even if your manual tells you to use a longer interval, eric made a really good point… For an older car you should still periodically check the level, as older cars often use (or leak) oil, and you might end up low.

  12. 12
    MyFinancialGoals Says:

    My last Ford Escort I actually went over 43,000 miles without getting the oil changed. I think I went from my senior year of high school to a year after I graduated from college without thinking to change the oil. This was when the car already had 100,000 miles on it. Despite only get 2 or 3 oil changes from 100,000 to 190,000 miles it ran like a charm and I’d still probably be driving it today if I didn’t decide to take a deer head on.

    Not necessarily recommending the above maintenance schedule, but yeah it is possible to go a little longer between oil changes ;-)

  13. 13
    Perky Says:

    Well now I know my car is safe, since it more often gets the ‘button’ reset than the oil changed! (it has one of those, chang oil now indicators, fancy)

  14. 14
    jim gryner Says:

    Ok, I’ve heard all this crap from the Lube Pits… every three thousand miles. This is the stuff women suck in and are taken for a sleigh-ride. My manual says every twelve thousand miles and that seems too frequent, but just to keep it simple I’ve been doing it every ten thousand miles. Yes, I do it myself. Want it done right! But now with the new synthetic, just mark a day on the calendar…. say July 4, 2007…… an oil change…. next change July 4, 2008. What could be easier. Oh yes, a BMW dealer said their new cars start with synthetic and oil and scheduled for a change every 25,000 clicks. So what’s good enough for BMW is good enough for my Infiniti.

    Jim G.

  15. 15
    danon Says:

    You also have to remember to adhere to your warranty in regards to when to change your oil.

    If you dont, or can’t prove you have and have a severe engine malfunction, they’ll blame lack of oil changes.

  16. 16
    Wayne Says:

    My father is a service manager for a big auto repair chain and he changes his oil ever 1200 miles or so. He says that the 3000-7000 mile oil change interval is suggested by the company that wants to sell you a new car in 5 years. I think that’s too frequent but I try not to go past 3000.

  17. 17
    Rick Says:

    The skinny is know your car:

    The service manual for my 1997 Honda Civic cites that usage of just under 1 Quart of oil every 1k miles is common consumption for the vehicle. If I did every 5k, then I’d be out of oil at every change. My car has 190k miles and purrs like a kitten, but I do have to top it off every 1500 miles before I do my 3000 mile change. Why? Because it has 190k miles and I drive it hard, all the time.

    Different strokes for different folks. IF I CAN RECOMMEND ONE THING… it’s to CHECK your oil level every 1k miles and then do the change at whatever interval you feel is prudent, but you must at least check because strange things can happen and a car is no good broken.

    Also, it’s in a manufacturers best interest for you to need a new vehicle… these things weren’t meant to last forever, but erring on the side of caution if you can is always a great idea.

  18. 18
    swhite Says:

    I know a guy that drove a Ford Escort like the person in the above post only it was more like 63000 miles and get this it didnt have a air cleaner and he went near or on all kinds of gravel roads the only thing I remember hearing was something he said when some else broke the mechanic made him change the oil because it didnt look good. then he changed and went close to that milage again and with his throttle body sucking in gravel dust and road debree and rain water etc. I never forgot this it was amazing.

  19. 19
    Wyler Chesterfield Says:

    63k miles on dirt roads with no air filter… Change the oil then about that same amount more…..

    ^You expect us to believe that load of B.S. ? If so get this I’ve got a 315 year old grandma that has smoked 8 packs of cigs a day since she was 6. In spite of all this she looks just like 25 yr. old Scarlet Johannsen and has no wrinkles. Oh yeah, she also drinks battery acid every morning for that extra perk, and on special occasions has been known to smoke dynamite. I never forgot this it was amazing!

  20. 20
    John Says:

    Nearly two years ago i put full synthetic oil in my car and i am never going to change it as it is working perfectly, now i passed 21.000 Miles and oil is very new, i added anly 300 grams of oil during this period. Dont be stupid to believe something that others say you should do. That is what they want, to earn more and more money from stupid people but do we really need it? No, absolutelly. If the oil that i put in my car says that it should be changed at 10.000 Miles and now i drove for 20.000 Miles and the car is running without a slightest problem where is the point here. It is just a conspiracy. Never change the oil again, just keep the level if it consumes it.

  21. 21
    Wyler Chesterfield Says:

    Yeah, and never wipe your rear end after taking a big sloppy dump too. The oil picks up grime in your engine, and even cleans it to a degree. Even if yours is cleaner than the next guys, do you really think that your stupid advice is something that will cover every engine? I mean- ignoring the fact that it’s terrible advice to begin with.

    “Dont be stupid to believe something that others say you should do.”

    …And you are telling people to wreck their engine. You tidbit of advice in this area DOES apply. People, don’t be stupid and believe this guy. Let common sense and research prevail.

    “It is just a conspiracy. Never change the oil again, just keep the level if it consumes it.”

    Wow.

  22. 22
    John Says:

    Mr. Wyler, dont be so extreme, lets discuss it in a professional level. Just monitor the level. Use full synthetic oil and no need to change it ever again. I drive with the same oil since 21000 Miles and 18 months, the oil is just new. Why it didn’t brake down since it was supposed to be changed at 10000 miles. The oil companies are cheating on us. My opinion is that the oil in the engine becomes better and better while getting older. Just like wine.

  23. 23
    Wyler Chesterfield Says:

    Egads man! You’re right! I just sampled some vintage 1984 Pennzoil from an old Chevette and it’s wonderful! I have already began harvesting this stuff from the local junkyard ( there are plenty of people following your advice judging by all the metal shavings… No worries, mate! A rare-earth magnet on the underside of my trusty plastic pan makes quick work of it! ) and have an appointment with executives from Olive Garden to start selling this stuff! Free advice: goes WONDERFUL with fine aged cheese. Cheers!

  24. 24
    John Says:

    Just try it in your car but use only full synthetic oil. You will be convinced there is no need to change the oil ever as it will never brake down. If you use mineral and half synthetic oil it will not work. People tried it and it works. Some trucks have passed 500.000 Miles without an oil change, engineers checked teared the engine appart and there was no damage or wear, just normal. Wasting money for changing oil and filters is a waste of money time and it is wrong because there is no need. The dealers are cheating, it is totally unneccesary.

  25. 25
    The guy Says:

    Based on my experience, the oil will last, but the question is – will it stay clean? I had serious issues with gunked up oil passages in the engine, all sorts of plugged up valves because of dirty oil, oil not getting to lifters because of plugged up inlets etc. Sold the old problematic cars and you know what – I went back to changing my oil every 3000 miles on the new cars. I do it myself. Keep those things clean – don’t get talked into the 10K change interval.

  26. 26
    A guy Says:

    Sure, the oil will last – but that’s not my concern.
    I’ve had issues with blocked oil passages due to sludge resulting in engine head repairs. I’m tired of people who have never held a wrench writing about the extended oil intervals, just because of ‘improved oil chemistry’ or ‘modern engine design’. I’ve had my lesson and do not buy into this any more. To keep the extended interval proponents happy, I HAVE extended my interval to: 6K KM, which is about 3.7K miles, instead of 3K miles. That’s about all the extension you’ll see from me. I change my oil myself and I don’t believe the sludge I see every time I drain the engine would be good for another 3K miles.

  27. 27
    Oil Is Life Blood Says:

    Change your oil ! Its the life blood of the car…bad blood equals death..oil breaks down with time,and becomes like soot… Even if it seems ok on the surface,its probably not lower down in the engine…I had used car that ran great… One day I opened the oil fill cap,and black pudding had oozed all around it… SLUDGE.. The previous owner did not change the oil.. I had the engine cleaned out… That car,a 97 Chrysler LHS now has 195.000 miles on it…Runs strong,cool,and quiet: 3000 mile oil changes with QUALITY OIL….

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