Every few months, some article pops up on the internet talking about how people don’t need to change their oil at 3000 miles “anymore”. This article on Yahoo News is a great example of this, and it bothers me. To save you some time, I’ll give you the cliff notes of the linked article. They basically tell people that 73% of California drivers are changing their oil too often, and wasting their money (I’m still cringing). Then the article goes on to say to look at your owners manual, and do oil changes at whatever mileage interval it says. Seems like a good idea right? Well, sure in a fantasy world, yes. In the real world, no. Also, how does the author of this article know that people are changing their oil too often if he doesn’t know the oil change intervals of all of their vehicles? Seems odd to me, but I’ll move forward anyway.
About 9 years ago…. when I was a technician at a dealer, it was a frequent occurrence for customers to come in for an oil change with less than half of their recommended oil left in their car. The majority of cars that I did oil changes to held 8 quarts of oil, and 3 quarts frequently came out at the manual-recommended oil change interval. The manufacturer of this particular car claimed that it was “normal” for these types of engines to burn 1 quart of oil every 1000 miles. Nice! So even if you did a 5000 mile oil change, you’d likely only have 3 quarts left. Just imagine how unhappy the engine is with less than half of the recommended oil. Oh Fine! I’ll answer that question for you. The engine is VERY unhappy. You’ll know the degree of unhappiness when the car is being loaded onto the tow truck.
Do you have VTEC? MIVEC? Some kind of VVT? Well, variable valve timing IS really cool for sure, until you are low on oil. See, VVT works because oil pressure allows it to. When you are super low on oil, (like ohhhh I dunno, maybe half the amount that should have), your main bearings get lubed first, everything else is secondary. Low on oil = “sorry camshafts, no oil for you today….or tomorrow…or ever”. Then your VVT doesn’t work, sets a check engine light, and stresses you the heck out. Shortly after this oil starvation, the engine begins to eat itself. You can actually hear the “Om Nom Nom Nom” as the metal parts chomp away at each other. Not-Cool Engine! Not-Cool.
Back at the dealer, we would change the oil on these cars and put a sticker on the windshield that showed that the customer needed another oil change in 3 months or 3ooo miles. Yes, completely disregarding what the owners manual and dashboard light says. It is then up to the customer to decide whether to trust the manufacture of the vehicle, or the technicians that work on these cars all day, every …..single …….day.
What about the price?…….. Yes! This is a great point. If you do oil changes yourself, with regular ol’ motor oil and filter, it will cost you less than $100 per year if you drive the average 12K miles per year. If you take your vehicle to a dealer or oil change shop, you are looking at around $150 per year (but you usually get a general check-up & all fluids filled included for that price). That’s $8-$12 per month that will easily pay for itself in the long run in my opinion.
I have always changed my oil at 3000 miles because I have personally seen the correlation between high mileage oil changes and unhealthy engines. You’d be amazed at how clean the insides of my engines become once they are in the long term 3000 mile oil change routine. I currently have a 2000 Galant that I have driven for ~50K miles, and at 3000 miles, the oil comes out almost as clean as it went it. Maybe I changing it too early then? Well I have owned 20+ cars, and as if by magic, they have all been amazingly reliable. Even the DSM’s (Eclipses, Talons, Lasers)! In almost 13 years of driving older, “beater”, questionable-looking vehicles, I’ve only needed to be towed home once (blame winter for that one). Is it a coincidence that oil changes & maintenance seem to equal reliability?
What I’m getting at is this: “Oil changes” aren’t just about changing your oil per se. They give you a chance to review all of the general maintenance items on your car like brakes, filters, and tire pressure. If you change you’re oil at 3000 miles, you will almost always prevent your oil level from getting too low which is when the REAL problems happen. It doesn’t cost you much at $12 a month, and you will have peace of mind knowing that your engine is well taken care of. The next time you have a car that is broken, ask yourself when the last time your oil change was. I’ve made mental notes of this over the years, and I’d bet a Dunkin’s coffee that you will find the same results that I have.