The 3000 Mile Oil Change: Why I Do It, and Why I Always Will.



Oil Antifreeze Milkshake
Oil Antifreeze Milkshake


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 knows 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 eat 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.

Jeremy Nutt

Hi, I'm Jeremy.

13 thoughts to “The 3000 Mile Oil Change: Why I Do It, and Why I Always Will.”

  1. I don’t know what they taught you in school. Oil doesn’t go bad, it gets contaminated. This is why they state you can go longer without an oil change. The FI engines are more fuel efficient, so they don’t put as much by products into the oil. Farmers used to take used oil and run it down a length of cotton rope. It’d get cleaned, and they’d use it again. I worked with an person who was taught by the military, about oil. He told me a fast way to check it was to get out the dipstick, put the oil between your fingers, and squeeze. If you could hold your fingers together, the oil wasn’t working. If they slipped apart, it’s doing what it’s supposed to do; Lubricate.

    1. I fully agree with you that oil gets contaminated less with modern computer controlled engines. Unfortunately, it still burns off, leaks out, and vanishes into thin air. Sticking to the 3000 / 3 month rule forces cars to get checked out once in a while, which is good for the long term health of the car. In my mind, the 3000 mile oil change isn’t just about the lubricating abilities of the oil, it’s about the routine maintenance & finding small issues before they become large issues.

  2. the use of conventional engine oil with normal operating environment in most cases requires a 3-4,000mi oil/filter change.this is because this type of oil creates acids when combined with water. the fuel today is water based alcohol. then in winter much condensation occurs in the crankcase. acid eats at all the internal engine parts.

    The issue that has been shown with engine wear, excessive oil useage is replacing the oil when it is not at the normal operating temperature. also not allowing suffecient time for the oil to completely drain out.

    next is the use of inferior oil filters. some common very popular oil filters used , have poor filter media. owners should find recommended high quality filters to ensure long life with low oil consumption.

    the use of synthetic oil is a much better product .I have used synthetic in my vehicles with high quality oil filters. replacing the filter at 3500miles, replacing the oil and filter every 8,ooomiles.

    so far after 10 plus years and well over 100,ooo miles the engine uses 1/3 qt over the 8,ooomiles.

    I know of many that go much longer than the 8,ooo miles with the synthetic oil..

    most owners of new vehicles under warrantee do not check their oil or anything else like tire air pressure. this is because the dealership sales personal tell them the vehicle requires little maintenance..

    most new engines use a lot of oil when breaking in the first 2,ooomiles..If the owner does not check this the engine is going to be an oil burner..

    even with conventional non synthetic oil an engine can operate with little oil use well over 200,ooomiles.

    provided the owner uses the info I have supplied.

    1. Great input J Cat! I have always had older cars that have run on non-synthetic, and never made the switch to synthetic. So new dinosaur oil is what my cars get every 3000. I have never given much thought to swapping the filter only, though I do really like the idea if the oil is staying inside the engine for ~8000 miles. What does your oil look like / feel like when drained out?

  3. I have only driven cars since 1956 and the only car I can remember taking more than five quarts of oil was a 1955 Jaguar XK140 and that one took 28 English pints(20 0unces to the pint) I am not sure what kind of car he was working on but 8 quarts ????
    also the cars he was working on ,to be burning that much oil perhaps yhey were model t’s

  4. My recent DD carries a 7.4qt oil fill up and started from the beginning with synthetic. between the more efficient fueling and higher grade oil, I’ll typically go between 5k and 7k. Now on the older setups, I’d agree with the 3k.

    Highly recommend looking into trying out an oil analysis – pretty cheap and they can tell you what kind of wear you’ve got going on. very interesting stuff and for those who run the synthetic stuff, you may find you can entender your change intervals and save some money (especially if your oil change is $80 every time)

      1. I always run a higher end filter (AC Delco, Purolator PureOne, or Mobil1) and its always come out looking alright, so i’ve stuck with changing both together. luckily, since its a cartridge style, I can see what’s getting trapped without getting out the saw

  5. J Cat brings out some good advice. I was also taught about the condensation issue. If a car is driven for so long, after it’s started cold, then the condensation is burned off, and is no longer an issue. This is another reason why engines, used on the expressways, driving long periods, last longer than engines that are used in town, driving short distances. It’s best to follow your manufacturers recommendations, as far as when to change your oil. The older cars, with carburetors, that are inefficient, at idling and low speed, contaminate the oil faster than the new FI engines, and should therefore be changed sooner. Amsoil makes a Synthetic oil, that lasts 1 year, or 25k miles. One of the oil manufacturers, used to brag about their 0-20 oil, flowing at -50*. Amsoil 10W-30, flows at -80*. Amsoil also had a system, where you could just keep the oil clean and keep it in the engine for a long time. I don’t know if they still have that. Consumer Reports did a test, using taxi cabs. They rebuilt all the engines, from the same shop. They used different oils in all of them, and drove them for a year, tearing down the engines. There was no significant, wear difference, between any of the oils, only that the Synthetics did flow better in the cold. But, these cabs were constantly in operation. The Synthetic would work better in extreme conditions, or in town (short term) driving. In a car, used mostly on the highway, regular oil would work just fine.

  6. The reply to how the synthetic looks after 8,ooomiles. well it is a little darker. thats about it !

    better to stay with this oil change cycle. safer for the engine..looking to keep this till 225,ooo

    on the non synthetic oils. with the GM engines carb qjet. I got on a 307cu v8 380,ooo miles ..engine still ran great with oil useage at 1/2quart over the 3-4,ooomi interval..never had the engine opened never had a leak ..even the valve covers..I say its the acid build up that kills these engines..synthetic is better because it refuses to mix with the water and therefore does not create the sludge and acid..

    engine must be hot before changing the oil..

    wix and purolator plus are filters I use..

    you only know how good a oil filter is when you cut them open…

  7. wally your comment on the consumer reports test with the cab fleet is what I too thought..these vehicles never stopeed running..the oil then could not get much water /condesation to create the acid damage..

    also I bet those cabs were constantly checked for proper operation to keep the fuel useage down ..

  8. My brother uses top of the line synthetic oil in his 2005 Pontiac GTO. The manufacturer claims a 1 quart burn off every 3000 miles is normal, but even at 7500, which is when he changes the oil, there is little to no burn-off. The oil claims 15000 change intervals, but neither of us push it that far in our cars. At 7500, the oil comes out pretty much clean, but we change it anyway because there is more going on than just contamination.

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