3000 Mile Oil Change Myth

Over the last 20+ years, the myth of the 3000 mile oil change has been systematically beaten into the brains of motorists by Madison Avenue hype.

Few to very few vehicles actually require oil and filter service at this interval and unless your driving and vehicle use match those conditions, you are throwing away perfectly good oil and wasting your money.


Now, there are going to be automotive enthusiasts out there that will tell you “I never go past 3000 miles, in fact I probably change it earlier than that number.” Okay, there’s nothing stopping you from changing it 50 times a day – it’s up to you. My point here is that advertising has convinced a lot of unknowing people that this is the correct thing to be doing. What it does is cost you money – from your pocket to theirs. Rather simple, but let’s do some easy math here.

The average person puts 12,000 miles a year on their vehicle. At 3000 mile oil changes that would be 4 visits per year to a service center or doing it yourself. Currently the average cost at a national chain service center runs $35 for a regular sedan. It of course is higher for SUVs, Synthetic oil or large pickup trucks.

So we have (4) visits times $35 for a total of $140 per year – that’s not bad at all but what if we followed the manufacturer’s recommendations? Most cars since the mid-80’s have been equipped with fuel injection. This is key to reducing engine wear and in turn not diluting the oil. What happened with the older cars was that fuel metering was not a precise art. Often there was too much fuel which was wasted and it went past the piston rings, removing the lubrication which allowed more wear in the engine and then it ended up in the crankcase, diluting the oil which leads to further engine damage. We HAD to change the oil often back then, there was no choice.

Most cars have a normal range of 7000 – 7500 miles for an oil and filter change, some cars such as Mercedes come with a range of 10,000 miles. All you need to do is consult your owner’s manual or lacking that, look up the information online. If we use the lower mark of 7000 miles, we end up changing the oil 1.7 times per year or to put it another way – about every 7 months. Even if you increase that to changing it every 6 months or 6000 miles, you have saved at least $70 dollars. That’s not a lot but in most cars it amounts to a couple of tanks of fuel, maybe more if you have a small vehicle.

There is a way to improve that savings and those of you that already service your own cars know that the usual cost of a 5 quart oil and filter change – using top quality stuff – runs about $15-$16 dollars. Changing it twice a year, that’s $32 dollars and a savings of $108 dollars over the service center doing it. Plus I know what filter and oil I put in the engine – that is something that you do not know at the service center.

A quick story – I used to work for an auto parts outfit and the owner taught me that it wasn’t what you sold it for, it was what you paid for it. This was in the days of points, plugs and rotor buttons being a tune-up normally. He  paid about $3.50 – $4.00 for a tune-up kit and sold them for $5-$6, but then found a cheaper product that would work just as well and paid $1.10 for each kit. He reduced his price to $4.25 and the garages in the area bought us out every week! He increased his profit margin from $1.50 – $2.00 per kit to $3.15 per kit and sold more of them.

An oil change service center buys oil by the drum or huge tank loads and thousands of filters a year. They already get a discount on the products and who is really going to look at one of their filters nor do most people both to analyze the oil via a service. With their discounted price I would say that they are paying a little over a $1 for an oil filter and about the same for each quart of oil. Remember, neither is a top of the line product.

Next time around I will let you in on how to purchase a brand name oil at a discount price and which highly marketed oil filter should you absolutely avoid?


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