Do cars really go 10,000 miles between oil changes these days?
May 23, 2012 5:44 AM   Subscribe

We bought our first new car of the millennium back in March, and it came with free oil changes for life. Since it hit 5000 miles this week, my wife stopped by the dealership for an oil change / tire rotation. They are telling her that the car (2011 Corolla) only needs an oil change every 10,000 miles because they are using synthetic oil. I religiously change the oil in my cars every 5000 miles, and the idea of going 10,000 miles makes me nervous. Should it make me nervous?
posted by COD to Travel & Transportation (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The car talk guys agree with you, with caveats.
posted by cooker girl at 5:53 AM on May 23, 2012

Typically a synthetic oil should last 2-3 times as long as a mineral oil. So they're correct.
posted by pipeski at 5:53 AM on May 23, 2012

I've had fully synthetic oil in a car before, and pretty sure I only had it changed once a year (which was 8-10000 miles).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 5:58 AM on May 23, 2012

Don't worry. The synthetic oil has a much longer life. If you look at how it is made, you will see that it will actually last longer than 10,000 miles depending on your driving habits.
posted by Yellow at 5:59 AM on May 23, 2012

It SHOULD last that long, but if you notice performance problems or other things you don't like, obviously change it more often. My car gets cranky at 4,000 miles and stops getting as good gas mileage. Your mileage may - literally - vary.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:07 AM on May 23, 2012

What does the owner's manual say? At least while it is in warranty, that is what you should be following. There are a lot of new cars that have 10k/1 year oil change schedules; there are others that are shorter.
posted by Forktine at 6:07 AM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

If the manufacturer recommends 10,000 miles then it's 10,000 miles. Ignore any mechanic who says otherwise.

Also, sure you can change your oil and filter more often, for peace of mind, but it is everyone's responsibility to minimize the amount of raw materials used and waste generated. Yeah, it's only a few litres, but multiplied by millions of cars it adds up. If it is not completely necessary, then it is unnecessary and who wants to add unnecessary burdens to an already burdened environment?
posted by three blind mice at 6:07 AM on May 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

10,000 miles is perfectly fine for a full synthetic.
Heck, a lot of cars these days don't even have a suggested interval, relying instead on software and sensors to determine when the oil should be changed.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:11 AM on May 23, 2012

Our '06 Accord has an Oil Life indicator that counts down the % of oil left (I assume it's an estimate and I'm not sue how it's calculated). When it hits 10% of life, I get regular messages that it's time to change the oil. Does your car have something similar? That should ease your mind. But yeah, you can go a long time between oil changes.
posted by puritycontrol at 6:12 AM on May 23, 2012

Also, sure you can change your oil and filter more often, for peace of mind, but it is everyone's responsibility to minimize the amount of raw materials used and waste generated.
This is why I'm asking. It would take me 15 minutes and $25 this weekend to change it myself, and I will happily do that if there is a mechanical benefit to the car. But I don't want to waste the time or the resources if this is a case of my habits being based on automotive requirements from 20 years ago. My other 2 vehicles both have engines that were designed in the 90s.
posted by COD at 6:18 AM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Totally normal. Look at the what the owner's manual says and keep in mind that the manufacturer's tend to be conservative with this stuff.

Some Honda's (I'm sure there are others but this is one that I've seen first hand) specify an oil change interval of 15,000 miles. My 2005 Nissan Altima 3.5SE calls for changes every 7,500 miles. I've been doing that for years with no issues yet.

I read in Car & Driver a while back one of the other issues with regular oil is that it can break down over time so that the old recommendation is really 3,000 miles or 3 months, whichever comes first. So, if you only drive 500 miles in three months (like me) and you use regular oil, you'd still need to change the oil.

With full synthetic, you can forget the time factor and just pay attention to the mileage (or the car's messages if it has it).

Just make sure that you pay attention to the other maintenance items that the manual (rather the "Maintenance Schedule" which will likely be a separate booklet in the folder thing the manual comes in) calls for like rotating your tires.
posted by VTX at 6:21 AM on May 23, 2012

The Toyota synthetic motor oil page says the interval is 10,000 for a 2011 Corolla.
posted by Jairus at 6:31 AM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Another thing to consider though. If you bought the car in March and you've already got 5000 miles on it, that means you're putting 20,000 miles a year on the car, which is WAY over normal. Might want to keep that in mind when considering maintenance and err on the side of caution.
posted by Naberius at 6:32 AM on May 23, 2012

I religiously change the oil in my cars every 5000 miles, and the idea of going 10,000 miles makes me nervous. Should it make me nervous?

No, it shouldn't make you nervous. Where do you get the idea to change the oil every 5,000 miles in the first place? Things are changing quickly. In my lifetime alone, collective thinking has gone from changing oil every 3,000 miles, period, to every 5,000 miles, then every 7,500 miles, then every 10,000 miles, and now "whenever the computer tells you to."

Where are you buying your fully synthetic oil? I am not so sure that you can get ~5 quarts of fully synthetic oil plus a filter for $25. I would think it would be closer to $40, but maybe your market is way different than mine.
posted by TinWhistle at 7:05 AM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I disagree with Naberius. Usually, when people put higher than average annual mileage on their cars, it's mostly highway miles and is actually easier on the car. That is making some assumptions about the type of driving you do though.
posted by VTX at 7:08 AM on May 23, 2012

10,000 is correct. So enjoy not hanging around the dealership for an hour every couple of months.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:14 AM on May 23, 2012

As you can see here, no one has worn out an engine with this 10k scheme yet. All there are are anecdata and manufacturer recommendations, both of which are notoriously unreliable.

Here's the thing. Your oil life is determined by your driving conditions and habits, multiplied by the cleanliness and overall health of your engine. If something gets into your oil, or you get a bad batch, or you are driving in a particularly dirty place, or something decides to grind itself into nanoparticles in your engine, or whatever, you're going to be circulating that stuff around your engine for a lot longer.

Oil is the major reason that the parts of your engine can move against each other. If you decide to follow this 10k regime, you owe it to yourself to check the color and quality of the oil every so often.
posted by fake at 7:18 AM on May 23, 2012

Those "free X for life" things typically entail that you do all of the regularly scheduled maintenance, including oil changes, at a specific place. That's how they can afford to give you free oil changes, because they know you'll be paying for tire rotations and windshield wipers and what ever else they sell. If you decide to get that rotation done somewhere else, or miss a scheduled visit, they might cancel the entire thing.

It's also important to distinguish whether or not this is a service provided by the manufacturer (i.e. Toyota of America) or the dealership (Crazy Eddie's Toyota). Toyota (or GM, or Honda, or whomever) will normally allow you to get your service done at any authorized dealer/location. Crazy Eddie is gonna want you to show back up at Crazy Eddie's.
posted by Blue_Villain at 7:18 AM on May 23, 2012

I bought a Toyota with the free service for 2 years. Mine is a RAV4 and they've never told me about the synthetic oil so I'm guessing it's not used in my vehicle. Regardless, there should have been a booklet of printed certificates for each free service you get for the next 2 years, labelled according to the mileage that you are expected to get them done. Check those certificates and see what they say. Mine say every 5000 miles (and run out in November...booo!)

*These are Toyota certificates, not dealer specific. If yours is dealer specific you might have something different.

Honestly, if it's a brand new car I would change the oil sooner for the first couple of changes. I've always heard that the first oil change in a new engine shouldn't be done late, but I am not a car expert. I just do what my dad tells me to do!
posted by MultiFaceted at 7:23 AM on May 23, 2012

It's actually a combination. Toyota covers all scheduled maintenance for the first 25K miles or two years. The dealership covers oil changes including labor (and throws in a free car wash) for as long as I own the vehicle. There are no requirements. It's about getting me in the habit of bringing the car in, and also maybe getting me to wander around the shiny new cars while I'm waiting. I have a trusted independent mechanic that has taken care of my cars for 10 years, plus I occasionally do an oil change myself if it's Sunday and my mechanic is closed and I just want to get it off of my todo list.

I'm pretty sure the law in the US dictates that the auto manufacturers can not require you to get service at the dealership. I can do all the oil changes in my driveway and if the engine seizes at 30K miles they won't be able to refuse me warranty coverage as long as I can prove the oil changes (and any other required maintenance) were done as specified in the owners manual - every 10,000 miles.

There is a 1500 mile road trip on the Corolla - 2500 miles a month is not our normal driving habit.
posted by COD at 7:29 AM on May 23, 2012

Can you call another Toyota dealership and ask them what the expected oil changes should be on the Corolla? Especially since Toyota is covering them for the first 2 years (same deal I have)...any Toyota dealer should be able to tell you what the requirements are for that program. That might give you some guidance (although it doesn't really answer the oil life question it could tell you if that particular dealership is just not wanting to do the work or what).
posted by MultiFaceted at 7:46 AM on May 23, 2012

I'm not questioning whether Toyota is recommending oil changes every 10,000 miles. Obviously there are for my car. I'm asking whether changing the oil every 5000 is likely to have enough of a benefit on the longevity of the engine to justify the extra time and expense of doing so. I

Can somebody ring Brockles? ;)

I'm getting a 10K is fine for this car vibe, which is fine. Like I said earlier, my other two cars both have engines that were designed in the 90s, if not late 80s for the Ford V6 in the Mazda 626. Engines and oil are better now.
posted by COD at 8:29 AM on May 23, 2012

My opinion is that the manufacturers' recommendations are bare minimums. Following them will more or less guarantee that the engine will not wear out. At least for the service life, or worse, merely the warranty period. That doesn't mean they will stay in top shape that whole time, or that they won't be gummed up with dirt pretty quickly. Just that the engine will still function.

I personally try to exceed them. Especially if there is a lower threshold for "severe service", which if you read their description, probably applies to 80% of car owners.

You're right, oil is much better now. Engines are better now too, but I think that is offset by the fact that increased tolerances demand that better oil.

One thing to consider is the quantity of the oil in the car. The less oil in the crankcase, the more wear and tear there will be on the oil, per mile driven. The various detergents and corrosion inhibitors get used up quicker. Less volume for dissolved combustion byproducts to disperse into. There are fewer molecules available to get sheared or oxidized or otherwise mangled, leading to a greater percentage of worn out oil in the available supply.

This is born out in my experience- I had a car with a 5.5 qt capacity, and the oil lasted forever. It was barely dark after 3000 miles. Next car had a 4.5 qt capacity, and the oil got ugly pretty quickly. Current car has a 3.5 qt capacity, and it tears the crap out of the oil. Comes out looking like tar after 3000 miles. (I know color isn't the only indicator of the oil wearing out, but it's one of them. It is dirt in suspension, and that doesn't seem good for the car.)

If you are interested in actual data, there are labs that will do used oil analysis. Blackstone is the name of one of them, I think.
posted by gjc at 9:04 AM on May 23, 2012

In your shoes, I'd change the filter more often (every 5K), but the oil at 10K as recommended. The precedures maybe similar, by they aren't married.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:50 AM on May 23, 2012

How about you change the oil yourself at 5,000, and let the dealer change it at 10k. You at 15k, and so on and so forth. Half of your oil changes are free, and you've got the peace of mind that the intervals aren't going on too long.

And also, when you change your oil yourself, you can take a sample and send it off to a lab for analysis. They'll tell you precisely how long the intervals should be for your specific engine.
posted by hwyengr at 10:04 AM on May 23, 2012

I drive a 2011 Mini Cooper that I bought just over a year ago. They recommend oil changes at every 15k miles. [!]

I just took my car in last week because the fall back is once a year. Just the week before I started noticing a little sluggishness. Go figure. Seems they know exactly what they are talking about.
posted by FlamingBore at 10:22 AM on May 23, 2012

15,000 sounds right for a BMW engine. My 2000 E46 323i had an oil life meter that reset to 15K.
posted by JoeZydeco at 3:26 PM on May 23, 2012

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