Is the 3,000-mile oil change a scam?
December 29, 2005 4:37 PM   Subscribe

Is the 3,000-mile oil change a scam?

My wife, like a good American driver, goes for an oil change every 3,000 miles. My dad, like a good British driver, has never gone for an oil change in nearly 30 years on the road. There's no equivalent of the quick-lube shop in the UK; manufacturers 'recommend' yearly/twice-yearly changes (or 12-18,000-miles) but standard practice is just to top up the oil level sporadically. Is there something specific to US-model cars or American driving practices that makes frequent oil-changes necessary, or is it just a nice little earner sustained by popular wisdom?
posted by holgate to Travel & Transportation (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The Car Talk guys recommend every 5,000 miles.
posted by Otis at 4:56 PM on December 29, 2005

Best answer: Ford recommends every 5000 miles for the Focus. I think consumer reports ran a study on engine wear in NYC taxi cabs. The study examined the effect of frequency of oil changes. I can't find the article though.

I did find an article where consumer reports debunks the 3000 mile myth.
posted by malp at 5:00 PM on December 29, 2005

I remember 20 years ago it was conventional wisdom that oil needed to be changed every 5000 miles. Then Jiffy Lube opened up and they started putting little stickers in people's windows indicating that a change was needed every 3000. This was batant marketing strategy on their part.... Very smart too. You almost have to respect that kind of manipulative thinking.
posted by crapples at 5:04 PM on December 29, 2005

My Honda manual says to change the oil every 10,000 miles.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 5:07 PM on December 29, 2005

Response by poster: Ford recommends every 5000 miles for the Focus.

But Ford also recommends 20,000km (12,000 miles) for the Focus. In Europe. Funny, that. Like I said, my dad has never taken a car for a full oil change; he's not unusual. He also found the 3,000-mile thing bizarre.
posted by holgate at 5:12 PM on December 29, 2005

I heard the Car Talk guys say that (regardless of the number of miles you drive between oil changes) you should get your oil changed at least once a year. (This was in response to a question asked on behalf of some old lady who had put about 1000 miles on her car over 10 years.)
posted by elisabeth r at 5:23 PM on December 29, 2005

malp: Some years back Consumers Report did their own study on a fleet of NYC taxis: half got oil changes at 3000 miles; the other half got oil changes at 12000 miles. Then the engines were torn down to check bearing tolerances, etc. They found no real difference at all between the two groups.
posted by Huplescat at 5:25 PM on December 29, 2005

It is. It depends on your driving conditions and a ton of other things. I'd do it a minimum of twice a year or every 6-7k miles, just because it's cheap insurance. My car just monitors the assumed quality (given conditions and driving style) and counts down the oil life.. no scheduled maintenence either, it just boings up a display when something needs to be done.
posted by kcm at 6:10 PM on December 29, 2005

FYIW, Honda recommends 10K miles between changes for my CRV.
posted by griffey at 6:22 PM on December 29, 2005

My HHR does this nerve-wracking countdown thing - right now i'm at 37% of oil life. I'm not sure how it determines that, but i've put about 4k miles on it so far.
posted by muddylemon at 6:28 PM on December 29, 2005

IMHO, it's one of those things that are cheap enough to do that deserve to get done, just in case. An oil change is 25 bucks and many places do a free tire rotation and fluid check at the same time. Every 3000-4000 miles, or 3-4 months, these activities need to be done anyway, if not sooner. So basically you're paying for peace of mind while someone is doing some general maintenance. (Like in the 50s and 60s when gas stations used to top off fluids and check your belts after each time you filled the tank)

If you're a normal driver in a normal car, just do it knowing that the rest of these activities will extend the life of your vehicle. If you're like me, you throw in a synthetic (which is twice as expensive) and only change your oil twice a year.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 6:29 PM on December 29, 2005

"standard practice is just to top up the oil level sporadically."

Oh, yeah, I remember that convenience which was shared by a British car I once knew. The oil was continually refreshed by the expedient method of burning a little bit all the time. Sadly, many American cars lack that feature.

Anyway, I imagine it depends a great deal on what kind of oil you use. I've heard that synthetics are more or less standard in some parts of Europe, perhaps that explains most of the difference.
posted by sfenders at 6:31 PM on December 29, 2005 [1 favorite]

Yeah, the cheap insurance I meant was the tire pressure check, fluids check, etc... all those things people never bother to do. If you have a good mechanic, they'll notice things that /do/ need to be fixed (not upcharging the gullible) then, too.

The cars that monitor quality just do it based on how you've driven, what the conditions have been like, etc. There's no optical sensors or anything.
posted by kcm at 6:37 PM on December 29, 2005

An apparently reasonable explanation from someone who claims to know what he's talking about, in big red type at the top, at
posted by sfenders at 6:44 PM on December 29, 2005

sfenders: "An apparently reasonable explanation from someone who claims to know what he's talking about, in big red type at the top, at"

That page is all about selling Amsoil, while not a bad product, I think it's biased.
posted by kcm at 6:47 PM on December 29, 2005

I think it's biased.

Yup, though synthetics are the best for your engine.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 6:50 PM on December 29, 2005

Okay, well, to make up for the AMSOIL bias, here's some data on one of their competitors' oils, Mobil 1
posted by sfenders at 7:28 PM on December 29, 2005

It's like shampoo marketing when they found they could increase sales merely by adding the word "repeat" to the instructions. Every 3,000 miles is a waste, and just adds more waste oil to be disposed of.
posted by publius at 7:28 PM on December 29, 2005

Best answer: My dad, who used to design engines for one of the Big 3, changes the oil in his cars every 5K-7K, or twice a year, whichever comes first. He says that synthetics are no better than organics.

If you do a lot of short-trip driving in cold areas (under 10 miles below freezing) , you will probably need to change the oil more often than if you're driving 30 miles one way at 60F.

European engines aren't the same as US engines. They will have different service specs.
posted by jlkr at 8:14 PM on December 29, 2005

Regardless of whether it actually makes a difference in you engine life or not, you probably want to change your oil according to the manfacturer's recommended schedule. Why? Because if something goes wrong with your engine during your warranty period, the dealer can use your NOT chaning the oil according to their directions as a way to weasel out of repairing the car under warranty.
posted by jmoreland at 5:08 AM on December 30, 2005

Pay attention to what's in your car's service manual. Like publius says, it's a marketing trick to sell you more that is based on your ignorance except it's mixed with a healthy smattering of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt). The 3K thing is a way to increase says by 40% and make you feel better about it.
posted by plinth at 6:46 AM on December 30, 2005

It seems the general consensus that oil-changing companies are the ones "pushing" the 3,000 mile rule of thumb, but I'd like to just throw out there that my 2005 Corolla now blips on the check engine light at 3,000 miles (presumably to remind me about oil). I got the mechanic to teach me how to turn it off myself, but I'm curious as to why the car manufacturer would go with that number as well. Probably a warranty thing as people mentioned above?
posted by like_neon at 9:36 AM on December 30, 2005

I would not automatically dismiss the 3,000-mile guide as marketing BS -- it depends on things like where and how much and how you drive. Even if it's very few miles, do it every six months at an absolute minimum.

Having said that, I do it every 5,000 miles for two reasons:

1. It's roughly a midpoint between the regular (7,500) and severe (3,000) driving schedules.
2. It's easy to remember -- when the odometer displays a multiple of 5,000 miles, it's time for an oil change.
posted by pmurray63 at 11:25 AM on December 30, 2005

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