How Often Should You Change Your Oil?

There seems to be some confusion about the proper oil change interval.  With the advancement in motor oils and the technology in vehicles improving all the time, the tried and true 3000 oil change may seem a little like overkill.  This could also be seen as a waste of money as well as bad for the environment, using more oil than absolutely necessary.

Let’s start with the environmental impact.  This is a real concern and should be for most people.  All motor oil is made from fossil fuels which is taken from the ground and made into petroleum products that we use every day.  Even synthetic oil is mostly crude that has been chemically modified to provide superior protection, but it is still oil that has been taken from the ground. 

There is a finite amount of fossil fuel that is available to us and the less we use, the more there will be available in the future.  Although it appears that we won’t ever really run out of oil, the shift will occur when the economics of extracting that oil no longer makes sense and we look for energy generation elsewhere.  This is already happening, Tesla anyone?

Recycled oil also doesn’t get re-refined enough to be used again as motor oil.  It is obviously good to recycle the oil, but it does not get used in the same capacity.  It gets recycled but it gets used in other petroleum products and eventually it can no longer be re-refined.  The quality of oil is less and less as it gets recycled over and over.

Now for the other valid argument for not changing your oil so frequently, Money!  Oil changes can be expensive; I haven’t had to pay for one in a while but even doing them yourself costs money.  If Autozone is not running a sale, it can be almost $60 for a full synthetic oil change.  If I could cut those costs in half or more it would be beneficial.  But is it worth damaging the motor and then having to either repair or replace that vehicle?  I guess it depends on how long you plan on keeping it.  If you are like me and will keep it till it just doesn’t run anymore and I can no longer fix it, it is not worth it.  If you are leasing, totally worth it, you won’t have the car long enough to worry about it!

Next I did some searching on the actual oil company’s websites and found that most of the big ones just say to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.  This makes sense, as they do not want to void warranties and damage vehicles.  A lot of variables are out of their control so all they can really do is provide the best product possible that either meets or exceeds what the manufacturer is looking for.

Mobil 1 has some interesting information on their website.  They have the Annual protection which they tout will protect your engine for 20,000 miles guaranteed.  Of course they list a whole bunch of caveats, but it is there.  There is also a 15,000 extended performance option and others.  For the most part, they protect themselves by stating you should follow the manufacturer’s recommendations if the vehicle is under warranty as does Valvoline and Castrol.

OK, so the oil companies state to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations, so what are those recommendations?  There is actually a pretty wide range of mileage recommendations starting at 5,000 miles and extending all the way to 12,000 miles. 

GM’s oil change interval is based off their oil life monitor system. The oil life monitor system that does not require synthetic oil (except for the Corvette) and is designed to lengthen the amount of miles between oil changes.  There is no oil condition sensor but the system monitors how the car is driven and algorithms determine whether the oil should be changed or not.  Highway driving in a warm climate will result in longer intervals than city driving in a cold climate.  Average intervals are in the 7000-8000 range.

Ford also has a monitor system that is similar to GM’s but they also have standard recommendations, for 2008 and newer every 6 months or 7500 miles, for 2007 and older every 6 months or 5000 miles.

Mopar also uses a similar system as GM and states that the change oil light can come on as early as 3500 miles or up to 10000 miles.  Under no circumstances should the oil change interval exceed 10000 miles.

VW states that most of their vehicles should have the oil change done every 10,000 miles, this is the same for Audi.  Go figure….

BMW calls the oil change an intermediate service….They recommend every 7,500 miles.

Mercedes Benz recommends every 10,000 miles.

Honda recommends every 7,500 or 12 months for new models.

Acura has a system like GM and recommends changing the oil when the light comes on telling you to.  They do not have a recommended interval.  On older models they state every 5,000 miles.

Toyota standard oil change interval is 5,000 miles or 6 months for a conventional oil change.  For full synthetic oil it is 10,000 or 12 months.

Subaru states that it should be changed between 5,000 to 7,000 miles.

Hyundai’s recommended interval is 7,500 miles.  But under severe conditions they recommend 3,000 miles.

Kia recommends every 5,000 miles.

Now that we know what the “standard” recommendations are, what are realistic expectations for changing your oil?  I am a pure mileage guy and I drive enough to not worry too much about hitting those date intervals, but if you don’t drive much you will need to adjust for that.  I’m just going to say it, I change my oil every 3,000 miles with full synthetic.  Most likely overkill, but I’ve had my Envoy since new and it has over 220,000 miles on it with very little issue.  I’ve owned a 2002 Honda Civic Si which had 188,000 miles when I sold it for $3500 because it was still like new.  My Jetta also had over 180,000 miles when it was totaled; the engine internals were never an issue. 

If you are using conventional oil, you will want to stick with the tried and true 3,000 mile interval.  If using full synthetic you can probably go to 5,000 miles without an issue.  In my opinion, when you start going longer than that you risk damaging the engine, you may have an oil leak that you didn’t notice, or the car may burn a little oil, extending that interval makes the oil level lower than it should be and will damage the engine.  I know that I don’t check the oil between oil changes; I just check the level at 3,000 miles and know that it is full.  So no leaks and no burning, if I see oil on the ground I know I have a leak and will pay more attention.  But changing your oil frequently prevents seals from breaking down and leaks from happening in the first place. 

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