Mileage INterval between Oil Changes

Why is there such a big difference in recommended mileage between oil changes between Europe and the USA? I owned a 1998 VW Passat TDI from 1998 to 2006 in Italy, and the recommended mileage between oil changes was 15,000 km (9,500 mi) using synthetic oil. I never had a problem with the car, respected the recommended interval, and drove 183,000 mi (295,000 km). When I moved to the USA in 2006 I gave the car to my sister, and she’s still driving it with no problem. However, both (used) cars I purchased in the US in 2006 prescribe much shorter intervals: (7,500 mi for both 2000 Civic Honda, and 2003 Subaru Legacy). My auto mechanic insists that I change the oil even more frequently, like 3,500 or 4,000 mi. Why this obsession with changing oil so frequently?

I believe the standards for oil formulations are different in Europe. At any rate I change the older cars at 3000 or six months and the new one at 5000. The mileage indicators usually say 50% but oil is cheap and cars aren’t.

Tradition dies hard in the good ol US of A. We are used to frequent oil changes and the quickie places push the 3,000 mile intervals for everyone based on “severe” recommendations of the mfg.

In Europe there are enviornmental concerns with where all that contaminated oil goes. Therefore European oils are different from US oil and conform to different specifications. Most of the Euro oils are full synthetic and therefore can expand the change interval.

In addition modern cars pollute the air less, and they also pollute the oil much less as well. My '03 Civic has an ULEV rating and the oil stays clean on the dipstick thru the entire 5,000 change interval. Honda recommends changes every 7,500 but noone in the US follows the recommendation. As our cars run cleaner we could extend the oil change intervals. The Europeans are ahead of us on this issue. In the next 10 years I expect the US will move in the same direction as Europe. We will likely be using more synthetic oil in new cars with changes at 10K intervals.

The US oil change interval is a habit, or tradition, that has been around for years. In time it will change, but slowly. I had a 2000 Saab with 10K oil change intervals. The mfg’rs recommendations are changing to longer intervals but the oil change industry is still pushing the old traditional intervals.

“My auto mechanic insists that I change the oil even more frequently, like 3,500 or 4,000 miles.”

INSISTS? Who’s car is it, and who is paying whom?

I think you should decide upon an oil change interval that makes you happy and explain to your mechanic who’s in charge.

I do not recommend exceeding the manufacturer’s recommended interval, but I don’t see any reason for more frequent oil changes unless you fall under the “severe service” maintenance schedule.

Your mechanic must have a large and expensive boat.

That depends on the type of driving you do and the environmental conditions.
In some very extreme cases (one of my sisters in law for example) an oil change every couple of thousand miles or months is in order. In that case, 99% of her driving consists of a mile at a time under dusty and humid conditions.

My view varies a bit because as a tech I’ve had to listen to far too many peole complaining, cursing, and threatening to sue because of premature engine problems caused by failure to perform oil changes based on driving habits and conditions.

You’re really opening a can of worms here.

Fact: the more often oil is changed, the more waste oil is produced.
Fact: Some people who change oil dispose of said oil improperly, and thus, the fewer oil changes that occur, the less pollution that occurs from improperly disposed oil.
Fact: Governments take an interest in reducing pollution.
Fact: Governments in Europe are generally more apt to intervene in the conduct of private enterprise than the gov’t in the USA.

As a result of these facts, it is my OPINION (not fact) that mfr’s oil change recommendations are determined by factors other than what produces the longest life of engine components, and that the US/EU disparity is due to the additional “leverage” EU gov’ts have. I have similar reservations regarding the use of very low-viscosity engine oil.

In fairness, the only way to know if my concerns are accurate is to do a large number of oil analyses, using different change frequencies, and compare wear metals. To my knowledge, this has not been done.

I’m sure you’ll hear the alternate opinion, that your Owner’s Manual is “The Word according to Volkswagen,” and should be treated as such, but I respectfully disagree.


I am sure there are several reasons. I will add one, the driving conditions are different here and there. Often different engines are available here and there. The oils may also be different.

“My auto mechanic insists that I change the oil even more frequently, like 3,500 or 4,000 mi. Why” Because he is making money from the oil changes or he is an old guy who can’t get with the changes in technology.

Every well conducted test I have seen has found that under normal driving conditions (in the US) the recommended oil change rates are very conservative and you could safely go much further with out an oil change.  I don't recommend extending your oil changes beyond what the car manufacturer recommends, but there is normally no reason to do it more often either. 

Consider this.  I am old enough to remember when the usual cause of a car going to the bone yard was a worn out engine or other problem that could be related to oil failure.  Today very few cars, that have had the recommended oil changes, end up there.

How much pollution do you think adding a car to a junk yard generates???

One nice thing about many towns in NH (like mine) is the transfer stations have a place to take your oil and the town has several waste oil burners to heat the DPW buildings. The ONE nice thing about Jiffy Lube…is they also heat their buildings from the waste-oil they collect when doing oil changes.

Quote: "Honda recommends changes every 7,500 but none in the US follows the recommendation."
I do.

Quote: "INSISTS? Who’s car is it, and who is paying whom?"
He insists, but I change oil when prescribed in the maintenance booklet anyway.

Quote:"I believe the standards for oil formulations are different in Europe."
No they are the same: synthetic oil and mineral oil can be purchased both, in both USA and Europe. The fact is that synthetic oil is more common in Europe, and mineral oil is more common in the USA. The more expensive per quart synthetic oil pays for itself and is cheaper per mile. My former Italian auto mechanic had a good laugh when I explained the situation in the US to him, while on vacation in the old country last year. He said synthetic oils have been available since the '70s, and using mineral oil shows lack of understanding of how much motor technology has changed.

How much pollution do you think adding a car to a junk yard generates???

Oh, I agree with you, but enacting laws and procedures that wind up making things worse, in the long run, is something gov’ts do, from time to time.

Consider a hypothetical gov’t in which one department is in charge of maintaining clean waterways, and another is in charge of reducing consumer waste to salvage and landfills. If the “waterways” dep’t gets behind extended drain, it’s entirely probable the increase in junked autos won’t even be counted…

Is the European recommendation in kilometers?


I’m equally puzzled by the European severely long oil change intervals. Just came back from a trip to England where I rented a Vauxhall Corsa with a 4 cyl. 1.4 liter engine.

Reading the owner’s manual it called fro a 20,000 MILE!!! oil change interval or 32,000 KILOMETERS, or one year. The crankcase on this car was normal size. All the other fluid changes were normal as in what we have here.

Europe is obsessed with waste disposal and this may be the driving force, as it is in Germany. The Vauxhall did not call for synthetic oil, just the European spec. regular dino.

I also noted there are virtually no old cars on the road there, except some “classic” ones like old minis and MGs. I’m sure these cars get more frequent oil changes.

As cars age they they get shipped to Africa and other developing areas with left hand traffic, I suspect.

The best conclusion I can draw is that if you want to keep your car a very long time, change oil more often, like 5000 miles, which is now Toyota’s standard for all conditions.

Mineral oil is prevalent in the US and no one thinks so much about it. They can spec synthetic with longer interval but a good number of owners and some shops will ignore requirement and lead to early demise of engine. Old habits die hard.

Also synthetic changes by shops is more expensive at the outlay at shop visit by consumer even though interval is longer.

How much was an oil change for Passat in EU vs price for your Subaru/Civic? My guess is multiple visits to change oil in US is still cheaper than EU single synthetic visit.

Gas and oil cost more in EU. However, the price difference between synthetic and mineral oil is about the same (percentage wise). As far as your guess, you can calculate the cost of multiple visits in the USA and compare it to less visit: let me know what you obtain.