Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Too-Frequent Oil Changes?

I would like to know what the community thinks of this article:

Since the mid '80s, when I first owned a car, I have subscribed to the theory that the 3,000 mile change guideline was a product of the car servicing industry and paranoia among ignorant car owners, particularly when using synthetic oil. I remember when Mobil 1 was introduced, and Mobile claimed it permitted 20-25K miles between changes (perhaps a bit extreme in the other direction).

Given the significant environmental impact, I think this would be an appropriate topic for the show.

Brookline MA

" 20-25K miles between changes"

That’s wrong. Regular Mobil1 should be changed using the manufacturer’s recommendations, Mobil1 “extended performance” should be changed every 15,000 miles or 12 months, whichever comes first.

I agree that most all cars can go 5,000, or, if the car has an oil life monitor, I’d go up t 7,500 miles.

The longer you wait to change your oil, the greater the chance of “sludging” …Why turn your engine into a varnish factory?? Careful maintenance will allow you to keep your car TWICE as long as the manufacturer intended you to keep it…7500 miles is the upper limit on oil changes, with 5000 miles being the “safe” upper limit…3000 miles provides “I did everything I could to make this engine last forever” satisfaction…

By and large good advice, especially for those who keep forgetting to change their oil. I disagree, however with the statement that only a few drivers are subject to severe conditions. All stop and go city driving, trailer towing, operating in very hot or very cold conditions apply.

We have a Toyota with 5000 mile intervals specified and will continue to observe that. For long term ownership that “extra $1800” a frequent changer will incur is small change compared to replacing an engine at 250,000 miles!! Edmunds needs a few lessons in engineering economics.

My goal in changing my oil is to prolong the life of the engine, not to set a new personal best in NOT changing the oil. I strongly recommend changing oil per the manufacturer’s recommendation but not to exceed 5000 miles. Changing oil too often will not cause premature engine wear. Changing oil too infrequently WILL.

Oil is cheap. Engines are expensive.

That story, and a plethora of clones just like it, are rehashed over and over by people who have no mechanical clue and who likely have never even changed their own oil.
Oil sludging/coking and any associated engine problems are caused by NOT changing the oil often enough; pure and simple. This leads into the area of extended oil changes causing the engine oil level to be out of sight, out of mind, and damaged engines when it’s discovered after the fact that the motor oil level is too low or near empty.

Look at the 2 authors of that tripe. One was a newspaper reporter before going to work for Edmunds and the other became an Edmunds intern after getting a degree in Journalism.

If your dog was sick would you call a vet or a plumber? That’s the journalistic equivalent of what’s going on here.

I thought the article was very factual. It seems that a lot of people are taking a few lines out of context and misinterpreting its meaning. The fundamental principle in the article is that the 3000 mile interval is no longer valid. BTW, i remember the days of the 1500 mile oil and lube intervals, I don’t see that advocated anywhere anymore, but it took a long time to die as well.

I’m not sure I’m ready for a 20,000 mile interval, though I have to admit that there was a time I did that, once. My last two years in the Navy, I was assigned to a boat that was about 900 miles from home. I was not going to move my family for a two year assignment, especially when I was gone most of that time. On every weekend that I could get away, I drove home. That did not leave time for oil changes, but I used Mobil 1 and it was all highway miles. That was a 79 dodge Colt with over 100k on it, the engine ultimately went to 180k before the car got totaled in an accident.

But even that article was not advocating 20k intervals, only mentioning that Porsche had that as an interval. Almost half the manufacturers use oil life monitors and they seem to be working just fine. In absence of the OLM, the rest are using 5k for conventional oil and 10k for synthetic. I think those are reasonable.

On my vehicle without OLMs, I have been using synthetic oil and a 7500 mile interval, so far that has worked out very well. My two current vehicles w/o OLMs have 180k and do not burn oil. My Saturn with an OLM has 254k on it. When I used synthetic oil in it, I skipped every other oil change light, so my oil changes were 11k apart. when I went back to conventional. I change at the oil change light which is about every 5.5k miles. so far, so good.

BTW, when Mobil 1 first came on the market, which was back in the days when many people still held onto the 1500 mile interval, they did claim it was good for 25k miles. They backed off that claim a short while later. The early Mobil 1 also had issues with older cars because it leaked readily past their seals. It got a bad rap for awhile. At $5/qt when conventional oil was only about $.45/qt and discount oil sold for less than $.25/qt, it was a hard sell to begin with.

I struggle to drive 3000 miles a year. Because of seasonal temperature variance I generally change the oil twice a year but I can’t remember the last time the mechanic told me the oil was actually dirty to the point of losing viscosity. Most of my driving is city but every six weeks or so the truck (Suburban) gets a four hour, 240 mile ‘Italian’ tune-up trip here and back to visit the mother-in-law. Should I respect time or distance more in this case?

I change the oil every 3k-5k miles on my daily driver (Pennzoil Synthetic), I change the oil once a year on the F-150 (whatever semi-synthetic is on sale at the time), since I only put maybe 2k-3k miles a year on it, and I change the oil once a year on the TR6 (Castrol 20W-50), I put less than 1k miles a year on it.

The main problem I have with extended oil change intervals is that too many people never open the hood and check their oil level. These two modern phenomena do not mix well. I’ve seen regular customers come in for an oil change, check their oil level before draining, and tell them they were very low and needed to check their oil level and add to it more frequently. They just say “okay!”, then a few months later bring the car in for the next oil change, and I once again find no oil on the dipstick and chunks in what little I drain out of the sump. Engines subject to this kind of use would not be able to survive a 10k mile interval because they would run out of oil and fail catastrophically. The 3k mile interval is probably the only thing keeping some neglected cars from running out of oil. My opinion is that you certainly can extend the oil change interval to 5k or even 10k miles, but you must keep the sump full in order for your engine to survive it. Personally, I change my oil twice a year regardless of miles driven and maintain the oil level full. By that time, the oil is starting to look dirty. I also drive older vehicles (late '90s) with 200k+ miles on them.

My 2005 Camry calls for 5K oil changes, I do it close to 4K. I do the change myself and at worst, costs me $16 from Walmart to get supplies. That adds $80 to my cost of ownership over each 100K miles. I can live with that.

A pic I took earlier this year during a teardown on a comparatively low miles engine (90ish) that had been through the extended oil change regimen routine.
Bearings washed outs, timing chain gone, compression from 150 down to 60, cam lobes pitted, lifters wallowed out, etc, etc
That particular engine is a fuel injected Ford 5.0 and with proper care they’re good for 300k miles or more but this one belonged to someone’s grandma and grandpa…

Oil Sludge Ford Motor 2