3,000-Mile Oil Changes
The O Pine

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© 2003 Brian F. Schreurs
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Lube this, bucko!
The 3,000-mile or 3-month oil change has long been the standard in the United States, and has served Americans well. Over the last decade, however, there has been a gradual shift away from this traditional oil change interval. But maintaining a 3,000-mile or 3-month schedule is cheap insurance and many motorists would do well to retain it. Let's answer some questions about this robust maintenance regimen.

Q: How often should I change my oil?

A: Every three months or 3,000 miles, whichever comes first. It's cheap insurance.

Q: Do you actually know anybody who drives less than 3,000 miles in three months?

A: One guy. He drives about 200 miles a month, and takes the public transit system the rest of the time.

Q: So this guy should change his oil, even though it only has 600 miles on it?

A: You never know what could have happened to the oil while it was just sitting there. It's cheap insurance.

Q: At 200 miles a month, wouldn't it be cheaper to just rent a car?

A: We're getting off topic here.

Q: My owner's manual doesn't say anything about 3,000-mile oil changes. It says to go longer than that.

A: Car manufacturers are in the business of selling cars, and they believe if they can make your engine wear out prematurely, you'll go back to them for another car. The 3,000-mile interval is cheap insurance against this.

Q: Well, the car has an oil life monitor that tells me when to change the oil. Can't I go by that?

A: How can the car possibly know what's going on in the oil? They make those things go too long for the same reason they print inflated numbers in the owner's manual.

Q: Actually, I think they use a complex mathematical model tailored to the specific engine and oil type, which uses input from the variables measured by the engine computer such as RPM and operating temperature.

A: And you TRUST them?

Q: But if the engine fails prematurely, doesn't the manufacturer eat the cost of repairs during the warranty period?

A: Oh but it won't fail until the car is outside the warranty period.

Q: So how is that a premature failure?

A: It won't be TOO far outside the warranty period, you can be sure of that.

Q: Okay, so car manufacturers carefully craft their oil recommendations specifically so that the engine fails after the warranty period so they don't have to pay for it, but not too far after the warranty period so consumers will come back to them for another car, instead of buying from a competitor that doesn't yank them around like this?

A: They ALL do it. And the 3,000-mile interval is cheap insurance against it.

Q: You're saying that if your engine blows up with 60,000 miles on it, you'll go back to the same manufacturer for another car?

A: My engine will never blow up, because I'm using a 3,000-mile interval.

Q: Can I switch to synthetic oil?

A: Sure. Synthetics offer many technological advances, including superior viscosity stability, better extreme-temperature performance, higher levels of acid neutralization ability, more shear strength, improved film cling, and of course slight improvements in fuel economy and horsepower in some engines. Great stuff, synthetics.

Q: So how often should I change the synthetic oil?

A: Every three months or 3,000 miles. Even with synthetics, it's cheap insurance.

Q: Um, the stuff costs two to three times what conventional oil costs. That's cheap insurance?

A: Compared to how much it would cost to buy an engine, it's cheap.

Q: What evidence is there to show that running extended drains on synthetic oil will cause the engine to fail?

A: I don't have any, because I've never had an engine fail, because I change the oil every 3,000 miles. Now that's what I call cheap insurance!

Q: Uncountable studies performed by auto manufacturers, oil producers, industry analysts, and research groups like the SAE, both here and in Europe, have shown that synthetic oil can hold up for extended drain intervals. Why shouldn't I have some faith in this body of evidence?

A: You don't see anything on the bottle about extended drains, do you? They all say to follow manufacturer recommendations.

Q: You don't think that has anything to do with the litigous attitude in the U.S., and the oil companies' efforts to cover their butts from every idiot who runs his oil-burning 1986 Dodge Caravan completely dry?

A: What?

Q: Never mind. Amsoil says right on the bottle that you can run extended intervals.

A: And you TRUST them??

Q: Er, I thought you said--

A: Best to stick with 3,000-mile intervals. Cheap insurance.

Q: Isn't it wasteful to get rid of perfectly good synthetic oil at 3,000 miles?

A: There's plenty of oil to be had, and it's cheap insurance.

Q: There's plenty of beer to be had, but you don't drink half the bottle and pour the rest down the drain.

A: Oil isn't beer.

Q: Here's a hypothetical question. Each year, Americans consume 640 million gallons of motor oil. Even if we just went from your 3,000-mile interval to a 5,000-mile interval, that'd save 256 million gallons of oil. Most estimates for oil recycling peg the amount of recycled motor oil at no better than half, so even with the most generous estimate we'd still save 128 million gallons of oil pollution. In other words, if everyone increased their oil change interval by 2,000 miles, we'd save the nation the equivalent of 13 Exxon Valdez accidents each year. Isn't that a worthwhile goal?

A: MY oil gets recycled.

Q: That's not the point. If you use a quality oil, it seems like you could extend your drain intervals by a little bit, helping to reduce pollution and lower your operating costs at the same time.

A: I've never lost an engine using the 3,000-mile interval.

Q: You've never lost an engine using a 5,000-mile interval either.

A: Look, it's just cheap insurance.

Q: Do you wear a helmet in the shower? After all, there are over 110,000 bathtub and shower injuries per year. At 30 bucks, a helmet would be cheap insurance.


Q: Hello?

A: Go away.