Do You Really Need to Change Your Oil Every 3,000 Miles?

CARS.COM — If you drive, you've probably been told that you need an oil change every 3,000 miles. This is a widely accepted standard when it comes to oil changes, but do you really need to change your engine oil after traveling exactly 3,000 miles?

Related: More Maintenance Coverage

The answer is conclusive: No, you don't, according to every auto manufacturer we've talked to. The main advocates of the 3,000-mile oil-change schedule are those who would profit by it: repair facilities, quick-lube chains and service departments at some new-car dealers. Recommended oil-change intervals actually vary greatly from one vehicle manufacturer to enough, so it is always best to familiarize yourself with your owner's manual to keep up with recommended maintenance.

How Often Do You Need to Change Your Oil, Then?

Years ago, it was a good idea to change your engine oil and oil filter frequently, but because of advances in engine materials and tighter tolerances, as well as the oil that goes into engines, most manufacturers recommend intervals of 7,500 miles or more.

Ford, Volkswagen and Porsche, for example, recommend oil changes every 10,000 miles. So does Toyota on several engines, including the Prius' 1.8-liter four-cylinder and the Camry's 2.5-liter four-cylinder. BMW says owners can go up to 15,000 miles between oil changes (with synthetic oil).

The intervals vary by manufacturer and engines, so consult your owner's manual or maintenance schedule to see how often to change the oil in your vehicle and what type of oil to use. You may be surprised. (We were surprised to learn that the Camry's 2.5-liter engine requires 0W20 synthetic oil, for instance.)

Manufacturers suggest you change oil more often for "severe" driving conditions, such as frequent trailer towing, extensive stop-go driving or idling in traffic, driving in extreme heat or cold, or frequent short-distance driving in which the engine doesn't reach full operating temperature.

Modern Vehicle Features Make Keeping Up With Maintenance Easy

Some car companies, Ford and GM among them, equip most vehicles with oil-life monitors that tell car owners when it's time to change the oil based on vehicle speed, engine temperature, climate conditions, number of cold starts and other factors. They can all cite examples from owners who say the oil-life monitors indicated they could go even longer than the recommended change intervals.

If you're nervous about going 10,000 miles or more between oil changes, then do it every six months, when you probably should also have your tires rotated (also explained in your owner's manual). GM says to change your oil at least once a year even if the service indicator warning light doesn't come on. With longer recommended intervals between oil changes, it's more important to check the oil level at least once a month to make sure you have enough.

But to change oil every 3,000 miles is probably wasting money. Environmentalists say it also adds to the glut of used oil that must be recycled or disposed, and the state of California is trying to discourage the practice.

If the guy at the quick-lube shop says he's only trying to help you when he recommends frequent oil changes, consider this: It is not in the interest of a car manufacturer for you to suffer premature engine failure caused by worn-out oil. If that happens, they might have to pay for repairs under warranty and probably will lose you as a customer. Yet, they're the ones advising you to follow longer oil-change intervals.

For more on high-mileage oil changes, check out the video below.

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