3,000 Miles? That's Your Father's Oil Change
It's funny (...not really) how long it takes us to throw off the burden of old wive's tales and urban myths. These days, it pretty much goes without saying that many automotive enthusiasts still live and die by the 3,000 mile oil change. Whether you change the oil yourself or religiously take it to your mechanic to be done, you know you are "looking after" your ride.
Well, a lot has changed since that kind of oil replacement interval was justified, including engine design and oil technology. Back in 2007, Ford Motor Company revised its oil replacement interval recommendations, following extensive fleet and laboratory testing. For 2007 or later model vehicles, the company increased the interval from 5,000 miles (8,000 km) to 7,500 miles (12,000 km).
There are benefits for almost everyone in following the manufacturer's oil change interval guidelines. For the driver, savings up to $600 result from the new schedule. If you're still blindly following the 3,000 mile period, you're paying for twenty more oil changes than you need to.
While synthetic oils are highly favored among the enthusiast set, regular mineral oils are also much better than they used to be. There are three important components involved. First is the base stock. This may be mineral or synthetic oil. Second is the additive package. A lot of progress has been made in this area, as well. The third, and equally important component, is the oil filter and it only in the last few years that significant progress has become evident.
In interviewing more than one technical executive at different oil companies, I have been told that synthetic oils can easily outlast a conventional paper cartridge filter. While nobody is saying to ignore the car manufacturer's maintenance recommendations - because you could end up with warranty issues - the potential for 15,000 mile oil changes is very real these days.
At least two popular synthetic oil brands now sell oil filters to go along with their products. Royal Purple says that outside the vehicle's warranty period, a 12,000 mile oil change schedule can be used for normal driving conditions. Amsoil promotes either 15,000 or 25,000 mile change intervals, according to the filter and driving conditions.
Potentially even more useful are some recent cartridge filters that can be cleaned and reused. Unlike conventional oil filters, this design uses a stainless steel filter media that can deliver significantly higher flow than a paper media filter. More responsibility now falls on you to ensure that the needed maintenance is done, but you may never have to buy another oil filter again.
The only potential losers in these developments are the quick oil change kinds of stores. You know, the ones that make it oh-so painful to do the right thing for your ride. Their maintenance interval recommendations typically have little to do with technical requirements and more to do with their financial requirements.
Now, all of this presumes that your driving habits and conditions fall under the "normal" category and not that of severe duty. What is severe duty? Check your vehicle's Owner's Manual and see. The actual incidence of severe duty driving is pretty rare, so don't overthink the situation.
If you think there is reason to change your oil early, check it and see. Pull the dipstick, clean it and put it back in. Carefully pull it out again without letting the tip touch anything in the engine bay. First, check the level - this should be done when the engine is warm. Running low, or out of oil, is a lot worse than changing it prematurely.
So, how does the oil look? Clean and golden? Great. Close the hood and go for a rip if its a nice day. You're done.
Does it look clear but dark(er)? Not a problem. The detergents in the oil are doing their job by getting dirt and soot away from engine components and keeping it in the oil. Dark oil is not bad oil, just oil that is getting the job done.
Does it look opaque and dark? Rub some of the oil between your fingers and see if there is any obvious problem. Smell it for any hint of gasoline or a burnt smell.
Does it look like coffee with double cream? That's not good. Anti-freeze is getting in there. Get it to your mechanic right now, or risk losing a main or rod bearing.
So, when you stick to a 3,000 mile oil change schedule, it's not a "treat" for your car. The only one being treated is the store you bought the oil from or the shop that is changing it for you. The additional demand for oil doesn't help the economy, nor does the burden of disposing of that oil as waste. You probably wouldn't change out a set of tires that still had ten or fifteen thousand miles left on them, so don't do it to your oil.
Now, if you really feel the need to "treat" your ride, when was the last time you got new wiper blades? Change those out and you'll still be money ahead.