Headlights to Taillights: Oil Change Intervals

By Mark Kozemko, a Johnson College’s Automotive Technology program director
Original published in the June 26, 2020 edition of the Valley Advantage.

With the price of vehicles these days, most vehicle owners have questions about how they can protect their investment. Engine maintenance, specifically regular oil changes, is one of the best ways to protect that investment.

Today we’re going to answer the question that many people ask about oil change intervals — should I change my oil every 3,000 miles?

This question most likely comes from an older generation of car owners like me, because that was the normal recommended oil change interval from almost every manufacturer.

I will never discourage anyone from changing their engine oil more often than the manufacturer recommends. In the past, manufactures recommended oil changes at 3,000 miles, and some people still use that mileage as their oil change interval. But over the years, several factors have altered the recommended oil change interval.

As with any technology, advancements are constantly being made. Engineers are constantly working on making every component and system better than it was yesterday. Vehicles ride much better than they did in the past. Everything from sound system to engine performance increase in quality with every model year. Oil is no different.

There are several different types of oil that modern day vehicles can use. Regular or petroleum-based oil is normally recommended to be changed at that 3,000 mile range mentioned earlier but you will be hard pressed to find vehicle engines that still utilize this type oil. As engines have advanced though the years, oils have evolved to meet the needs of these engines. Synthetic blend are created using mineral oil and synthetic oil and do not have to be changed as often. So the interval for oil changes is looking more towards 5,000 to 7,500 miles. There are also full synthetic oil options which would bring oil change intervals to around the 10,000 mile range.

The advancements in engine design and oil properties actually bring us to the answer to the question at hand. Modern synthetic and synthetic blend oils stand up to the very high engine temperatures way better than the petroleum-based oils do. There is way less carbon and sludge build up on internal engine parts so they perform better and last longer. But with that in mind, you should always follow the recommended service intervals and oil type for your specific vehicle and engine.

If you have noticed, we are focused on miles driven between oil changes. In recent years, almost all new vehicles have some sort of built-in oil change or service reminder system. These systems make it much easier for drivers to know when a service or oil change is due because it does not depend upon the driver to keep track of anything. Modern cars can learn vehicle habits. Not to complicate things any further but these service reminder systems do not always just count miles — there are other factors that go into when the engine needs to be serviced.

The most important thing to remember is that you can change the oil more frequently than the manufacture’s recommended interval but should never exceed the recommended mileage interval for your oil changes. But that being said, if you’re going to use an oil change interval that is less than the manufacture recommends, you will be spending more money. In my opinion, the money you spend for those extra oil changes is money well spent.

But the most critical thing to remember if you are driving a car that is covered under a manufacturer’s warranty: If you get your vehicle serviced in a repair shop other than the dealership you purchased the vehicle from, make sure your repair shop uses the correct oil recommended for your engine. If the incorrect oil is used, it is possible that will void your warranty. Your engine is by far the most expensive component of your vehicle and if it fails because the incorrect oil was used, the repair costs may be on you.

The next Headlights to Taillights column will be published in the July 24, 2020 edition of the Valley Advantage.