Many of us received the instruction the same day we took ownership of our first set of wheels, right alongside a litany of other worthy pieces of advice from Dad. "Park in a lighted area if you can," he told us. "Never pick up hitch-hikers," he warned. And with regards to the regular maintenance of your car, "Change the oil every three months or 3,000 miles."
Well, times have changed. This ain't your Daddy's combustion engine.
In defense of Dad, there was a time when the "3-month or 3,000-mile oil change" was sound advice, not to mention it was easy to remember. Through much of the 20th Century, engines were harder-running and less-efficient than they are today. Auto manufacturers urged drivers to have their car's oil changed every 3,000 miles to extend the life of the vehicle, and as the decades passed the oil-change business followed suit by reminding customers of three-month and/or 3,000-mile recommended oil-change intervals.
But times have changed, oil has changed and engines have changed. Somehow, it seems, what has been a bit slower to change is the public's understanding of recommended oil-change frequency. Despite owner's manual recommendations that a vehicle's oil be changed every 5,000, 7,500 or 10,000 miles, many drivers hold on to the outdated 3,000-mile norm. In fact, according to a study by California State University San Marcos, 73 percent of drivers in that state change their oil more frequently than the manufacturer recommends.
So where's the harm in being over-protective? There is none. Does your vehicle suffer if you visit the quick lube shop every few months? No.
About the only thing that suffers as a result of getting an oil change every 3,000 miles is your pocketbook. And when you consider the math, the damage can be fairly extensive. Assume an oil change costs you $30. If you rack up 3,000 miles every two months, as many people do, you're incurring $180 in oil-change expenses every year. Now browse through your owner's manual. If the recommended oil-change interval for your vehicle is every 5,000 miles, your yearly cost would total just under $100. If the life of your oil extends to 7,500 miles, your cost would plummet to just over $60.
In addition to the financial benefit, weigh also the lessened impact on the environment. Consider the typical oil change produces five quarts of spent oil. A person who has his oil changed every two months sends 30 quarts of oil to the recycling barrel every year. By extending the life of your oil to its recommended change intervals, you can reduce your oil usage by half, perhaps even two-thirds.
What has changed? Why does oil in today's vehicles have better endurance than the oil we poured into our Studebakers, Bel Airs and GTOs? Two reasons rise to the top. First, today's vehicles are built with more efficient engines. They employ advanced technology such as oil monitoring systems and on-board computer diagnostics that help oil maintain its viscosity, while regulating the engine components that lead to oil breakdown. In addition, today's synthetic oil and lubricant technology can simply endure the pounding delivered by car engines better than engine oil of decades past.