The Story Behind Oil Change Recommendations

November 15, 2011

For many years, the oil change recommendation was every 3,000 miles/3 months and the filter was replaced every other oil change (6,000 miles/6 months). A couple of factors combined to make these frequent oil changes necessary. One factor was that most engines were still using carburetors to deliver fuel to the engine—excess fuel would end up mixing with, and ultimately degrading, the engine oil. The second factor is that engine oils were simply not a good as they are today.

As oils improved during the late 70s and early 80s, the manufacturers began to extend their oil change intervals to 7,500 miles, with the filter replaced at each oil change. However, as part of the quest to reduce emissions, engines were running hotter and some vehicles developed oil-related issues due to these extended oil change intervals. But oils continued to improve and electronic fuel injection significantly reduced the amount of fuel finding its way into the engine oil. So after some initial issues, these extended oil change intervals became sufficient.

The 1990s saw the advent of the “quick-lube” oil change facilities and their much publicized 3,000 mile oil change recommendation. As a result, the manufacturer’s recommendations were ignored in favor of the commercialized 3,000 mile oil change (including a filter replacement with each oil change). Many industry experts considered this environmentally unfriendly. Not only did more oil need to be produced, but the extra waste oil also had to be properly disposed of. In the last few years, the advertised 3,000 mile change interval has changed to “as per manufacturer’s recommendations,” though the 3,000 mile oil change still resonates with many customers.

Most manufacturers no longer recommend specific mileage intervals for their oil changes. Modern vehicles are now equipped with an oil change reminder light/message to alert the driver when it’s time to change the oil and filter, based on how the vehicle is driven. The light will come on sooner if the vehicle is used primarily for infrequent, short trips. It will take much longer for the light to come on if the vehicle is driven for long periods at steady freeway speeds. It’s pretty simple now—change your oil when the reminder light comes on! 

As a back up to this technology (in case the oil change light fails), it’s a good idea to keep a paper trail of your oil changes. If your engine uses conventional oil, and the oil change light is not functioning, it would be wise to change the oil every 5,000 miles or 10 to 12 months. Synthetic engine oil is a whole other subject—more on that next week!

Regular oil changes are important not only for the engine, but for the entire vehicle. When the oil is changed, the mechanic usually performs a vehicle inspection as well. These periodic inspections can identify problems that could leave you stranded if left unattended.

How often do you change your oil?

About the Author

Jim Taddei has been in the automotive field since 1975 and has over 25 years of experience with General Motors products, achieving the designation of GM Master Technician. He is also currently certified as an ASE Master Technician, and holds an Advanced California Smog Check License. He has been the lead technician and team leader at a multi-line dealership. After leaving the dealership he spent a couple of years working in an independent shop and now uses his experience and expertise to help verify the quality of RepairPal Certified shops.

1 User Comment

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By , June 16, 2014
Thank you so much for this.