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Public service annoucement

You don't need to change your car's oil every 3,000 miles.

By Ezra Klein  |  September 17, 2010; 11:27 AM ET
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Did McAdled send you that? It's kinda weird that you post about that 6 days late, and right around the same time McAdled does.

Posted by: Calvin_Jones_and_the_13th_Apostle | September 17, 2010 11:30 AM | Report abuse

Meh. Yes, the oil available today is better, and maintains desirable characteristics longer than the old stuff. But as the article grudgingly admits, the lubricating quality of the oil is only one factor. The oil still picks up contaminants and particulate matter -- which is a big concern, especially as engines age, and especially if they have finicky related components like, say, a turbo. I drive a 10 year old Saab turbo, and you better bet I'm changing my oil every 3500 to 4000 miles (3500 was the old-school rule o' thumb I learned back when I was taking auto mech classes in the '70s).

Posted by: nolo93 | September 17, 2010 11:43 AM | Report abuse

And you don't need to stop for fuel very often, either, thanks to some savvy Virginians:

Posted by: rmgregory | September 17, 2010 11:44 AM | Report abuse

Ezra, you didn't know this? The manual for your old car should have explained this to you.

Saab turbos from that era have a habit of accumulating a lot of gunk in the oil pan. One solution is to open up the oil pan and clean it out, but it's probably cheaper, even over the long term, to change your oil more often.

Generally, though, most manufacturers suggest oil changes ever 5000-6700 miles. My Saab had normal, regular 5000 mile oil changes and it lasted to 180,000 miles, and the engine was fine. The problem was that the cost of replacing the clutch wasn't worthwhile at that age.

Porsches and BMWs take 15 quarts of synthetic oil and a large filter and only require changes every 15,000 - 20,000 miles (though I guess quarts-of-oil-per-mile is about the same for a normal car).

Posted by: constans | September 17, 2010 11:58 AM | Report abuse

I bought my car almost ten years ago, and it specifically said to change every 7,000 miles. I've stuck with that pretty closely and it's just fine. (And it's just a little Hyundai!)

Posted by: ajw_93 | September 17, 2010 12:38 PM | Report abuse

The old advice was correct. The new advice is wrong.

1. If you try to have your oil changed every 3,000 miles, you'll procrastinate when you get to 3,000 miles, and then you'll forget altogether, and by the time you remember again and actually take the car in, you will have driven your car the appropriate number of miles.

2. If you try to have your oil changed every 6,000 miles, the same process occurs, and your car's engine gets all screwed up.

Posted by: ostap666 | September 17, 2010 12:41 PM | Report abuse

Read your manuals folks! Seriously, the 3000-mile change stopped being recommended by auto manufacturers several decades ago. Maybe they should put the manual on an MP3 so that you can listen to it while you drive. Follow the manufacturer's recommendation in the manual for oil weight, type, and oil filter and today's engines will easily last 200-300,000 miles.

Posted by: AuthorEditor | September 17, 2010 1:48 PM | Report abuse

Consumer Reports was saying this same thing a decade ago, as I remember.

Their testers were just trying to compare types and brands of oil to see whose broke down their viscosity sooner, and lo and behold, their actual discovery was that, as long as the container has the SAE seal on it (and few oils these days don't), there's little difference among brands from the store-brand to the most expensive brand-name -- and they all experience little breakdown at all until 7,000 miles, and after that, a gradual decline until a steep dropoff in viscosity at about 10,000 miles.

The other significant finding was that synthetics held their viscosity better and longer, but did not experience a gradual decline. They held viscosity steadily until about 12,000 miles, but then the viscosity fell off a cliff, to where it was no better than ordinary oil.

Their argument, too, was to go 6,000-7,000 between changes so as to introduce less waste oil into the waste stream, not to mention throwing away perfectly serviceable oil.

Posted by: Rick00 | September 17, 2010 2:40 PM | Report abuse

Identical make and model cars will be sold outside the US with the instruction to change the oil every 10-15,000km.

The standard line is that it's cheap insurance, but it's really just a neat voodoo trick and huge moneyspinner from the oil change places.

The US military does sample analysis on its vehicles before changing oil.

Posted by: pseudonymousinnc | September 19, 2010 12:22 AM | Report abuse

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