Change your oil every 3 months or 3,000 miles. You hear the commercials from oil change quick-lube places repeating this. Do you really need to change your oil every 3,000 miles? If not, how long? It’s important to have the right information, because proper oil change intervals are the single most important thing you can do to maximize the life and health of your engine. Here are some basic pointers to remember when asking "how often should I change my oil?"
The Bottom Line
We’ll cut to the main point first. You only need to change your oil at the interval that your car owners manual specifies. Many manuals dictate every 5000 – 7000 miles. However, you should note that these same manuals throw in the proviso to change the oil more often if you drive under severe conditions. Severe conditions, such as a lot of stop and go driving or very hot weather, breaks your oil down faster and means you need to change your oil more often.
The 3000 Mile Myth
The repeated advice to change oil every 3000 miles stems from the oil change industry seeking to boost its revenue. They market it as “cheap insurance” – what can it hurt to change your oil a little more often? In most cases, it can’t hurt to do that. It will just cost you more money than you really need to spend.
Follow Your Owners Manual
We said it once and we’ll say it again. Whatever your owners manual specifies, that’s what you need to follow. There actually are a handful of vehicles that do say 3000 miles. One example is the Saturn S Series. Even though Saturns aren’t really made any more, there are some still on the road. And in those vehicle, the length of oil change interval is tied to the oil functioning as hydraulic fluid for the timing chain tensioner. So Saturn would recommend oil change every 3000 miles. But for most vehicles today, you don’t need to change it that often.
My Oil is Dark, Doesn’t It Need Changing?
Many oils turn dark before they need to be changed. Oil functions in part to take minute soot particles and other impurities and suspend them away from metal surfaces. This is why oil contains dispersant additives. These dispersed particles make the oil darker. If you were to leave the oil change for too long, eventually the oil would lose its ability to suspend these particles, and then you would have a problem. But simply having dark oil isn’t a sign that the oil needs to be changed at that time.
Do You Need To Change Your Filter Every Time?
In times past, manufacturers would recommend that you did not need to change your oil filter every time you changed the oil itself. This was because they used non-detergent oils. Oils without detergent would leave all the oil sludge in the engine, so of course the oil filter last longer. Today most oils contain detergents and you need to change the oil filter with each oil change.
Bell Performance makes quality oil treatments like X-tra Lube (with MBL technology to resurface wear in your engine) and Engine Flush (to remove harmful engine sludge). Bell Performance recommends that you always change your oil filter with every oil change.
This post was published on October 19, 2011 and was updated on February 17, 2016.