The 3,000 Mile Oil Change

Editorial | Gear and Tech : August 21, 2008

I have a confession to make. I went a year and a half without changing the oil in my car. There, I said it. I’m not proud of it, nor would I ever recommend trying it. In my defense I’d like to point out that I didn’t do this out of negligence or forgetfulness, I simply wanted to see what would happen (when you drive a Focus you can afford these stupid little social experiments). I’ve always heard that you should change your oil every 3,000 miles, but with today’s advances in synthetic oils and engine technology, does the 3,000 mile rule still apply?

What if I Never Change My Oil?
If you’re anything like me you like to push the limits. Someone tells you to stay off the grass, you throw a lawn party. No parking? Pardon me while my SUV takes up two spaces. It’s in my nature to do stupid things, hence not changing the oil in my car for close to 20,000 miles. In the case of my Focus I had to pay a sizable fee to get the equivalent of an automotive enema. I was lucky. But because I’m naturally inquisitive (i.e. stupid) I’ve always wondered what would’ve happened had I never changed the oil. This is what I found:

  1. Dirt and sediment will accumulate in the oil causing the filter to clog.
  2. The bad oil bypasses the filter through a relief valve.
  3. Detergent and other additives in the oil wear out.
  4. The oil stops lubricating and the engine wears out and seizes.

A Change Would Do You Good
So now that I’ve been scared straight into changing my oil routinely in order to avoid carmageddon, do I really have to change it every 3,000 miles? Simple answer: yes and no. In all honesty, if you drive a high performance vehicle you’re going to want to change your oil often. With the heat that is generated by high performance vehicles and the general wear and tear that comes with driving them, you definitely need to change it early and often.

However, if you’re just tooling around town in a Tahoe, it’s not going to be as important. Today’s oil is much better than when the 3,000 mile rule first took hold. In fact, most cars today require the oil to be changed about every 5,000 to 8,000 miles (obviously it varies on a vehicle by vehicle basis and you should consult your manual for the proper maintenance schedule). Changing oil is not an exact science, but as long as you follow the manufacturer’s recommendations and not what some quick lube shack arbitrarily plasters on your windshield, you should be fine.

*The author is not responsible for any damage your vehicle may incur due to the fact that his judgment is impaired by hardheaded stupidity.