Updated on 02.04.12

Don’t Get an Oil Change Every 3,000 Miles (34/365)

Trent Hamm

Whenever I go get an oil change (often, whenever I find myself with a good coupon to a local oil change service provider), I always notice that little sticker in the corner of my windshield that they affix during the oil change.

Usually, it lists the mileage at which I should get my next oil change (according to them) and often lists the approximate date at which I should reach that mileage.

The only problem is that, without fail, that mileage revolves around getting an oil change every 3,000 miles. An oil change that often just isn’t necessary. It’s akin to getting an annual checkup at the doctor every six months.

Let’s just say I tear that sticker off.

Don't Get an Oil Change Every 3,000 Miles (34/365)

We’ve all heard the mantra of getting your oil changed every 3,000 miles. It gets repeated to us every time there’s an ad for motor oil or oil change services.

That actually might have been true thirty or more years ago, when engines were built very differently than they are today.

However, the reality is that most of today’s car models require oil changes every 5,000 miles, and some models require it even less frequently than that.

The information you need is (again) in the owner’s manual for your car. It tells you the exact number of miles recommended for your car between oil changes. For most modern models, it’s 5,000 miles between a change.

So, how much does that save you?

Let’s look at a 120,000 mile life span for your car. I have a pile of coupons for a Jiffy Lube oil change (including oil) for $29.95, so we’ll use $30 as a base price.

With an oil change every 3,000 miles, you’ll have to change the oil 40 times. That’s a total cost of $1,200 over the car’s lifespan just for oil changes.

With an oil change every 5,000 miles, you’ll have to change the oil only 24 times. That’s a total cost of $720 over the car’s lifespan just for oil changes.

That’s a savings of $480 just by cutting out unnecessary oil changes.

Not only that, oil changes every 5,000 miles put you in line with the rest of the maintenance schedule (also found in your car’s manual) in most modern cars. If you have an oil change every 3,000 miles, you’re going to be very out of whack with that schedule, causing you to either delay other maintenance (risky) or get oil changes even earlier (expensive).

Take a peek at your car’s manual and see what it says about oil changes. You might just find yourself ripping that little sticker off, too.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.

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  1. Izabelle says:

    …and we’re back to bad photos.

  2. Kristin says:

    It also depends on if you use synthetic oil or non-synthetic oil.

  3. lurker carl says:

    Oil change frequency depends upon your specific vehicle and your driving habits. No one should listen to Trent for advice regarding vehicles and maintenance, he has zero clue.

  4. Misha says:

    “Let’s just say I tear that sticker off.”

    When prefacing a straightforward statement, “let’s just say” is about as superfluous as “simply put.”

  5. kc says:

    Why not leave the sticker on your windshield, and add the appropriate mileage to their recommendation?

  6. kc says:

    Without the sticker, you may forget. Unless, of course, you’ve gotten that detail “out of your head” and written it down.

  7. Izabelle says:

    A smarter approach would be to learn how to do the change yourself and be proactive about it. No need for a driveway of your own: we have an arrangement with my brother (who lives in an appartment) that he and my husband do our oil changes together, in my driveway. We get help, he gets space to do it.

    A lot of the lighter car maintenance can definitely be done without going to the garage. I recommend getting a copy of Popular Mechanic’s Complete Car Care Manual, which teaches pretty much everything one needs to know to keep their car in good shape. It definitely beats following advice from a blogger who is not shy about giving advice on topics he knows nothing about (as proven in the bathing suit saga and many others).

  8. Robin S says:

    #7 – Its true that it might be slightly less expensive to change your oil yourself, but you also have to deal with disposing of the old oil. And, for me, the location of my car’s oil filter requires me to fully elevate the front of the car, which isn’t safe on your basic tire-changing jack. So it might be smarter for some people, but for the time it takes to do it and dispose of the old oil, and the extra equipment I would need to buy that I don’t need for anything else… It’s just cheaper to go to Jiffy Lube or to my mechanic. For most people it probably will be. Plus, I trust my mechanic and so its a good chance for him to check other areas of the car that might need service or replacement – worn tires and breaks, for example.

  9. Michael says:

    This is just not a good idea. I say that as someone who thought he could safely space out oil changes and was wrong.

  10. valleycat1 says:

    Trent is saying to follow the owner’s manual guidelines & he is correct that most modern cars’ intervals are longer than the generic, age-old guideline of every 3000 miles. And the manuals usually vary the interval based on how tough the driving conditions are that you are operating the vehicle under. Use your manual’s guideline, not the guideline the person selling you the oil changes would like.

  11. Julia says:

    I was told – at Jiffy Lube – that if I bought the synthetic oil I could space out my oil changes to every 5000 miles. I later confirmed it with my family mechanic, who also said the synthetic should give me better mileage and was better for my engine.
    I honestly never checked this number in my owner’s manual, I used the advice of my mechanic.

  12. Vanessa says:

    I think getting a checkup at the doctor every six months is actually a good idea.

  13. kc says:

    @Julia: changing synthetic oil every 5,000 miles is overkill to a ridiculous degree. Check your manual! You can likely go 6000 to 7500 miles on conventional oil, and longer on synthetic. The Jiffy Lube guy is NOT helping you.

  14. josh says:

    @#11 – Changing your oil will NEVER give you better gas mileage…unless you have gone absurd amounts of miles and the oil is now sludge. But then, MPG would not be your biggest worry.

  15. Nick says:

    I just bought a new Subaru and the manual says to change the oil every 7500 miles.

    Pretty sweet. Definitely worth checking.

  16. Josh says:

    I like to change my oil several times per day.

  17. EdTheRed says:

    NYC cab companies change theirs at 7K miles. And those cars take a beating, but run and run and run…

  18. jim says:

    I agree with Valleycat1. Trents basic advice here is good advice and correct. Read your cars owners manual and change the oil according to the manufacturers recommendations. But I leave the little sticker on the window and just add a couple thousand miles as KC says.

  19. gin says:

    When you go to a Jiffy Lube they may or may not notice when the battery is old (and taking out your alternator)or the water pump is weeping, or a belt is in bad shape… or the antifreeze is coming out your tail pipe. So when being proactive under the hood these are things to keep in mind…or you could take it to a honest local garage when getting a lube, pay a little more but hopefully they will catch something that a Jiffy lube typicaly isn’t looking for…something to take into consideration also.

  20. Lilly says:

    What a bunch of babies! Jiffy Lube may be cheap but they don’t use quality oil. Plus they try to get you to buy other stuff prematurely. Buy your own *quality* oil and change it yourself. It’s not that hard, you don’t need all that much new equipment and you don’t need that much space. True, regular oil changes will not get you better gas mileage, but it will increase the longevity of your vehicle. My 1997 Saturn has over 200,000 miles on it, it gets approx. 40 mpg freeway, and it’s still going strong. Need I day more?

  21. Misha says:

    Yes, Vanessa, but his phrasing was specifically “like getting an annual checkup every six months” (emphasis mine). It’s not an argument against frequent checkups; it’s an argument against doing something more frequently than is necessary.

  22. Courtney20 says:

    When I bought my car in 2010 I checked the manual and it said oil changes with synthetic oil every 7500 miles.

    I’ve followed the recommendation, but darned if it didn’t make me nervous the first time or two when I was beyond 5000 miles (when I had changed it with synthetic oil on my old car) and before I got to the 7500 mark. I was SO conditioned to think that something bad would happen if I went too far beyond 5000 miles.

  23. tentaculistic says:

    When I got a new-to-me car, I read (and highlighted) that owner’s manual, and made my own sticker based on Edmunds.com service recommendations. That way I won’t get taken by dodgy mechanics – I know exactly what they should be doing at what mileage. Oh, and now I don’t go to dodgy mechanics any more :)

    By the way, my car’s manual says I don’t have to change the oil more than every 10,000 miles. Which nearly gave me heart palpitations, and I verified it over and over and over. Newer cars really are getting more and more mileage between oil changes.

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