The age-old tale handed down from parent to child: Change your oil every 3,000 miles. Well, okay—you won’t find it in any cave drawings, but just about every automobile owner has heard it. However, technology has come a long way, so it’s time to take another look at oil change intervals.
How Have Oil Changes Changed?
Today’s synthetic oils have a lifespan of up to 15,000 miles in some vehicles, but some auto shops will still slap a sticker in your window telling you to bring your car back in 3,000 miles. While it won’t hurt your engine to do so, it’ll impact your wallet.
Dealership service departments will often recommend a longer interval at about 5,000 miles based on a severe use maintenance schedule. However, even regular oil can give you 7,500 miles between changes with normal driving habits.
Synthetic vs. Conventional Oil
What is synthetic oil? It turns out that the definition is fairly flexible. Without getting too technical, regular oil comes from processed crude oil while synthetic oil comes from many different materials and processes—and petroleum, which also comes from crude oil, is often one of those. The important takeaway is that synthetic oil in general performs better than regular, or conventional, oil.
Is synthetic oil better for the environment? Due to the additional processing, the net impact of making synthetic oil is about the same as for conventional oil. Still, the fact that it lasts longer definitely puts it in the green.
How to Know When to Get an Oil Change
Your vehicle’s manual will give you a good approximation for the oil change interval as well as tell you what type of oil is best for your engine. If you don’t feel like scrounging through a cluttered glove compartment for your automobile manual, you can usually find the information online as well. Finally, many new vehicles have a feature called an oil life monitor that keeps track directly on your dashboard.
Can You Trust the Oil Life Monitor?
Buick first developed and tested the oil life monitor (OLM) in 1984 to remind consumers about when it’s time for an oil change. It’s now found in the majority of new automobiles. The sensors keep track of the oil’s moisture, temperature, and other factors during operation to determine how hard your engine is working. According to many reports, the margin of error is about 10 percent—so, take it in a little early to be safe.
Some proponents of more frequent oil changes than the OLM predicts point to the lower cost of the extra oil versus that of a new engine. Others argue that the cumulative effect on the environment from waste oil is too big to ignore. Plus, they claim, the automakers have plenty of incentive to ensure that their OLMs are as accurate as possible—just imagine the cost of the warranty replacements of those engines otherwise.
How Does Oil Waste Affect Me?
California has taken the lead in compiling statistics on waste oil. The state found that around 40 percent of oil doesn’t get recycled. That statistic is in keeping with the U.S. EPA’s report that improper oil disposal amounts to 200 million gallons each year. That oil can turn up in the soil, potentially affecting agriculture, and in the water sources that become our drinking water.
How to Keep Track of Oil Changes
Instead of going by what’s written on a window cling, you could think about how much you typically drive per week and then divide the 5,000 or 7,500 miles by that figure to find out approximately when your next oil change should be. Then, simply set a reminder in your phone’s calendar app. Of course, try to keep your eye on the actual number on the odometer since a few weekend road trips could push up that date.
If you don’t drive much and don’t want to get bogged down in logistics, you can just do your oil change at the same time as your tire rotation—every six months. Just remember to recycle the used oil and oil filter!