Factors that will influence your decision
As the above information makes clear, how often you need to change your oil is likely to be at much greater intervals than every 3,000 miles. Here are some things that should influence your decision:
First, if your vehicle is new or still under warranty, it’s a no-brainer. Simply follow the mileage and time guidelines in your car’s owner’s manual. When you take your vehicle to a dealership for required inspections and maintenance—which keeps your powertrain warranty in force—oil changes at specified intervals will be a part of that procedure.
After your vehicle is out of warranty, you might choose to stay on the same service schedule. In fact, these days many dealerships sell prepaid maintenance plans that enable customers to continue following the same service intervals—including oil changes—as when their vehicles were under warranty.
Regardless of whether or not you purchase a prepaid service plan, if you have a newer car, there’s a good chance your vehicle will automatically remind you, via a visual alert on the instrument panel, that it’s time to schedule a service appointment, which sometimes includes an oil change. Such alerts typically occur every 5,000 to 10,000 miles.
Other vehicles—mainly high-end ones—sometimes have advanced oil-monitoring systems that identify when the engine oil begins to degrade. They accomplish this by analyzing your driving history and your vehicle’s operating conditions—such items as engine revs and speed, driving temperatures, number of cold starts, and overall mileage, for example.
Under favorable conditions, a car might travel up to 16,000 miles before a monitor indicates that an oil change is needed. But if the oil-monitoring system detects heavy-duty operation, it shortens the oil-change interval.
To that point, assuming your vehicle doesn’t have an advanced oil-monitoring system, there’s one other important factor to consider: your driving environment. In the maintenance section of your owner’s manual, you might find two recommended maintenance schedules: one for cars driven in "normal operating conditions” and another for those used in "severe service.” The latter is defined as operating your car under one or more of the following conditions:
- Mainly short trips (5 miles or less)
- Very hot, cold, or dusty climates
- Sustained stop-and-go driving
- Carrying heavy loads or towing a trailer.
If the way you use your vehicle falls under the severe service definition, it’s best to maintain it with the more rigorous schedule, which might mean more frequent oil changes.