“Righty tighty, lefty loosey” & “A stitch in time saves nine” and other handy phrases like these reassure us with their reliability. Reciting them gives us comfort when encountering complex situations that we feel we can’t tackle otherwise. They’re the linguistic equivalent of a warm embrace. As such embraces go, you’ve likely been warmly gripped by the bear hug of nifty sayings: “change your oil every 3,000 miles.”
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Heard from your mechanic or an automotive commercial, such a maxim gives car owners, amateurs and experts alike, the confidence that they’re managing their vehicle’s needs. But a groundswell of attention has mounted to reveal the “3,000-mile” counsel for what is truly is – a cozy yet old-fashioned equivalent of slick auto-industry hustling. That’s right: oil changes translate into consistent cash for many automobile professionals.
Before investigating the validity of the 3,000-mile oil change, let’s briefly cover the purpose of refreshing your automobile’s fluid. Oil functions as a lubricant and sealant for the engine and its components, improving its performance and fuel efficiency.
Oil also works to clean dirt, debris, and other by-products of driving out of the engine. Over time, the oil darkens and accumulates grime. The best comparison for an engine with black, old oil is taking a shower with the same water, again and again. Pretty soon, you’re washing dirt into your skin, instead of stripping it out of your pores.
Naturally, changing your car’s oil regularly is a downright necessity. But exactly how regularly is necessary? This is where we can most specifically locate the 3,000-mile controversy.
The 3,000-miles-between-changes recommendation, that has worn a groove into American auto consumer consciousness, first gained ground in the 1950s and ’60s. Car technology was experiencing a new boom, and the science behind oil for automobiles was far less sophisticated than it is today. The cars of those eras, and those produced up through the early 1990s, actually did require more frequent oil changes to compensate for their more finicky engines.
Fast-forward to the second decade of the new millennium. The science behind oil and engines has advanced tenfold. Most cars manufactured after the year 2000 feature engines whose technology lets them run 5,000, 7,500, or 10,000 miles — sometimes even more — before ever requiring a new change.
Would you throw out any eggs bought last weekend that you didn’t crack and scramble within a week? What is national poultry associations told you to? Of course you wouldn’t. An egg is an egg, and oil is oil. Being informed builds your common sense in these examples. Despite brand-name mechanics’ claims, your oil need not be changed as often as they say.
The importance of being frugal and the environment provide two cogent reasons for less frequent oil changes. Such procedures can actually add up to thousands of needlessly spent dollars over the years. Of course, changing your oil requires throwing out the oil fluid — a risky more for the planet. It contaminates the earth and does not break down easily, functioning as a serious pollutant and potential carcinogen, or cancer-causing substance.
When precisely, then, should you change your car’s oil?
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Consider your driving style. Experts consider most of our habits behind the wheel as “severe.” Trips of less than 10 miles, driving fast in inclement weather (too hot or too cold), maneuvering over dirty or unkempt roads, and bumper-to-bumper traffic are all serious hazards that cause engine stress, prompting more frequent oil changes.
No mathematician has whipped up a formula to determine the exact extent of the damage caused by such driving. But science, once again, is on your side, with an oil analysis. This $20 procedure compares your car’s oil quality with that of an average model of the same car, letting you know when a change is due.
Check your car’s dashboard maintenance lights, which can also alert you to a needed change.
The inarguably strongest resource is determining when to change the oil is your car’s manual. Peer over its section on oil to know your manufacturer’s recommendation for changes.
A trip to your favorite mechanic may favor his wallet over your conscience as the car owner. He may spout lines to you about the time-tested accuracy of “3,000 miles for every oil change.” But remember that a mechanic is only as successful as his garage is packed with cars to have his hands on. Your “regular oil change” might only mean “regular pocket money” to him. Arm yourself with specific knowledge on your car to avoid getting hoodwinked under the hood.