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3,000 Mile Myth & Oil Changes

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I changed the oil in my Celica this weekend to four fantastically fresh quarters of Mobil One, the synthetic motor oil choice of personal finance bloggers everywhere (I made that last part up). My dad has always told me that if you use Mobil One, you’re good to go for a solid year before you’ll need to swap the oil. This, of course, is not based on any sort of automechanics training from ITT Tech but empirical evidence based on thirty-plus years of driving and oil changes.

My dad always tried to learn how to do things himself when it came to maintenance. I think part of it was him not wanting to pay someone else to do something he could do himself and part he didn’t trust the mechanics. You have to remember back in the day (and even now) you’d go in for an $20 oil change and come out with someone recommending you change your struts, brakes, battery, spark plugs, window tint, air filter, and your seats. Oh, and they’ve, as a courtsey, already done the work and printed up a bill. It’s easy not to trust an industry that’s had a history like that.

Changing the oil in a Celica is incredibly easy. All you need to do is get under the front of the car, pop off some snap rivits, remove the plastic small undercarriage cover, and undo the bolt. If you’ve never changed your oil, you need to do a few things first. First, drive your car around the block to get the oil heated up and moving. Then, get yourself a ratchet set before you start because that bolt is impossible to remove otherwise. Finally, be sure to have a bucket and funnel (obviously) and maybe invest in a pair of ramps so you can get under the car more easily.

Many bloggers have talked about the whole 3000 mile myth and how you should check your owner’s manual for how long you should drive without a change. I think that if you’re running a synthetic oil then you’re able to get away with driving it a little while longer. My dad’s recommendation of a year is only really about 12,000 miles or so and not a huge stretch if you’re working off regular oil and a manual that says 7,500 miles.

Want to know why there’s a million people always waiting for an oil change at Wal-Mart? Because it’s easy, it’s $20, and you don’t have to get dirty. You don’t have to buy oil, dispose of it, store the bucket and the funnel somewhere, and you don’t have to wash your hands afterwards. What you should do though is pop open the hood and check that everything’s okay after one of those in case they forgot to put the oil cap on. In fact, on my girlfriend’s Civic they didn’t put the cover on and about a quart spilled everywhere. We didn’t find out until a week or so later until we saw oil dripping out of her grill (our parkings spots are jet black) and lifted the hood. No harm no foul though.

Ultimately, it’s nice to take care of your own things yourself… like changing your oil. It’s not about the money (Mobil One itself costs more than a synthetic oil change at Wal-Mart and they use decent stuff) because more often than not, the time you invest in doing it easily erases any financial gains. It’s your car, you spent thousands on it, and you should know how to take care of the simple things like changing your oil or replacing a flat. It’s laughable how many friends of mine can’t do either (I have some great flat tire changing stories for another day).

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7 Responses to “3,000 Mile Myth & Oil Changes”

  1. CK says:

    Personally I think one year/12K miles is a bit of a stretch. While I’m certainly not a 3K mile man I invite you to change your oil at 6K sometime and compare it to new Mobil One. If you feel comfortable with those impurities for another 6K miles go for it but good luck.

  2. jim says:

    The moment that oil goes through the system, it looks all black and thick with junk, I’m comfortable going the extra 6k.

  3. CK says:

    A third party opinion; CarTalk

  4. jim says:

    From that it sounds like a 1 yr oil change (if we’re talking 12k miles/yr, not 20k miles) isn’t that far off from being reasonable when using synthetic motor oil.

    “TOM: Synthetic oil is also more popular there. And synthetic motor oil only needs to be changed every 10,000 miles, which works out to about once a year for the average German driver.”

  5. Martha says:

    I love Car Talk (Tom and Ray are my favorite company on Saturday mornings!!) so i’ll settle on changing my oil every 5k miles :)

  6. Jim Lorenz says:

    I was an aircraft powerplant mechanic in the air arm of the U.S. Navy during the Korean war. There I learned about magnetic drain plugs. Piston engines rely on cast iron rings to seal the combustion gases, etc. They rub on steel cylinder walls. Both steel and iron are ferritic, thus can be attracted to a magnet. Some of the particles created in an engine are small enough to pass through commercial oil filters, but they can’t pass a magnet that works 24/7.
    This is one reason for changing reciprocating engine oil on a tme or mileage basis. You want clean oil in your mill, and you want to see that magnet fairly often.

    We never changed a radial engine’s oil because of their (designed) high oil consumption. A four hour flight with an 18 cylinder, 2,800 cubic inch, 2,200 horsepower enigine could consume 4 to 6 gallons of Avlube (about 50-60 SAE Wt.) But the maintenance mechanics could check on the interior health of the engine and the hydraulic systems by checking the magnets in their respective sumps. Even jet engines have magnets in their lube and hydraulic systems to trap & check for particles that shouidn’t be there.

    Oil is a lot cheaper than engines. Look for a fine, face-powder textured grey film on your crankcase drainplug magnet. Wipe it off with a paper towel. If you see any large shiny particles listen to your oil pump with a stethoscope, and to your engine over all for unusal noises, or plan to sell the car. If the engine builder says change the oil every NNN miles, do it. What do you know that the designer/builder doesn’t? Again; oil is cheaper than engines.

    I’ve driven over half a million miles since I was 14 and have had a dozen or more cars. I’ve only had 3 engine failures: 2 were fiber timing gears and 1 swallowed valve; none of which I could attribute to lubrication failure.

  7. denon says:

    I agree with Jim – just because your car still runs, doesn’t mean you can get away with running grungy oil through it. People figure as long as it drives, it must be OK.

    Modern lubricants are much higher quality, and you can get a lot more miles out of the oil itself, however the filter is still the issue. With synthetics, it’s perfectly acceptable to run them many more miles, but you still want to replace the filter. Also, don’t forget how much oil is in the filter – you’ll want to add ~1/2qt, depending on the size of your filter.

    Most people figure it’s not worth the hassle of replacing the filter without doing the oil as well – hence the trend. With excellent care to my vehicles, I’ve never had an engine problem, sans a few worn out belts, and pre-emptively replacing a few plugs. A little TLC goes a very long ways – especially when people are spending such insane amounts of cash on their vehicles these days.


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