Do I Really Need to Have My Oil Changed?

A common myth ingrained in the hearts and minds of car owners is the infamous ¨3,000 mile oil change¨. This concept has prevailed through generations. Its origins stem from a time in which automotive technology seems primitive and ancient by today’s standards. The fact of the matter is, you aren’t driving your Dad’s ‘55 Chevy. Engine technology and oil chemistry have improved greatly in recent years and as a result, oil stays cleaner for longer. Changing your oil too frequently will waste your money and possibly hurt the environment. Much to the bane of your local mechanic, we at RSC Automotive Repair, San Clemente, will attempt to explore these facts and shatter the misconceptions.  Your schedule might be sooner and it might be later.

The truth is, there is no hard-and-fast rule to oil changing. It’s clear that changing your oil on a regular basis will keep your engine running smoothly and prevent long-term degradation, but exactly how often we need to perform this sacred transfusion depends on a number of factors.

The primary factor that should shape your oil habits is the make, model, and year of your car. Across the great spectrum of automobiles, you will find different necessities and recommendations for all maintenance—oil care included.

Manufacture’s Recomendation

Establishing the true number of miles you must travel before changing your oil is as simple as flipping through the pages of your owner’s manual or checking the dealer’s website. Many vehicles have a handy light for alerting the driver when the oil is close to the end of its life—this isn’t for show. The vehicle is designed to measure the average speed and engine revs and combine this with the vehicles baseline oil recommendation.

If we simply take a moment to reflect on the goals and motives of your car manufacturer, we will come to the conclusion that car companies have a significant incentive to correctly instruct us on vehicle maintenance. Their reputation depends on the customer’s belief in the longevity and reliability of their product. Honda and Ford are unlikely trying to scam you into paying too much for oil. They invest millions in the testing of their vehicles. This information trumps the opinions of your friends and mechanics. Trust your manufacturer above all else!

Type of Driving

So, we have established the manufacturer’s recommendation is a solid starting point, but there are other concerns. Most cars will fall somewhere between 5,000 to 10,000 miles before needing an oil change. The rest of the story depends on what type of driver you are. In manufacturer’s terms, driving ranges from ¨severe¨ to ¨mild¨.

Counterintuitively, ¨severe¨ driving can mean a short trip to the coffee shop, driving the kids to school, or sitting in stop-and-go traffic. The oil in your car is designed to function while warm. Without proper warming of the oil—like in these quick trips—the oil won’t efficiently absorb the contaminants produced by internal combustion. Driving conditions such as low temperatures, high humidity, or significant dust and dirt also fall under the ¨severe¨ category.

¨Mild¨ driving is something akin to your 45-mile commute to work on a clean highway on a nice day. Under these conditions, the oil is more efficiently utilized, placing you on the higher end of the mile-per-oil change spectrum.

Type of Oil

Finally, there is a bit to be said on the synthetic vs. regular oil debate. Research has clearly shown synthetic oil is better at preventing engine damage and lasts significantly longer. Synthetic oil degrades more slowly and functions better in extreme temperatures, The Synthetic stuff is usually more expensive, but the investment can pay off with your infrequent oil changes.


As with all car maintenance decisions, it’s best to do your own research, rules from 35 years ago may not apply today, and it may be difficult to resist the firm assertions of a mechanic. Always ask questions and follow your gut. A few minutes of research can save you a lot of time and money.