What's The Deal With Extended Oil Change Intervals?

For many years, the traditional oil change interval was 3,000 miles. However, if you're a younger or newer driver, you may have never owned a car with this recommendation. Manufacturers now typically recommend much longer intervals, with some manufacturers recommending oil changes as infrequently as every 16,000 miles!

This change can seem shocking and perhaps a little worrying for drivers who are familiar with the shorter recommendations. What changed, and why do manufacturers suddenly think you should change your oil less frequently than before? Should you follow these longer guidelines or stick to shorter intervals? There's no perfect answer, but these three facts may help you decide for yourself.

1. Oil Technology Has Improved

There was a time when conventional (or "dino") oil versus synthetic oil was a very real debate in the automotive world. Those days are long past, and all modern vehicles rely on synthetic oil. Synthetic oil offers superior lubrication and protection properties while being more environmentally friendly. These oils also typically contain special additives that can improve their lifespan.

Likewise, automakers release their own standards for oil, using specifications requiring certain additives that allow oil to last longer. You can expect to get longer life without sacrificing performance by using oils that follow these standards. On the other hand, you may need to stick to shorter intervals if you're using an oil that doesn't meet your automaker's specifications.

2. Engines Are More Efficient

Engine efficiency is another way that automakers are extending oil lifespans, although it's somewhat more controversial. Better engine design can theoretically improve the lifespan of oil by reducing heat, minimizing the potential for contamination, and using secondary components such as oil coolers. Improved oil filters also help to keep oil cleaner for longer.

However, the oil will still degrade, and running your engine hard or driving in particularly challenging circumstances can result in faster degradation. Automakers typically include a "severe" maintenance schedule for this reason. If you drive in heavy traffic, take your car to the track, tow heavy loads, or otherwise put your vehicle through its paces, you may want to consider more frequent changes.

3. It's Cheaper and More Convenient

There's no avoiding the elephant in the room: automakers can appeal to consumers by recommending less frequent oil changes. These recommendations mean owners must bring their vehicles to the shop less often and spend less money on new oil. Manufacturers wouldn't make these recommendations if they were harmful, but that doesn't mean there's no impact on your engine.

If you plan to keep your car for many years or hundreds of thousands of miles, more frequent oil changes might help keep your engine cleaner or more efficient. You may also consider sending your oil in for analysis as your engine ages. Moving to more frequent changes at high mileage is another option. These strategies can help extend your engine's life well beyond its warranty period.

Visit a car oil change service to learn more.