Clark Howard: Not all oil changes are at 3,000 miles

ClarkHowardConsumer expert Clark Howard’s column appears here each Thursday in conjunction with Deal Spotter, a weekly print section in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

It’s a message that has been steered at drivers for years: Change your engine oil every 3,000 miles. Mechanics used to say you could be damaging your engine if you don’t. But recently said it’s a waste of money if your car is 2002 or newer.

The recommended interval for oil changes nowadays? Roughly 7,500 miles. That’s a bit more than the traditional 3,000. But consult your owner’s manual — you’ll see most will tell you it’s acceptable to go somewhere between 5,000 and 7,500 miles (and some even up to 10,000 miles) between oil changes under normal conditions. Again, this advice only applies to cars 2002 or newer.

You should still stick to the 3,000-mile interval if you drive under severe conditions, or if you have an older vehicle. What exactly are severe conditions? Typically they’re jack-rabbit stops and starts — the kind people do when racing from traffic light to traffic light, or the kind a delivery vehicle might make during the course of the day. But if you’re just driving back and forth to work during the week and hitting an occasional soccer field or baseball game with the kids during the weekend, then there’s really no sense in changing your oil every 3,000 miles.

Ultimately, this one has to be a personal decision. I have now gone from 3,000-mile oil changes to the 5,000-mile interval. But I simply can’t bring myself to step it up to 7,500.

The real problem remains those people who forget to do oil changes ever, which can cause premature engine wear. So here’s the compromise: Try following the maintenance schedule to the letter in your owner’s manual — whether it’s 5,000 or 7,500 — and leave it at that. In this era, when people are keeping cars longer than they used to, this is of key importance.

-by Clark Howard, Save More, Spend Less, Avoid Rip-offs

Find more answers to your consumer questions at You can also listen to his radio show live 1-4 p.m. Monday through Friday on AM 750 and NOW 95.5 FM News/Talk WSB.

21 comments Add your comment


June 30th, 2011
5:28 pm

If I waited every 7,500 miles that would mean that I’d have the oil changed once a year.


June 30th, 2011
7:08 pm

Hey Clarkie……whats the oil change interval on your scooter??


June 30th, 2011
9:29 pm

If you are going to write an article like this maybe you should steer your readers to what a so called Normal oil change is in their manual.
Hardly any one drives Normal according to the definition of Normal in an owners manual. So you are misinforming your readers.


June 30th, 2011
10:08 pm

You’re suppose to change your oil?!


June 30th, 2011
10:11 pm

“consult your owner’s manual — you’ll see most will tell you it’s acceptable to go somewhere between 5,000 and 7,500 miles”

This is nothing new; the manual for my 1995 model said to change it every 7K.


June 30th, 2011
10:15 pm

Funny that you say to look at the manual. When I would take my car to the dealership to get the oil changed, they would still write the 3k mile for next service. Has any mechanic ever sent someone on their way saying you don’t need one. I doubt it. Easy money for them. You should also mention what jiffy lube has said recently about not needing one every 3k miles.

Germany Rules

June 30th, 2011
10:24 pm

BMW & Mercedes have onboard computers that keep up with when the (synthetic) oil needs to be changed. VW dealer says 5000 miles for the GTI. This isn’t rocket science. But, I wouldn’t even THINK about lettting Jiffy Lube touch an AMG


June 30th, 2011
10:27 pm

2003 E150 van – 334,000 miles. Synthetic oil and I change it every 7,000 to 8,000. Original engine (and transmission). ‘Nuff said.


June 30th, 2011
10:30 pm

The irony is that if you have the dealership change your oil, they still put a sticker on your windshield that tells you that your next oil change should be in 3,000 miles (usually it indicates an odometer reading that is 3,000 miles greater than the reading after the most recent oil change). If you challenge the service manager, he simply says that it is only a suggestion…..


June 30th, 2011
11:28 pm

Jiffy Lube and it’s incompetent employees.are the worst thing that could happen to any car. My last oil change with them was in 2005 and I’ve never looked back. The problem wasn’t the oil change, but everything else they tell you you need, and they just don’t know what they are doing.


July 1st, 2011
1:30 am

You hit the nail on the head, consult your owners manual, i read mine front to back, it will address about every situation you might encounter.


July 1st, 2011
1:43 am

Thanks Clark but I’ve known that for years and I too change my whole family’s oil at 5000. Waiting for 7,500 would drive my wife crazy.


July 1st, 2011
2:15 am

I used to take my car to get its oil change. Unbeknownst to me, the dumb-ases were ruining my oil pan by over-tightening the cap with a machine wrench. I eventually had to replace my oil pan for $800. For the past 6 years I have changed the oil myself, and my car has never run better. I just think its sad that no one knows how to do anything correctly anymore.

Peachy Hinky

July 1st, 2011
2:26 am

The oil change computers on cars are telling people to go over 12,000 miles sometimes. I couldn’t do that.


July 1st, 2011
6:29 am

And you get paid for advice?


July 1st, 2011
7:48 am

NEVER use Jiffy Lube. In my experience its people are Incompetent, rude, vulgar, unprofessional. And when I called the regional manager to complain he never returned my call.

mystery poster

July 1st, 2011
8:14 am

The Car Talk guys recommend changing oil every 5000 miles. I follow their advice.


July 1st, 2011
9:54 am

I have a 2003 Toyota Avalon (the best car I have ever had), and I change my oil every 4000 miles. I looked my VIN up on one of the car websites that keeps track of cars’ condition by VIN, and I’m very proud to say it confirms what I know, the car is rated Excellent. I have only had routine maintenace; I have never had a major repair. Again, this is the best car I have ever had, and I probably would buy another one if I don’t move up into the luxury (Mercedes) car class in a few years. Thanks, Toyota. You’ve saved me a lot of money over the type cars I used to purchase.

Destin Dawg

July 1st, 2011
2:03 pm

at least 5000 mi… intervals… 7500 ++ with synthetics

Destin Dawg

July 1st, 2011
2:05 pm

and NO corn based ethanol… I want to EAT my corn, pigs and chickens… world needs more food

Robert C

July 1st, 2011
6:00 pm

My 2004 GMC pickup has an oil life sensor that tells me if I need to change the oil. I change the oil every 5-6K whether the light comes on or not.