For many years, I have been recommending that people change engine oil every 3,000 miles with traditional mineral based oil. Recently I decided to adjust that standard. Today New Concept Auto Service officially recommends an oil change every 4,000 miles using our now standard synthetic blend oil or every 8,000 miles using our full synthetic oil. This was a tough decision to make, so I would like to explain how I reached it.
I started with some research–simply asking other independent shops, franchise oil change places and dealerships what they did and why. I was surprised to find many people saying, “Keep it at 3,000 miles; your customers are used to it.” I even heard, “Don’t change it, people don’t like change, they might go elsewhere.” Others said, “I agree, why don’t you be the first and see what happens.” The oil change places did not really have an interval, but rather, they let the customer decide. I personally think most of my customers rely on New Concept Auto Service to tell them what is best for their cars. The dealerships recommended everything from 3,000 to 7,500 and there was not much consistency. They did not talk in terms of synthetic or mineral based; like it did not matter or they simply didn’t really care. It does matter, and I do care.
There are mineral based oils and synthetic oils or a blend of the two. Mineral oil comes from the ground, is refined and is relatively inexpensive. Synthetic oil is made in a lab. It’s better, it will last longer and it costs more. A synthetic blend is a mixture of mineral and synthetic. Engine oil has to lubricate as well as help keep the engine cool. Synthetic oil does not produce sludge which is like corroded arteries (and you know what that leads to). Synthetic oil is runny when it’s cold, so the oil gets to where is needs to be quickly on a cold start. Just these small things dramatically extend the life of your engine.
I personally prefer full synthetic, simply because it’s better oil and I am an engine advocate. It costs roughly twice as much, but lasts twice as long. You even save a little time by only coming in every 8,000 miles instead of 4,000. Ninety-five percent of my customers prefer the lower cost synthetic/blend, either because of habit or they want us to look the car over more often to ensure it’s safe and reliable.
So, back to my calls to other service providers. I also got the response several times like, “The car will tell you when it’s time from the electronic oil change reminder info on the dash.” Most of these systems are simply an elaborate calculation the computer makes based on starts and stops, RPM, idle time, etc. What it does not know is how low the oil is due to a leak, or if you are using synthetic or not, or if the last oil change place used the correct oil. These systems are a great idea, but just a guide. I still trust the good old oil change sticker that we place in the window and update with each service.
Next, I contacted a few oil companies. Guess what, they really did not have much to say on the matter. It depends on too many things, they said. The absolute 100 percent way to know if your oil needs to be changed is to send a sample of it to their lab for analysis. There really is no set mileage or time period in which to change your oil, there are just too many variables, like how often the engine is started and stopped (heat cycling). How hard is the engine loaded, which depends on the driver and their style. Does the engine idle a lot (like waiting in line at daycare)? Do you use premium fuel? One highly reputable synthetic oil company told me their oil can routinely go 15,000 miles between oil changes, but you have to use their special filter and all warranties are void. One issue I would have is the fact my customers’ tires may get low, or their wiper fluid may run dry, or they may develop a coolant leak during their 15,000 mile hiatus. Someone needs to check these things every so often.
Next, I obtained recommendations from 12 popular car manufacturers to see what their engineers thought. Once again, I got a wide range of comments between them (although consistent within the same makes). I was surprised to find most of them did not specify mineral or synthetic, but when they did specify synthetic, it was a much higher interval, which I agree with. After formulating a spreadsheet, I set my sights on 4,000 miles for synthetic blend, which is a little conservative, yet still meets all the factory warranty needs.
You will find the higher end car companies (Euro) have bigger capacity oil pans. Reason being, more oil will lubricate and cool better and make the engine last longer, and they also only recommend full synthetic. Some manufacturers like Ford, Honda and Toyota are moving to only full synthetic for all their new vehicles. I think this is a smart move and will reduce future drivetrain warranty issues.
At New Concept Auto Service we look up the correct type (mineral or synthetic), weight and quantity published by the manufacturer. We even stock the unusual types of oil for European cars like BMW, Volvo, and VW/Audi. All our oils are high quality API approved. And we always reset your oil reminder light and add a new window sticker.
Increasing the oil change interval saves my customers time and money. You don’t need to come in as often and the price is now the same as the old mineral based oil. We will still check your lights, tire pressures, wipers and all fluid levels with each service. This process is also better for the environment. There will be less oil to be recycled and fewer oil filters to dispose of.
In the final analysis, every shop needs to come up with an official recommendation and that is what we have done. As engines and oils continue to improve, we may make adjustments again. For now, when a customer asks me why, I simply say, “It was the right thing to do.”