Are You Changing Your Car’s Oil Too Often?


Wear your seat belt. Obey the speed limit. Remember to change your car’s oil every 3,000 miles (or every three months). This is some of the standard advice you hear when you get your first car or driver’s license.

But it turns out this recommendation about oil changes is outdated. Very outdated. Advances in motor oil and car engines now make it possible to wait much longer until your next oil change — 7,500 to 10,000 miles for most vehicles under normal driving conditions. This means that a lot of people are changing their oil two to three times more often than they need to. That’s a ton of motor oil that’s being needlessly discarded.

Used motor oil is one of the largest hazardous waste streams in California by volume, according to the California Department of Resources, Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle). Nearly 115 million gallons of motor oil is sold in the Golden State each year. While 70 percent of used motor oil is collected for recycling or other disposal, 30 percent of the oil is improperly disposed of — poured down the storm drain or into the trash. This poses a serious threat environmental and public health. Because it doesn’t dissolve in water, just one gallon of motor oil can spoil the taste of one million gallons of water. Motor oil also contains heavy metals and toxic chemicals that can harm aquatic wildlife if it ends up in oceans or other bodies of water.

This issue is so critical that SB 778 was proposed: A mandate that would prevent automotive repair shops from recommending early, unnecessary oil changes. Though passed by the legislature, the governor vetoed it this past September.

So what can you do to keep motor oil out of our waterways? It’s simple: look up your car’s manufacturer-recommended oil change frequency. You can find it in your car’s user manual, or use CalRecycle’s widget to find the recommended oil change interval for vehicles with model years 2000 and newer.

Keep in mind that if you take your car to a quick-lube shop, the workers may just slap a standard sticker on your windshield recommending an oil change at the next 3,000 miles. Ask the workers to write the correct service mileage for your vehicle on the sticker, or get out a marker and fill it in yourself. Otherwise, you might mistakenly change your car’s oil too early.

Changing your oil less frequently will not only benefit the environment, it will also save you time and money. And, if you change your own motor oil, remember to recycle the oil afterwards.