Q: At the last place I had my oil and filter changed, I was told I should come back after driving 3,000 miles or three months, whichever came first. Is that really necessary? I have a 2008 Toyota Camry.
A: This recommendation is actually a carry-over from years ago before vehicle engines were built to today’s exacting standards. Today, sophisticated computers control the fuel and ignition systems and, in some cases, the engine camshafts. That contributes to a longer life for engine lubricants. Also, many of the engine lubricants are built to higher standards.
The three jobs of the engine oil are to lubricate the moving parts, draw heat away from them and carry any debris to the engine oil filter.
The high quality of many of today’s engine oils allows them to lubricate the moving parts for a longer period of time and carry the heat away with a slower degradation of the oil. The combination of the computer controls and the higher mechanical standards of the engine reduce the amount of debris the oil has to contend with. The debris is mainly the product of the combustion process in the engine and gets past the pistons into the bottom part of the engine where the oil resides.
Why does this make a difference in the oil-change interval? How frequently do today’s engine oils and filters need to be changed?
That depends. It will be different depending on the type of oil – petroleum or synthetic based.
Generally, petroleum should be changed at 5,000 miles or after five months. For top-of-the-line synthetic-based oils, change intervals can be as long as 25,000 miles or after one year. Many of the new vehicles have a computer program that indicates when an oil change is necessary based on engine speed, miles driven and how hard the engine has been working (i.e., acceleration, driving up hills, etc.).
Even with the improved oil and filters available, just as with any other products, there are varying degrees of quality, and your vehicle may require a specific oil and filter. It is important that whoever changes your oil and filter uses the correct products for your vehicle. Using the wrong oil and/or filter can void your vehicle’s warranty and/or cause the engine to fail prematurely.
Choosing the least expensive oil change increases the risk you will compromise the quality of the products used on your car. At first, no difference in performance may be noticed; but over the life of your vehicle, those cheap oil changes using wrong or lower-quality products could cost you thousands of dollars in repair costs.