How to save money by only changing your oil once a year

By Zachary Anderegg

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, Jan. 14 2013 10:35 a.m. MST

The automotive industry has convinced consumers they need to change their oil every 3,000 miles, but I change my oil just once every 20,000 miles. You can do the same thing — or at least change your oil much less frequently than you have been.

Robert Couse-Baker via Flickr

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So let me guess, after reading the headline, you’re thinking I either really don’t drive much or am criminally abusive to my car. I can assure you it’s not the former and given all of the misinformation out there, I don’t blame you for thinking the latter.

Truth is, I drive between 15,000 miles and 20,000 miles annually and have improved my miles per gallon, reduced my maintenance expenses, and spend roughly 20 minutes a year dealing with my oil change. Oh, and after 120,000 miles on my truck I have an engine that is so clean inside someone once accused me of steam cleaning it. By “inside” I literally mean the inside of the engine, not the outside. How do I know the inside of my engine is clean, you ask? Because I used a flashlight to look. Anal-retentive, you say? I stand guilty as charged, but my engine is still really clean inside...

So how can this be? Everyone knows just as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west that the three certainties in life are death, taxes and a 3,000-mile oil change. Should the foolhardy push but one mile over 3,000 miles on their oil, spontaneous engine disintegration will be the inevitable result. Or will it?

Click here for the response to this article.

Having owned and operated a shop I can tell you many people have proved that plain old conventional oil can and does last longer, much longer, than 3,000 miles in your vehicle. I have personally witnessed more than one customer say to me: “Change my oil? I need to do that? My car runs fine.” Only the gods know how many actual miles are on their poor, neglected motor oil. We change their oil and filter and remind them to check their owner’s manual for a service interval reference. A quick blessing is done on the car and we send it on its way, hoping to see them before the next millennial cycle.

So what gives? Every corner quick-change shop, all those compelling commercials and probably even your dad have told you to change your oil every 3,000 miles. The short answer for why they do this — apart from perhaps your dad — can be summed up in one word: profits. The more oil changes these companies sell the more they make. It is simply too easy to sell a message of “better to be safe than sorry.” While I agree with that conservative approach you don’t have to overdo it to the extent they promote. Today’s engine oils, even the cheapest no-name brands, meet basic minimum standards. A “minimum-spec” oil will easily last 5,000 miles in a properly running engine. A good synthetic will go upward of 10,000 miles. A premium synthetic like the one I use will last 20,000 miles or one year, whichever comes first.

Chemistry and better engine technology have made all of this possible. Back in the day engines did not run as clean as they do now. Oil got dirtier faster. Fuel also mixed in with the oil through the piston rings, thereby compromising the oil’s lubricity. The chemistry of today’s oils, specifically synthetic oil, is light years ahead of what it was when your father performed his own oil changes.

But promoting longer oil change intervals and selling less oil is simply not in the best interest of the petroleum industry, so don’t expect the messaging to change anytime soon. If you want to be a more informed consumer and enjoy the same benefits I do, pay attention to what I’m about to say. It’s easy and will save you time and money. And, you get to stick it to “the man.”

First off, I only use synthetic oil in my vehicles. The benefits are many: It lasts much longer; it improves my mpg; it extends the life of my engine and keeps it really clean inside, which I verify when I use my aforementioned flashlight; it saves me time; and even though the oil change itself is more expensive it saves me money because I only change it once a year. The trick here is to use a “true” synthetic oil.

Here’s another marketing secret: Not all synthetic oil is actually synthetic based. Due to consumer marketing laws, manufacturers can label a petroleum-based oil as being "synthetic" if it meets certain performance standards. The fact is petroleum oil is not capable of performing like a synthetic product designed specifically for the task at hand. If you want to maximize the benefits listed above then you must go with a true synthetic oil in your vehicle.

In addition to using the oil that I do, I also use a synthetic “polyester media” oil filter instead of a paper media filter. Again, a polyester filter element can be designed for the task at hand — trapping smaller dirt particles — and last longer than the inherent limitations of using a natural element like paper. The combination of using a true synthetic oil and a premium synthetic filter allows me to go 20,000 miles or one year in all of my vehicles. My vehicles have zero oil leaks; they don’t burn oil; and the aforementioned benefits of using this system are simply too good to pass up.

There are many rumors out there about using synthetic oil in your vehicle. “You can’t mix it with petroleum-based oil. "It makes your engine leak. "It’s no better than regular oil,” etc. None of this is true, but in my experience people believe what they want to believe. The fact is we embrace technology in almost every part of our lives, so why not do the same with our vehicles? Another fact: Vehicle manufacturers are utilizing synthetic oil to help them meet the higher EPA ratings required of them. Synthetic oil has more lubricity than conventional, so it provides increased fuel economy and less internal wear of components.

My Toyota Tundra is 8 years old, and the engine looks and runs like the day I drove it off the lot. My choice of oil and filter have a lot to do with that. The day I purchased my truck I drained the “brand-new” oil and replaced it with a true synthetic oil and polyester filter. The results speak for themselves.

If you like the idea of saving time and money and want to make the switch, I would be happy to assist you. Simply email me and I will send you what you need to purchase the exact same products I use in all my vehicles. If you’re not ready to go all the way with synthetics then you can just look up the scheduled service interval in your owner’s manual and service your vehicle accordingly — probably between 6,000 and 8,000 miles with conventional oil.

Whichever you choose to do, I hope you no longer buy into the misleading messaging that promotes the necessity of the 3,000-mile oil change. The industry has preyed upon the driving public for far too long. I aim to change that — even if it’s just with one oil change a year. I hope you join me.

Zak Anderegg opened Utah’s first full scale do-it-yourself repair shop in 2009, which was featured on numerous local TV networks. He also works with business fleet managers.

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