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California Trying To Get Drivers To Ditch 3 Months/3,000 Miles Oil Change Interval

A new California initiative seeks to shake drivers of the long-held belief that motor oil needs changing every 3,000 miles. Thanks to advances in oil and engines, most modern cars require oil changes every 5,000-7,000 miles or more, according to the California Department of Resource Recycling & Recovery. The agency launched its “Check Your Number” campaign with a goal to save resources and prevent water pollution. As an added bonus, consumers save money with less-frequent oil changes.

Industry experts have mixed reviews so far, with some saying that the advice makes good sense. Others, however, say the initiative could do more harm than good.

“It’s kind of one-size-fits-all, which is not the way cars are made,” said Pat Wirth, president of the Automotive Oil Change Association (AOCA), which represents fast lubes, suppliers and distributors.

AAIA still recommends changing oil every 3,000-5,000 miles depending on the vehicle’s make and model, how it’s driven, and conditions. The association worries that less-frequent visits could discourage all-around vehicle maintenance and, thus, reduce fuel efficiency, said Rich White, AAIA senior vice president and executive director of the Car Care Council.

And, according to an AAIA survey, 95 percent of companies — primarily repair shops and parts stores — say they recycle used engine oil, White added. “It’s not just about selfishness on our part,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense.” The 3,000-mile marker is easy to remember, added Aaron Lowe, AAIA’s vice president of government affairs. “And it’s a lot safer than letting it go for a long time,” he said.

ASA encourages consumers to read and heed their owner’s manuals.

David Kusa, on the other hand, said he rarely sees a car that requires oil changes every 3,000 miles in his repair shop. Kusa, who runs Autotrend Diagnostics in Campbell, CA, is an ASA member and part of the group’s mechanical division operations committee. Many car manufacturers, including GM, Honda and Toyota, are now including customized oil change alerts in their newer cars. About five years ago, Kusa changed his general recommendation on oil changes to every six months or 6,000 miles based on an associate’s survey and state advice. A fellow shop owner in Mountain View, CA collected 200 oil samples from various vehicles. He sent them out for testing and found that, in general, oil started breaking down around 7,000-8,000 miles.

Kusa said he chose 6,000 miles to stay ahead of potential problems. The move, he said, was actually good for business. Kusa had been losing business to quick lubes, which many times offered cheaper prices and more convenient hours. With less-frequent oil changes required, more customers are coming into his shop, Kusa said. And, while they’re there, he has the opportunity to suggest other needed services. Since he made the change, gross sales are up about 20 percent, Kusa said. And oil change-related business alone is up 50 percent, he said.

The California agency behind “Check Your Number” launched the campaign in San Francisco last November by offering free parking at a college football game. In exchange, drivers allowed the agency to check for their recommended oil change mileage and place a reminder sticker on their windshield. Of the 169 cars checked, only 13 needed changes every 3,000 miles, department spokesman Mark Oldfield said. The vast majority landed in the 5,000-7,500 mile range.

“We want drivers to make an educated choice,” Oldfield said. “Of course, we recognize that different driving habits and conditions will affect the number.” Based on extrapolated survey results, the agency estimates that nearly 10 million California drivers are stuck in the 3,000-mile (or less) habit. Breaking that habit could reduce motor oil demand in California by about 10 million gallons, Oldfield said.

The group is also planning an oil-filter exchange pilot project in the Bakersfield area, where a high number of DIYers change their own oil and don’t always properly dispose of filters. To learn more about the initiative, visit checkyournumber.gov.             — Sarah Hollander