Push It to the Limit – How Long Does Oil Really Last?

how long does oil last

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/smohundro/2243554264/

Everybody’s heard the old adage that you should change your oil every 3,000 miles. But in past decade, there’s been a substantial pushback against the 3K rule.

Take a look online, and you’ll find plenty of discussion about it on forums, blogs, and even in international publications like the New York Times which published an article on it last year. There’s even a Wikipedia page dedicated to “the 3,000 mile myth.”

But I learned the hard way that sometimes it pays to stick to conventional wisdom – and nearly paid a hefty price for the lesson. I tried to push my oil to the limit, and found out that sometimes it doesn’t last quite as long as the naysayers suggest.

Some Background

Being a born skeptic (or maybe just paranoid),  I was drawn to the idea that changing my oil every 3,000 miles might be nothing more than a ploy by oil companies and quick oil change businesses to make more money.

I did a little digging, and even a trustworthy source like the NY Times was telling me that “7,500 miles between oil changes…sometimes up to 10,000 miles or more” was a better average. So I figured I could really stretch my oil both to save some cash and cut back on hazardous waste.

The age of your vehicle, how you drive it, and whether you’re mostly on the highway or in the city are all major factors in determining how long your oil will last. But since I drive a 2009 Hyundai Accent, and I putter along slower than most people 3 times my age, I figured I was the ideal case study for an oil-change strike.

The Experiment Fails…Badly

I pushed past the 3,000-mile mark without incident. And when I cruised by the 4,000-mile mark without the oil light coming on, I was convinced that the skeptics were right. But just a couple of hundred miles later, my engine started to let me know that it wasn’t happy.

A rattling sound began quietly enough that it didn’t seem like a problem. But within a few  days, its volume had ratcheted up several notches, and I knew something was wrong. The oil and check engines lights were still off, but I decided to bring it into the shop just in case.

After 10 minutes in the waiting room, the service tech came to see and told me that my car’s engine had no oil. He said that the entire thing might need to be replaced, which would set me back a small fortune. He asked me how many miles it had been since my last change, and then reminded me that 3,000 is a safer number. I was pretty angry with myself.

Luckily for me, they discovered a small amount of oil left in the engine that may just have saved it. After adding more, I drove it around the block to get it pumping. The noise went away and my car hummed regularly again – crisis averted.

After my brush with almost destroying a car’s engine, I’ll be far more careful about getting regular oil changes and checking the dipstick. Even if you don’t believe in the 3,000-mile rule, make sure you stick to the oil-change recommendation in your vehicle’s owner’s manual. You don’t want to fly too close to the sun like I did, because you could get burned. A $35 oil change is better than an $8,000 engine replacement.

What’s the longest you’ve gone without changing your oil?

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