General Motors, the California Environmental Protection Agency
(Cal/EPA), and the California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB)
are joining forces to encourage drivers to follow their vehicle
manufacturer's recommendations on oil changes, which for many vehicles
could be much longer than the decades-old standard of every 3000 miles.
This summer, General Motors will support public outreach efforts by the Cal/EPA and the CIWMB to help motorists understand how frequently they need to change their engine oil, and the proper methods of doing so.
"Used oil is so much of a problem in California that if you can change your oil in less-frequent intervals, you not only save yourself money, you help save the environment," said Jamie Cameron-Harley, a spokeswoman for the California Integrated Waste Management Board, sponsor of "The 3000-Mile Myth" campaign.
The campaign -- which intends to reduce waste and keep used oil out of landfills, water bodies, and groundwater -- recently launched its Web site, www.3000milemyth.org, after research discovered that more than 70 percent of Californians change their oil more frequently than recommended by the manufacturers of their vehicles - most of them at 3000 miles.
traditional 3000-mile oil change recommendation was based on engine and
oil technologies of the past. Today's more modern engines are built to
strict tolerances using advanced technology, reducing or eliminating
contaminants that might enter the engine. In-vehicle technologies such
as General Motors' Oil Life System can also reduce the frequency
between oil changes by actively determining each engine's oil "life."
"Driving conditions vary from one driver to another," said Peter Lord, executive director of GM Service Operations. "The GM Oil Life System is a sophisticated technology that determines the ideal time to change your oil. A driver whose fuel tank is still half full wouldn't empty the tank just to refill it. This same logic applies to oil changes. We should not waste motor oil that still has life."
"Needing to change your car's oil at 3000 miles is a myth," the www.3000milemyth.org Web site says. "Many cars today can go longer without affecting engine wear. Automakers are regularly recommending oil changes at 5000, 7000, or even 10,000 miles based on driving conditions."
The American Petroleum Institute states that more than 1 billion gallons of motor oil are sold each year in the U.S. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that about 185 million gallons of used motor oil are improperly disposed of each year - dumped into the ground, tossed into the trash, or poured down the drain.
According to research conducted for the state of California, the need to reduce waste oil is significant. "Today California generates more than 150 million gallons of used oil. If that oil isn't recycled it can find its way into our lakes, streams, and oceans," said CIWMB Chair Margo Reid Brown. "And just one gallon of oil can contaminate a million gallons of drinking water."
While motorists cannot solve this problem on their own, they can help prevent the unnecessary use of motor oil in the first place by following their own automaker's recommendations for oil change intervals. Because people drive differently, and under different operating conditions, the rate of oil breakdown will vary from vehicle to vehicle. For drivers of cars equipped with active systems like the GM Oil Life System, your car or truck can tell you when it's time to change the oil.
These systems can extend oil change intervals significantly compared to the former 3000-mile recommendation depending on the vehicle/engine combination and other factors. These systems -- found in many newer cars manufactured by BMW, Chrysler, Dodge, General Motors, Mercedes-Benz, Mini, and others -- use sophisticated algorithms that measure key engine functions such as start-up cycles, engine rpm levels, temperatures, and run time, to determine the ideal time for an oil change.
"In California alone, more than 2.5 million GM vehicles are equipped with the GM Oil Life System," said Ron Strayhorn, regional service manager, GM's Western Region. "Owners of these vehicles can reduce the amount of oil they consume simply by following their GM Oil Life System, which for many drivers can be thousands of miles further than the old standard recommendation."
When equipped with the GM Oil Life System, the average GM vehicle typically needs oil changes half as often as the popularly advertised 3000-mile recommendation. Based on driving 15,000 miles per year, this could mean between two and three less oil changes annually. If used as intended simply by drivers of GM vehicles equipped with the system in the state of California, that would equal more than 8 million fewer gallons of motor oil would be consumed annually, compared to a 3000-mile interval. That would help reduce the environmental impact and help the pocketbook as well.
For vehicles not equipped with the these active oil-life monitoring systems, motorists should follow the recommended maintenance schedules and waste oil recycling recommendations in their owner's manual. Older cars driven under harsh use may still require 3000-mile oil changes as stated in their manufacturer-issued manuals, especially if driven under more strenuous conditions such as extremely hot weather, frequent short trips, driving off-road, towing vehicles, carrying heavy loads, or when driven in dusty areas.
Even respected sources such as Consumer Reports say "Although oil companies and quick-lube shops like to promote this idea [that engine oil should be changed every 3,000 miles], it's usually not necessary." An article in its December, 2006, issue recommends "Go by the recommended oil-change schedule in your vehicle's owner's manual. Most vehicles driven under normal conditions can go 7,500 miles or more between oil changes. Some models now come with a monitoring system that alerts the driver when the oil needs changing. Depending on driving conditions, these can extend change intervals to 10,000 or 15,000 miles."
Not sure what is recommended for your vehicle? Check the list of more than 150 vehicles at www.3000milemyth.org/fulllisting to see what the manufacturer recommends. For instance, did you know that Honda recommends changing the oil of a 2006 and 2007 Accord or Civic only once a year? And Jaguar recommends changing the oil of their newer vehicles at 10,000 miles. Or, if your vehicle is not listed there, and you don't already have one, you might be able to buy a manual at www.books4cars.com.
www.3000milemyth.org urges drivers to do their part to help keep California green, and recommends that you "Always check your vehicle's user manual for guidelines on when to change your oil. It will save you money, time and help the environment too. And that's a change we can all get behind."
By Brandy Schaffels
Creative commons photo courtesy JeffWilcox via flickr