- Wiki on this myth.
- California's efforts to debunk this myth HERE
Synopsis: follow the manual's recommended oil change schedule, not the 3,000 mile recommendation that has become commonplace advice.
To translate that into some figures, I looked around for publicly available service manuals (just a few as I don't want to take all my time with this...):
- 2002 Mazda Protege (LINK): 6mos or 7,500 miles, whichever comes first, Sec. 8-4
- 2006 Volvo, all models (LINK): 7,500 miles
- 2011 Ford Explorer (LINK): when light comes on (up to 10,000 miles or 1 year), pgs. 417, 420
- 2008 Cadillac CTS (LINK): up to a year, Sec. 6-4
- 2000 Oldsmobile Alero (LINK): whenever the light comes on, typically between 3,000-7,500 miles, but never longer than 7,500 miles or 1 year, Sec. 7-6
Edit: I thought it might be helpful to know typical driving distances per year, since that came up in the comments. They are listed HERE by the US Dept. of Transportation (current as of 4/2011). The average for all age groups across both genders is ~13,500/year. This would equate to 4-5 oil changes based on the 3,000 recommendation vs. 1-2 for the typical manufacturer's recommendations above.
As one last add-in, some in the comments brought up idle time. I don't know where that figures in. I'm assuming this question has to do with general use, however, not extreme cases of little/no usage.