The short answer – it depends.
Consumers are bombarded by advertisers urging them to change the motor oil in their vehicle every 3,000 miles. This interval made sense back in the 1970s when most cars used 10W-40 oil which only lasted 3,000 miles. But in the 21st century, automakers have tightened tolerances in the assembly of engines and today’s lubricants are of a much higher quality than a generation ago. Hence the 3,000 mile threshold does not apply to most vehicles or their use on the road today.
Various automakers have different recommendations for the oil change frequency depending upon model. For example, a Toyota 2005 Tacoma pickup can amass 5,000 miles before its suggested oil change. Other vehicles can travel further; 7,500 miles is the recommended interval between oil changes for the 2007 Chevy Malibu and the 2002 Honda Odyssey. Due to their light weight and small dimensions, subcompacts like the 2011 Ford Fiesta can rack up to 10,000 miles between oil changes. And many luxury vehicles like the Porsche Boxster and the BMW 3 Series can go even longer.
Virtually all new cars on the road today are fuel injected which under normal conditions eliminates the gas contamination found in the oil of engines using carburetors. Gasoline is not a lubricant, as anyone who has ever washed their hands with petrol will testify. Thus it’s a good idea to stick with the 3,000 mile recommendation for oil changes should you drive a vehicle with a “carbed” engine.
Note that extreme or severe use substantially shortens the effective life of motor oil in an engine. Severe use is considered to be pervasive idling, frequent stop-and-go driving or trips of less than five miles. Operation in environments with extremely high humidity and below 10° F or above 90° F reduces the life of motor oil, as does hauling heavy weight or towing a trailer. Using E85 fuel more than half of the time is also considered extreme use. If your vehicle is exposed to any of these conditions you should consider changing the oil more frequently.
Make sure you do change the oil in your engine when recommended. Oil’s lubricant qualities deteriorate over time and use which increases operating temperature and friction between internal engine parts while decreasing fuel economy and engine life.
One final note: in order to keep the warranty valid on the engine of a car, change the oil on or before the manufacturer’s suggested interval. Otherwise your warranty will likely be voided. Document all oil changes in case you experience lubricant-related trouble with the engine of your vehicle.