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The manual for my 2003 VW TDI says to change the oil every 12 months or 10,000 miles. My dealer says every 6 months or 5,000 miles.

Are they just trying to make twice as much money off my oil changes, or is there a legitimate reason to change the oil twice as often as VW originally printed in the book?

11 Answers 11

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Hi I'm a VAG mechanic 20 years experience, all the TDI engines need to be serviced every 30.000 KM if you are using 5w30 iso 500 to 504. DSG every 60.000 KM. Fuel filter, air filter, and cabin filter also 60.000 KM or 2 years. Its your choice if you want to pay us more. Most of my customers have more of 600.000 KM on tacho.

  • I am not a VAG mechanic, but these are exactly the service intervals for all modern VW diesel engines (both PD and CR). The engine oil needs to be a long-life oil and meet the VW requirements. – user5626466 Jul 12 '18 at 17:49
  • Your answer is incorrect. Those are the maximum distances under flexible service intervals. VW vehicles produced since 2000 monitor driving and oil conditions to determine when the oil should be changed. The computer can determine it should be changed earlier. See link to SSP 224 in my answer. However under most conditions the service intervals will be close to the numbers you pointed out. – Evren Yurtesen Feb 1 at 9:31
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To a certain extent it depends on the type of usage you do, but for an average driver doing average miles (i.e. a mixture of highway, country and urban driving), I'd say to stick with the manufacturer's recommendation - but make sure you also stick to the recommended specification of oil.

Remember that oil technologies and manufacturing tolerances have improved massively over the last 20 years or so, meaning that services don't need to be as frequent as they used to.

Personally, I wouldn't take a car of that age to a main dealer, once it's got the the age when keeping a full service history is no longer important, I'd go with a small independant or do it myself...

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If your TDI is a PD type then you're better off erring on the short/fast side. There were many cases of prematurely worn out cams on PDs due to oil. This means sticking to the oil norm and change interval specified by VW.

If the engine is a non-PD TDI (such as ALH, AFN etc.) then you could try using oil analyzer (such as lubricheck) in order to determine the level of oil wearing. This can be done at the end of the usage cycle or even during use.

For example, in my common rail TDI I used to change the oil at 15.000 km but upon analyzing the oil quality I am going to bump this up to 20.000 km (90% city driving but at unusual hours - almost no stop-and-go traffic).

In a TDI, in general, its advisable to not cut costs on oil and fuel. Use the best that you can find, it's better and, in the long run, it's cheaper.

  • VW vehicles produced after 2000 have smart oil monitoring system with sensors. Vehicle determine your usage patterns and use an oil map to determine when it should be changed. So, no need for oil tests etc. Your vehicle will report you when it should be changed. – Evren Yurtesen Feb 1 at 9:22
  • The 2003 MY TDI is not a PD type. It is a VE pump. – mongo Mar 5 at 14:26
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I think it depends what type of oil you use. Synthetic can go longer between changes because it doesn't have viscosity modifiers that breakdown. For instance 5w-30 dyno oil is actually 5w oil with viscosity modifiers to make it act like 30 when hot. As the oil is churned about inside the engine, the modifiers break down until you're left with 5w oil that acts like 5w oil when hot (not good). Synthetic oil is different. The base stock of the oil is 5w-30 and doesn't break down to 5w with use, so you can go much longer between changes.

Synthetic oils are a whole different story. There is no VI improver added so there is nothing to wear out. The actual oil molecules never wear out. You could almost use the same oil forever. The problem is that there are other additives and they do get used up. I suppose if there was a good way to keep oil clean you could just add a can of additives every 6 months and just change the filter, never changing the oil.

http://www.bobistheoilguy.com/motor-oil-102/

I have seen several car owner manuals that are now stating that oils do not need to be changed but every 7,500 miles or more. The same manual also states OR every 12 months, whichever occurs first. My feeling is that you can probably go 5,000 miles on the average (in a sports car) but you must change your oil in the spring time at a minimum, particularly up north. Oils form waxes in icy cold weather. There is a permanent thickening of the oil.

Some automotive manufacturers are backing down on oil change intervals to 5,000 miles or less and some advocate changing the oil at least every 6 months as well. I think this is because of the tendency for oils to thicken in very hot engines (not ambient conditions, just hot engines). Also because of thickening from the cold of winter and from sludge build up that cannot be filtered out.

http://www.bobistheoilguy.com/motor-oil-104/

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    TDIs only take synthetic. – Ken Aug 13 '13 at 17:08
  • I don't know... I'm pretty sure I could get some dino oil to go in the hole – Randy Aug 13 '13 at 23:17
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    @Ken, if manufacturer require synthetic, and specifies 10 000 mile interval — this is all you need to know. Well, you also need to know if the mechanic is going to put synthetic in as well, and that they not just giving you general recommendation based on conventional oil usage. As mentioned in other answers, if the car is not subject to frequent heavier operation (towing, excessive hill climbing, a lot of stop-and-go traffic etc.), the normal service interval is good enough. – theUg Aug 15 '13 at 5:10
  • @Ken: Modern TDIs take only synthetic. – Andrei Rinea Jun 24 '15 at 10:49
  • Your comment disagree with your text. You say when oil degrade you are left with 5W oil which would be thinner. But your comment says oils get thicker when they get old. In either case, VW vehicles produced after 2000 have sensors to determine oil condition and tell the driver when to change oil. – Evren Yurtesen Feb 1 at 9:18
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Not every dealer is trying to squeeze you for every cent they can although some certainly are. Giving the dealer the benefit of the doubt, ask them why they think you should change it more often. It is possible they are looking at the miles you drive compared to the average and assuming you drive short trips which are particularly tough on diesels and need to change oil more frequently or that your oil looks especially dirty. If they can,t give you answer then follow the recommended guideline. Make sure you check the oil level regularly.

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I would do the oil change every 7500 miles. A TDI is a very technical engine and with the turbo I would use only fully synthetic 5w30. I’m on a 7.5k interval and am hitting 200k miles on an 05 and it has always pulled very well. On original internals also.

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    What was your basis for this number? Was there a VW service bulletin that changed the recommended oil change interval for this engine? Or did your mechanic suggest it? Or did you just think "I'll do it 25% sooner than the book says, to be on the safe side"? – Ken Sep 3 '13 at 0:09
  • Sure you can change oil sooner than need but that will only help spending more money. VW vehicles produced since 2000 have monitoring sensors to determine oil condition and driving habits. Vehicle use this data to calculate when the oil should be changed using oil usage maps. So, to put it simply you only need to change oil when the vehicle tells you to do so. – Evren Yurtesen Feb 1 at 9:26
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Being as they are a Volkswagen dealer, they should be using oil that conforms to 504.00 or more likely 507.00 standard oil. The details of this are discussed in this official Volkswagen document. Furthermore, your vehicles owners handbook is very clear about the regularity with which the oil should be changed.

I personally have a collection of Volkswagens which include two TDI engined cars; a 1.9 PD and a 1.6 Bluemotion. Both of which have oil changes around to 10,000 mile mark.

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    In VW cars produced since 2000. If you are using the 504/507 oil and you have smart oil monitoring (flexible service intervals) enabled in your car computer. The only thing you need to do is to wait for the service text to come. The computer will use the sensors to determine when oil should be changed based on your usage conditions. The distance can be up to 50000km for diesel engines. But of course, it is only harmful to your pocket and to the environment to change oil more often. Read VW document SSP 224. – Evren Yurtesen Feb 1 at 10:23
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New cars actually require much less frequent oil changes than the 3,000 mile interval we are all used to. For your specific vehicle you will want to refer to your owner’s manual for the exact oil change schedule, however many new vehicles only require an oil change every 7,500 to 10,000 miles.

  • VW vehicles produced since 2000 have smart oil monitoring using computer and tell you when the oil should be changed. It goes up to 50000km per change for some engines. But user simply has to wait for vehicle to inform this. – Evren Yurtesen Feb 1 at 10:19
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The simple and best answer is when your car tells you to go to service (with service indicator message). Many VW vehicles produced since 2000 are capable of smart service intervals. The vehicles which do not support this feature uses fixed service intervals which assume worst driving conditions. This means service indicator appears with minimum usage. (more often oil changes than smart service interval vehicles).

You have to read SSP 224 to fully understand this concept. However I tried to summarize it below for the impatient.

VW vehicles equipped with smart service sensors are found more often in Europe. Vehicles sold in America got sensors later as American consumer seem to change oil more often. By not supplying sensors, VW could reduce costs. There are many reasons why consumers in America change oil so often which is outside the scope of this question, therefore I won't get into it.

You need to make sure that you are using an oil which satisfies 504.00/507.00 and the flexible service intervals is enabled in your vehicle computer. It can be enabled in vehicles produced after 2000. The vehicle computer monitors driving conditions and determine when the oil should be changed. So no guesswork is needed for figuring out how often it should be done.

You can find the detailed explanation at the official VW self study documentation SSP 224

No more guesswork is required. No more worrying about making frequent short trips or living in a harsh weather environment requiring more often oil changes. No more being trapped by auto workshops scaring you to upsell frequent oil changes.

The vehicle computer continuously adjust the required service time by tracking the oil level, oil temperature, brake sensor, needle lift sensitive, driven distance per drive etc.

Unfortunately VW seem to have made a mistake in naming scheme. Because it is called flexible service interval and it require using 504.00/507.00 long life oil. Many people incorrectly use the term long oil change interval, and therefore does not understand that car actually monitor usage (therefore fear it). In reality it is a smart change interval where the car computer tracks exactly how the car is driven and tells the driver exactly right time to change the oil.

  • I have three VW which are post 2000 and none have a smart service indicator to the best of my knowledge. What am I missing? Furthermore, I do not think my ECU has some of the parameters mapped in the 5th paragraph. Perhaps you can share with me the blocks for VDCS for these parameters. I know for certain that my engines in three post 2000 VWs do not have a oil level sensor. – mongo Feb 1 at 19:36
  • You may wish to re-read the referenced document, and more carefully determine whether it applies to the OP's application. He has a 2003 ALH engine, which does not support the system outlined in SSP-224. – mongo Feb 1 at 19:49
  • It may be disabled in computer and not all vehicles produced post 2000 immediately supported smart/flexible intervals. You need to check your PR codes (as explained in the SSP 224 if you read it even). However in absence of the necessary sensors, computer will use fixed service interval and report it accordingly. Therefore the engine model etc. is irrelevant. @mongo the OP did not specify that he has ALH engine or otherwise. You seem to have come up with it yourself. – Evren Yurtesen Mar 4 at 10:16
  • I am intimately familiar with VW diesels and especially the ALH engine the OP has. The only TDI engine used in the 2003 VW TDI in NA is the ALH engine. Your claim of post 2000 smart service indicator and a service interval monitor are simply not on the ALH engine package for this vehicle. Perhaps you can cite an authoritative reference which specifically denotes that particular feature on the 2003 MY TDI? – mongo Mar 5 at 14:24
  • You do not know where the OP resides. Miles as a unit is used in many countries. He could as well be living in the UK or in any number of different places. He could have imported the car from europe. There is no way to know the engine code. You are making too many assumptions. In either case, even MK4 Jetta has service indicator so... – Evren Yurtesen Mar 13 at 13:44
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I have a 2003 VW Jetta TDI. I also own a 99.5 and two 2002. They all use the ALH engine. I work on other's cars, and most of them are ALH engines. My four cars have over 1.5 million miles on them.

I use T6 5w40 oil, and have used it in all my cars since they were new. I change at the 10k mile point, with a new filter each time. Oil analysis (sporadic) says the oil is still OK at that point. I have no experienced engine failure or excessive wear due to oil failure.

The only exception is that because we get cold temperatures for about two months of the year (below 0F), I change out the oil even if it has only 4k miles on it, in late December or the first week of January. This is done to help starting in the wintertime, when the cars get cold soaked overnight with temperatures below 0F. Generally, they start fine at -15F, if the oil is clean.

With a diesel engine the particulate deposition in the oil is much more significant than with a gasser. A normal load of particulates can render oil in a diesel engine to be a much higher viscosity at colder temperatures than at warmer ones. For example the VW TDI engine will readily start at -15F without a block heater or other starting aids. But with dirtier oil, starting at -15F can be problematic even using 0W30 oil. The problem is that the viscosity increase is non-linear at colder temperatures and the effect of particulates is also non-linear. With clean oil I have started VW TDI at -30F without starting aids. Below that temperature even a new group 95 battery will not put out enough power to start a cold engine. (For -40F with a TDI one needs to pull the battery and keep it inside for reliable starting, or have a block heater, booster or other starting aids.)

So from my limited empirical experience, I would suggest that a 10k mile interval is fine. However, if you have allot of city driving, or dusty conditions, you may wish to go with a more frequent change. Otherwise, there is no advantage to much more frequent oil changes, particularly with oil analysis confirming that your oil remains in good condition at 10k miles.

Note: The ALH, on the 2003, uses the VE pump, not the PD.

  • You can use 0w-30 oil which satisfy VAG 504/507 so you don't have to change oils in winter. Changing oil too soon only harms environment and your pocket. VW vehicles produced since 2000 have smart oil monitoring (flexible service interval which should be enabled in computer). Vehicle monitors your driving and oil condition and check against the stored oil map to determine when the oil should be changed. See link to SSP 224 in my answer. – Evren Yurtesen Feb 1 at 10:15
  • @EvrenYurtesen with intimate knowledge of the ALH engine, in post-2000 VWs, I can assure you that I have three post-2000 VWs which do not have oil level sensors. Furthermore, with 1.6 million miles on my VWs, I have not changed oil in the winter, except to have clean oil entering the brutal part of the winter. 5w40 works for me, until the temps get below -20F. – mongo Feb 1 at 19:41
  • Not all vehicles had smart intervals post 2000 immediately (as explained in SSP 224). Computer will use fixed service intervals and tell you when you should change oil. About the summer/winter oil change, it is simply unnecessary. In northern Finland it regularly gets to -40F in winters and I never heard anybody change oil because of cold. You can keep on doing it, but you are just creating unnecessary waste. Simply use 0W-30 and you will be fine all around the year. It is approved by VW engineers (unless you know better?). No manufacturer suggests oil change due to winter temps, only you do. – Evren Yurtesen Mar 4 at 10:27
  • The viscosity of oils changes with temperature and particulates (including dirt). Vehicle manufacturers are interested in simplifying their recommendations, and therefore their recommendations may not be ideal for all circumstances. Owning four vehicles with the same ALH engine as the OP, and having over 1,600,000 miles on each vehicle, as well as a host of other diesel powerplants, I stand by my recommendation. Cold weather starts are influenced by oil viscosity, and reliable starting in cold conditions is aided by fresher oil. – mongo Mar 5 at 14:19
  • The OP did NOT say he has ALH engine. How did you come to that conclusion? You are being illogical. It is irrelevant if you have 1,600,000 miles on a vehicle. You can have such figures also by changing oil every 1 month or 1000miles. So does that mean everybody should do it with such interval? The fact that you do it more often than necessary proves nothing. As I told you, I live in a country where temperatures go as low as -40F regularly and nobody changes oil due to cold simply because it is unnecessary. – Evren Yurtesen Mar 13 at 10:03
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2013 Passat TDI. Have an oil analysis done and quit speculating. I change at 8.5 to 9k as that is when the additive package was low on my last analysis.

  • OIl analysis is a good way of determining when the additives are depleting. Since the oil analysis costs more than a change, I just change it. In my several ALH TDI engines, I use T6 5w40 which is usually under $20/gal. – mongo Apr 29 '17 at 20:24
  • You don't need to do oil analysis. VW vehicles produced since 2000 have sensors to monitor your driving habits and oil condition. Simply the vehicle will tell you when it is needed to change the oil. – Evren Yurtesen Feb 1 at 9:24
  • @EvrenYurtesen, your comments sounds good, except that they are just plain wrong. The OP vehicle does not have the sensors or software you are talking about. Doesn't exist on a 2003 VW TDI. – mongo Mar 5 at 17:41
  • In VW vehicles without sensors, the system will use fixed intervals by default. So you can still rely on the service indicator. Fixed interval reverts to minimum possible interval for oil service (read the SSP 224). Eg. it assumes worst driving conditions so it is safe to follow. You will just end up changing oil more often than if your vehicle had smart service interval sensors. – Evren Yurtesen Mar 13 at 9:54

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