Cartridge life really only 3 years??

Hi. I am a long-time audiophile, but have just re-discovered vinyl after thirty years. Wow. What a difference equipment can make! I bought a nice turntable with very low hours on the cartridge. It is a MC cartridge. A local trusted audio dealer (who does not sell cartridges, by the way) told me that I should change the cartridge to get the most out of the sound, as cartridges lose their performance after about 3 years, whether used or not. True???
I have a 27 year old Dynavector Ruby 23 that is fine, and have to say your dealer is just giving advice he has heard, somewhere. I would say if you are so impressed with the sound, why search for greener grass?
Keep your cart.
A few cartridges had suspension material that quickly degraded or dried up, but I think those days are over.
Most cartridge bodies last for a very long time. Far more than 3 years.
My advice: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
I basically agree with Elizabeth.The suspension could deteriorate.Its sort of a rubber like material.Usually if it was exposed exposed to extreme heat,or something else to cause damage,then that would be different.This could happen to a brand new one also.But basically I have not heard of a shelf life standard time set for them.I imagine there are exceptions,like a company that tried a new material that didn't last as long as others.If it performs normal,I would use it without worrying.There are 30 plus year old ones, selling for high dollars yet,giving their new owners great satisfaction.
It is at least theoretically possible for rubber/elastomer used in the suspension of the cartridge to degrade with age, either from exposure to pollutants in the air (ozone), or because some of the compounds may be slightly volatile. This is the theory, though three years seems exceptionally short a shelf-life.

But, I haven't experience this myself, and I have heard many very old cartridges that sounded very good -- at least this is the case with the better brands.
If it ain't broke - replace it right away; because it might break at any moment.
The body and suspension will be fine, the stylus is another matter. Different cartridges seem to have different life expectency, some quote 1000, up to 3000 hours, before the stylus is degraded enough, to damage your precious vinyl.
Then do'nt throw it away, get it retipped. there are a number of excellent companies providing retipping services. Many cartridges can be retipped more expensively by the manufacturer. Some reasonably cheaply, such as Benz Micro, some at near the cost of a new cartridge, such as koetsu, but with Koetsu, it is, effectively, a new cartridge
OUCH!!! Did he mention that you should buy them from the same dealer by any chance?? Looks like he's realy 'hungry' and perswaysive to pitch you a new cartridge instead of the one you have.
Yikes, my 34 year old Signet TK7SU lasted 31 years more than it should have.

It could go any decade now.

I'd better start looking.
Hi Kk. I too am a long term hobbyist except I never abandoned vinyl. As suggested by other posts here, I believe three things can happen to a cartridge, other than accidental physical damage.

Stylus wear - The normal use expectancy for a diamond stylus is 1,000 hours, although some (example van den Hul) claim up to 3,000 hours. If you assume a generous average play time of 20 minutes for one side of an LP, that means 3,000 sides played. So long as the stylus tip and the records are kept reasonably clean, the age of the stylus should not be a consideration, rather it is the amount of use. Eyeball or low-powered magnification are not adequate to evaluate tip wear.

Suspension - I have no idea how many different suspension materials may be used by cartridge manufacturers but I do know the life expectancy can vary significantly. I've owned at least one cartridge (purchased new) where the suspension failed in less than three months. Another (that I still own) is now 20 years old and plays beautifully. The good news here is that mounting and playing a cartridge should indicate if the suspension has failed - the cartridge body may nearly (or actually) touch the record surface - or not. I don't believe failure is a slow, long-term occurrence. Rather, I think when it fails it happens rather quickly.

Alignment - If a used cartridge has not been mounted correctly or if anti-skate has been over compensated for an extender period of time, the cantilever/stylus may no longer be centered relative to the end of the cartridge body. This should be obvious from a visual inspection. This is critical for two reasons. Modern, narrow profile styli will not read the two channels correctly if not set perpendicular to the axis of the groove. And inside the cartridge body, the alignment between the magnet and coils will likely be incorrect if the cantilever is not centered.

So in my opinion, time in and of itself is not the determinant factor of when a cartridge should be repaired or replaced. But these three factors are.

BTW, I don't think I would take advice on analog playback from a dealer who does not sell analog components.
Having the advantage of using a purpose designed stylus microscope for many years and having run a high end repair shop, I have an opinion about stylus life. On the average a stylus will last about 1000 hours. As the the stylus gradually wears, the points of contact against the groove walls develop flats, called wear facets. These first become visible under high magnification at about the 1000 hour mark. This hour count remains true no matter the stylus shape or brand. After all, a diamond is a diamond and they are all the same as far as wear resistance is concerned.

As the facets become more prominent, you will start to hear distortion similar to inner groove distortion. The wear facets have sharp edges and act as a chisel on the groove. Continued use will damage the groove permanently.

A good stylus microscope is the only way you can see the wear facets. Forget about hand held and low power magnifiers. They just will not work. I designed and built a DIY stylus microscope which is capable of clearly showing the facets at the early stages of wear. I wrote up this DIY microscope project and it appears as a sticky on the Audio Karma forum. Here is the link.

After you use one of these purpose designed scopes you will never again be tempted stretch the life span of your stylus. You will replace it promptly. Your records will thank you.

The Ortofon FAQ states "600 to 1000 hours" of playing time and the JICO FAQ puts it at 800 hours:

I'm very comfortable with the 800 hours figure. I think that a lot of people push it because the investment is so substantial, and that's probably ok if you are playing Simply Red and Cory Hart albums where you can run down to the used record store and pick up another copy for $1.00. But if your collection consists of many rare, or irreplacable, LPs I just don't see taking the chance.
HI Viridian,
I think you are being overly conservative where there is no practical reason to be so. I have never seen a stylus show wear under the microscope at 800 hours. However, in this game, being conservative is better than pushing the stylus past the point where it is causing record damage. So, I will just say that you are wasting some of the useful life of your stylus. If that's OK with you then it's OK with me. It's a bit more of an issue when we include very expensive moving coil cartridges in the discussion. For example, I would not want waste a single hour of life of my $3500 Clearaudio Discovery cartridge.

BTW, my hours count (1000 hours) is strictly based on experience with my own styli. They are the only ones I can keep close track of use. While in my repair shop, where I examined thousands of styli under the microscope, I had no way of knowing their hour count. But based upon the 1000 hour standard, the vast majority of the styli I saw in my shop were worn far past the point of prudent replacement and had many more than 1000 hours on them. I always pointed this out to my customers but left the replacement decision to them. I know their styli were causing audible distortion and damaging their records. But as is said, you can lead a horse to water but you ..........!

I have never counted the total number of sides played with any cartridge I've owned. Does anyone count or do we all just average? How expensive is a proper scope? Audiofeil, how many times have you retipped your cart?

Not really on the subject here but one of the reasons I bought the Ortofon 2M Black was because it can be easily retipped at home. You can also choose between a Shibata or Nude Fine Line stylus as well.
This is scaring the heck out of me. Now I have about $6000 invested in analog and I am contemplating selling it all because the cartridge I have chose as my ultimate reference can only be traded in for new with a 20% credit. That only provides about $1.80 per hour return in investment. This is my major concern in staying with analog as a reference source and seems like a bad investment because of the cartridge wear.
Just to address Sparky's comment directed at me, much of this discussion is an oversimplification. Although suspensions do wear out, stylii do not hit some magic amount of use and become groove gougers. Stylii, as seen under a microscope, wear more like car tires, rounding off the tracking surfaces of the diamond itself. Wear begins on day one and continues until.....the cartridge is taken out of service. So even evaluating stylus wear under a microscope as I have done many times, involves a level of judgement from the person interpreting the visuals except in the case of catastrophic failure where the diamond can actually cleve.
About 8 years ago I called Grado and asked them (maybe it was "He") if I should replace my 25 year old Signature 8, wondering if it had "worn out" or gone flat. The response was no, the coils and magnets do not wear out or go flat. The stylus of course, is another thing. He even offered to check the cartridge out if I mailed it in. I took him up on his offer after which he told me it still sounded beautiful and that I should hold on to it. At some point after that I purchased a Grado Gold reasoning that after 25 years of improvements, a Grado Gold (top of the Prestige series) should sound better than an old Signature. I was wrong. I much preferred the Signature over the Gold. The Signature is still in use today.
That being said, this year I purchased 2 new cartridges, a Grado Reference Sonata1 and a Grado Statement Sonata1 and couldn't believe the refinement I heard compared to the Signature. I guess there's a reason they keep coming out with newer models.
Based on my experience, I don't think cartridges need to be replaced every 3 years because the coils and magnets deteriorate. Stylus use and suspension degradation are another issue entirely.
Counters: yes I have a small manual 'click' (resettable)round metal counter for each TT. Every side, when i use Stylast, I click the counter. Exact, no more guessing. I paid like $5 for each from American Science and Surplus.
It was nice when we had the brick and mortar stores.The best one in my area retired,and didn't do much in home theater. People that didn't even buy anything from him,used to bring their stylus by for him to check it under the scope.He was the last knowledgeable analog dealer in my area.I guess I'm going to need to start keeping track of my play time now too. The big box stores sure don't offer that service,and most likely wouldn't be able to tell the wear on the stylus correctly.