How Often Should I Change My Oil?
When it comes to maintaining your vehicle, there are many things that you should know about proper preventative care. One of the most important things to learn is how often to change your oil, and there are many factors to consider that will help you make that decision.
Knowing how to evaluate your vehicle will give you guidance for scheduling your oil changes.
Why Oil Changes Are Important
Image via Flickr by Nenad Stojkovic
Oil is an essential lubricant in your vehicle that keeps the engine’s moving parts from rubbing directly against one another. If the oil level in your vehicle is low, there’s more friction in the engine, which generates a significant amount of heat and may cause serious damage. Oil helps keep things moving smoothly at safe temperatures.
Over time, oil breaks down into sludge. It absorbs dirt and engine wear particles and becomes thick and inefficient. This sludge can cause corrosion in your engine. It also decreases your vehicle’s efficiency and increases fuel consumption. This is why it’s important to change out your oil on a regular basis.
When you get your oil changed regularly, you’ll enjoy:
- More powerful engine operation.
- Increased fuel efficiency.
- Lower engine operating temperatures.
- Fewer repairs over the life of the vehicle.
- A longer vehicle lifespan.
- Intact warranty protection, where applicable.
The Traditional Recommendation for How Often to Change Oil
The typical recommendation is to get your oil changed every 3,000 miles or six months, similar to rotating your car’s tires. However, vehicle engines and modern oil products have become more efficient, which often results in the need for fewer oil changes.
Your vehicle’s manual will give you more detailed information on how often you should change the oil. This is the best resource for getting a definitive answer based on your specific car. If you have an older vehicle, you’ll typically need more frequent oil changes. You may find that your manual has two schedules for oil changes — one for normal operation and another for severe service. Read both descriptions carefully so that you can properly classify the way that you use your vehicle.
If you have a newer vehicle, it may have an oil-life monitoring system. This automatically monitors the state of your oil and provides an alert on the instrument panel that will let you know when you need to have the oil changed.
Modern Recommendations for Oil Change Frequency
Few vehicles still need oil changes every 3,000 miles. Modern lubricants available in today’s oils have extended the time between oil changes to every 5,000 to 7,500 miles in most cases. If you use full synthetic motor oil, you may even be able to go as far as 15,000 miles between oil changes.
Though you can go further between full oil changes, this doesn’t eliminate the need to regularly check your oil. Some vehicles use as much as a full quart of oil every 600 to 700 miles. Though you won’t need an oil change this often, you will need to top off your oil to make sure that there’s sufficient lubrication in your engine.
If you don’t put many miles on your vehicle, you should plan to have the oil changed at least once every 12 months. Regardless of the quality of the oil or your car, you shouldn’t let more than a year go by without an oil change.
Factors That Impact Oil Change Frequency
Depending on your driving conditions, you may need more frequent oil changes. Think about how you drive. If your vehicle faces severe operating conditions regularly, you’ll need to invest in more frequent care and attention. You will likely need more oil changes if:
- Most of your trips are 5 miles or less.
- You drive in an extremely hot or dusty climate.
- You drive in very cold conditions.
- You experience a lot of stop-and-go driving conditions.
- Your vehicle frequently pulls a trailer.
- Your vehicle carries heavy loads.
- You rarely reach highway speeds.
In these conditions, you might need to get your oil changed as often as every 1,000 to 3,000 miles in an older vehicle. If you have a newer vehicle, find the manufacturer’s recommendations for oil changes in extreme use.
How to Check Your Oil
It’s important to check your vehicle’s engine oil at least once a month to make sure the levels are adequate. Checking the oil doesn’t always tell you if you need an oil change, but it will let you know when to top the oil off. You should stick to your typical schedule for oil changes unless you notice that the oil is excessively dark. If you can’t see the dipstick through the oil, you need a change.
When you check your oil, make sure that the car is parked on a flat surface so that you can gauge the level accurately. Some manufacturers recommend checking the oil when the engine is warmed up, so you should refer to your owner’s manual for exact guidance.
To check the oil, pull the dipstick from the engine and wipe it off on a rag or paper towel. Insert the dipstick again and pull it out carefully. Examine it to see where the oil level is. If the oil is below the minimum mark, add oil to the vehicle until you’re between the minimum and maximum oil markings on your dipstick.
Signs You Need an Oil Change
Your vehicle’s oil change schedule will let you know the minimum number of oil changes that you’ll need based on your car’s use, age, make, and model. However, you may find that you need more frequent oil changes than you anticipated. There are several signs that indicate a need for an oil change. You may need an oil change if:
- The oil change light is on.
- The check engine light is on.
- You can smell gas, exhaust fumes, or oil in the vehicle.
- You can hear rumbling or knocking sounds coming from the engine.
With this guidance in mind, it’s best to schedule regular oil changes to keep your vehicle in prime condition.
Our service center at Sweeney Cars offers convenient appointment times, so you can book your next oil change when it works best for you.