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Oil Change Plug

When Should I Change My Oil?

An engine oil change is a relatively simple service. It’s widely touted as the single most important part of your car’s maintenance schedule.

There is a good reason for this. Nothing will shorten engine life faster than missed oil changes.

But how can you tell when you should change your oil?  

Advances in technology and increased consumer awareness have created some confusion to how often this needs to happen.

Visit our Car Maintenance Forum and discuss with others

The Easy Answer

For most of us, all we need to do is follow the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule for oil change intervals. Their guidelines are designed to keep your car in good running condition for a long time.

Where can you find your car’s service schedule for oil changes and other recommended maintenance?

You can check the owner’s manual that hopefully you have kept in a handy place like your car’s glove box. You might also visit the manufacturer’s website and do a search to download it.

Quick lube shops have their own recommendations. One thing to remember is that these shops are speaking to a wide audience, addressing cars of every age, every mileage, and some with different needs.

While there is no harm done by too frequent oil changes, if your car doesn’t need them, that money could be better spent on other maintenance needs.

Don’t Put It Off

Service shops can change your oil fast. Image by By David Defoe.
Service shops can change your oil fast. Image by By David Defoe.

If you have ever put off a trip to the grocery store or waited a couple of weeks longer between haircuts, don’t do that with oil changes.

Your oil’s primary function is to cut friction.

Over time, oil accumulates contaminants and loses viscosity (the ability to flow into every nook and cranny). Contaminants cause friction as parts rub together. Friction wears out those parts faster.

The damage caused by these conditions is largely irreversible without an engine overhaul or replacement.

Waiting for the low oil light to come on can be the worst thing you can do to your engine.

You shouldn’t see that light unless your oil level is low. So you don’t want to see it. Whatever amount of oil you do have left almost certainly has lost its ability to function properly.

The good news is that your service schedule is written to have this service done long before disaster is on the horizon.

Cars are Smarter Now

For a very long time the gold standard for oil changes was 3,000 to 3,500 miles.

There are still many adherents to this philosophy, but it may not be necessary;

Advances in engineering to both engine mechanical parts and especially to oil itself have extended the oil life cycle by more than double the old number.

Synthetic motor oil is recommended for some models. Image by Chris Yarzab
Synthetic motor oil is recommended for some models. Image by Chris Yarzab

Do you use synthetic oil? 

Automakers recommend it for some models. It cost a little more than regular oil, but it has had the biggest impact on oil life.

The life cycle for synthetics is typically 7,000 to 10,000 miles, a big change from conventional oil.

The type of driving we do also affects our oil change needs;

Frequent cold starts, extreme heat, and towing, are all examples of types of driving that can shorten our oil life.

Also, repeated short trips (under 4 miles) is one of the most overlooked enemies of oil life.

Any of these driving conditions can create the need to shorten your service interval by 25-40% depending on the severity.

oil change indicator percentage
Oil change indicator in a Honda Civic.

If your car is equipped with a maintenance reminder on the dash, some of the guesswork is eliminated for you.

Can you trust it?

For the most part, yes.

In the early days of automobiles the only way we had to track our vehicle’s aging was the odometer. But miles traveled is not always a good indicator of actual use for many urban environments.

[READ: Odometer Rollback Fraud – How to Protect Yourself]

With the inclusion of computers in the modern automobile we now have a way for the car to track time AND mileage. Time is important to this discussion because running time affects oil life.

But not all maintenance indicators work the same way:

Some use an electronic sensor to measure the oil quality, while others use an algorithm based on driving metrics to determine life expectancy.

If your car is not equipped with maintenance light or gauge, the owner’s manual should still be your guide.

Don’t Buy Cheap Oil

All of these scenarios assume you are using the factory-recommended lubricant.

If you have opted for something inferior you may be adversely affecting the recommendation.

It’s not worth a few dollars to shortcut on the oil.

Track Your Maintenance

Because time is important as well as mileage, it’s nice to try and plan your service visits.

The little sticker in the corner of the windshield was a small, important innovation to help us plan. Before that, many people kept a paper record in their glove box as well.

But now, with many of us carrying smart phones and having home computers, it’s gotten even easier..

Car Maintenance App

MyCarfax is a website – and a free smart phone app – that will track all of your car’s maintenance needs, making it even easier to keep track of, and plan, your next service.

 

Featured image by Robert Crouse-Baker.

55 thoughts on “When Should I Change My Oil?”

    1. Cynthia,
      Thanks for your comment. It sounds as if you are pro-active in your vehicle maintenance, congratulations! The 3,000 mile interval is more than adequate in most circumstances, but you should read and understand your service schedule to be sure. Mycarfax can help you keep track of it, easily, and for free.

      WH

    2. You are wasting your money if you are changing oil at 3k miles. That’s old school thinking and is not necessary. Oil technology has come a long way and you should not be changing conventional oil until about 5k miles. If you use synthetic oil you should not change until at least 7k miles.

      1. M, I agree with you on one thing. That synthetic oil gets changed at 7,000 miles. But regular conventional oil must be changed every 3,000 miles. My local mechanic that I go to is the the most trustworthy mechanic around. I asked him what if I go 5,000 miles between oil changes. He said, you will ruin your engine eventually. Conventional oil gets dirtier quicker than synthetic oil. That’s why it needs to be changed every 3,000 miles. So Im not wasting my money. You would be wasting your money if you got your oil changed every 5,000 miles because eventually your engine will start breaking down and pissing away money in repairs

        1. Peter, your mechanic wants to keep the pipeline to the free money going. Change your oil every 3000 miles is pure and unadulterated bunk. You will NEVER (not EVER) find a mechanic who will tell you otherwise because it is free money for them. Get your car manual out and read up on it for yourself.

          I am 61 years old and mechanics used to always refer you to your car manual for the various maintenance schedule you should follow. You will not find a mechanic alive who does that now. They don’t want you to know and miss the gravy train.

          The oil is radically different now from what it used to be. The ONLY people who will tell you to keep with the 3000 mile oil change is the local yokel mechanics. Making fools of everyone because they don’t want to stop the gravy train.

      2. The proof is in the test results. I’ve sent my oil in to get tested many times at 5k times on mobil 1 full synthetic I had 40% more contaminants then at 3k miles. You will only benefit from good oil if you plan on keeping the car past 100k miles because most engines will do 100k with the worst oil. People also need to know that not all oil filters are created equal, filters that cost under 7$ are filled with low quality materials that do nothing to filter the oil. If you don’t plan on keeping your car for 10 years or don’t take care of the body and interior don’t waste your money on good oil the rest of the car will fall long before you see the benefits of quality oil.

    3. Stupidest thing you could do. Its great to do oil changes but its horrible to waste good oil like that. Most oil is recycled properly, but when its not it ends up in oceans and rivers polluting

    4. Tony here , I’ve read all the comments whether it should be changed every 3000 5000 7000 or 10000. Ive changed it every 3000 and my 91 ford ranger has 404000 mile my 03 ford focus 225000, and my 95 ford van 245000 miles still running good. If its to soon at 3000 I cant really complain I wasted money when my vehicles have lasted so long. But I do believe that oil tech has come long way and less frequent oil changes are required.

  1. I drive 5000 miles a year and most trips are over 4miles. I change once a year and use 10W30 synthetic oil. Am I changing often enough?

  2. I didn’t realize that waiting for the low oil light to come on can be the worst thing you can do to your engine. Could you explain why? I kind of thought the purpose of that light was to let us know when the oil is low…I didn’t realize we SHOULDN’T be waiting for the light to come on. I usually get my oil changed every 3,000 or 4,000 miles. I’ve heard that if you play your cards right, though, it’s possible to go almost 10,000 miles between oil changes.

    1. Hi Lisa,

      When your low oil light comes on it could mean that your oil pressure is low, or that there’s not enough oil in your engine to keep it properly lubricated. These are both issues that need to be addressed to keep your car in good running order.

      However, it’s important not to confuse the low oil light with an oil life indicator, which you’ll find in many newer cars. If your car is equipped with an oil life indicator, it will notify you when it’s time for an oil change. Hope this helps!

        1. The owners manuals are BS. The manuals say to change conventional oil at 7,500 miles. Wrong. Conventional oil needs to be changed at 3,000 miles. Manuals also say to change transmission fluid at 100,000 miles. Wrong. It gets changed at 30,000 miles.

          1. I disagree sir! The owners manuals are not BS. The manufacture has done it’s due diligence in research to provide optimal performance of your vehicle. If the owners manual says it is safe for your vehicle to travel 7,500 miles between oil changes using conventional oil (if that is what is recommended for your vehicle) and is driven under average conditions then you better bet your bottom dollar it is safe to do so.

          2. Peter, is it still 1974 where you live ? There’s just no need for this frequency anymore. Transmission fluid – my Toyota manual says NEVER. Just monitor for leaks and color.

    2. You need to change your oil because it gets dirty. When the oil gets low then there isn’t enough to properly lubricate so the engine parts get too hot. Really you shouldn’t trust the lights anyway they are not all that accurate.

  3. I purchased penzoil high mileage oil, not synthetic, I have 72000 miles on my vehicle do I need to change it every 3000 miles

    1. Hi Joseph,

      Thanks for asking — Regardless of which oil you buy, we recommend that you follow the service intervals outlined in your owner’s manual.

  4. Car manufacturers are not in the business to help the consumer. All they care about is the warranty period of the car. Once that warranty ends you are stuck with all the repairs. So go 10,000 miles between oil changes, but trade your car in three years.

    1. Exactly this is why they created Autozone and NAPA and Oreillys auto parts etc….they make millions from all the parts that start braking and braking after warranty if they were made strong then these companies would not evolve so strong.

  5. I went to Toyota Services to have my 5000 miles oil change done, plus the maint. light is on on my 2015 Rav4 the guy at the service told me that this new models only need one oil change a year at 10000 miles not 5000 any more. I asked him WHY is the maint. light on? He said that it will still turn on every 5000 miles or so but there is no problem what so ever. I truly don’t trust that guy and why on earth would the light be on if it doesn’t need oil change?

    1. I listened to someone who said that my check engine light was on because of altitude change. And that you don’t need to change my oil so often. Had to buy new( to me) car. 2-1/2 quarts low. Dead engine. Thanks guys…?

  6. I bought a new 2014 Ford Explorer last July and only have 1650 miles on it. Should I get my oil changed now?

    1. I always change the oil after buying a car so I know what it has in it and when it was done last when I bought my truck the oil was almost clear and I still did it just so I could have a piece of mind

      1. excellent advise,Austin,I do the same thing! I have been doing car and truck maintenance for more than 50 years and oil has changed significantly in time. I would recommend following the owners manual though, as they know their car better than anyone else.

    2. I have a 2012 Maxima, I put less than 500 miles a year. How often should I change my oil. I do use synthetic oil.

  7. Hi Robert,

    I would consult your owner’s manual for the manufacturer’s recommendation on how long you should go between oil changes.

  8. Just discovered this 3500 suggestion when visiting my NJ based daughter. Could hardly believe my ears. In UK and France my Peugeot 5007 (manual – were all that in Europe) suggests 16000 miles. That is up on the 10k-12k suggestions of the last 30years. It was 6k in UK when I started driving in 1970. Can’t believe oils so different between continents!

  9. Wow! I’m speechless, I was even able to track the services that have been done on my baby before I bought it .

  10. Bottom line is this: It all depends on type of vehicle, extreme conditions (cold or hot), and driving habits. If you have a high compression performance car, live in phoenix where temps can be 115 deg, and drive aggressively….you had better change the oil every 3000. However, if you drive a more mainstream standard vehicle, live in a temperate climate like Tennessee, and drive very conservatively….you can go 7000. Double the miles for synthetic. Todays oil and engines have improved dramatically over thru technology. Changing every 3000 miles may make you feel good, but could be a complete waste of money.!!!!

  11. Standard oil
    Non aggressive driver, mild climate, standard engine: 6000-8000 miles
    Subtract 1000 mi. for extreme climates, and another 1000 mi. for high perf engines, and yet another 1000 mi. for aggressive driving or racing.

    Synthetic oil
    Non aggressive driver, mild climate, standard engine: 12000-15000 miles
    Subtract 2000 mi. for extreme climates, and another 2000 mi. for high perf engines, and yet another 2000 mi. for aggressive driving or racing.

  12. Thanks for enlightening me about the oil change! I don’t know much about the cars, so it’s good to learn something new about my own car. I’m going to look for my manual to see what recommendations they give about the oil change.

  13. I have a Toyota Camry. My car takes synthetic oil. The manual says to change the oil every 10000 miles, but more than one service technician in more than one service shop recommended me to change the oil every 5000 miles. Is that right?

    1. Wrong! you can run it 7500 miles to 10,000 miles depending on your driving conditions . just get a mobil 1 extneded oil filter so it lasts with the oil.

  14. Conventional oil should be changed at 7500 miles, synthetic at 10000. The level should be checked at least once a month. A new off the lot car should have the oil changed at or below 1000 miles to get all the new friction wear out. I change Trans fluid every 20000 miles. I have a 92 Cherokee with 312k miles original Trans and engine.

      1. They should have a time recommendation as well as mileage in your owner’s manual. If for some reason, you don’t find a time listed, change it once every 6 months to 1 year.

  15. I have a motorhome with a ford V-10 on the fill tube it says 5W20 is that a synthetic oil? And I usually do 1500 -3000mile a year how often should I change it if I don’t meet the mileage increment

    1. 5w-20 can be conventional and synthetic. conventional should last 6 months or 5k miles. Syntethic 1 year or 10k miles. I would recommend a synthetic since u drive so little and wont be changing oil often. And its better protection for your engine

  16. Hi, my name is mike and i have a toyota corolla 1999 with 251,000 miles which i use synthetic oil on, how often do you think i should be doing and oil change?

    1. I think the factory recommended 7,500 miles between oil changes but don’t know the recommended oil. If you are using a synthetic already, changing it at 7,500 should be fine. If you are really concerned because of some severe driving condition, check the oil by pulling the dipstick out and doing a visual check. If it appears to be pretty dark or almost black, it’s about time to change the oil.

  17. I have a 2005 Toyota Highlander with 447,000 miles on original engine and transmission. I change oil according Toyota manual which recommends change at 5,000 miles. The maintenance light at 5,000 miles reminds me but I stay on top of it.

  18. I now use Full Synthetic oil in my 2007 Prius because it should get twice as many miles (10,000) as regular oil (5,000 miles) before needing a change. Sent a sample of used oil to Blackstone Labs ($28; see online) for analysis to ascertain if this was true.

    Yes, the lab confirmed my sample indicated an oil change was definitely due (and suggested changing a bit sooner next time) …but the oil sample probably had 12,000 miles on it. So 10,000 miles between changes should be fine.

    My Total Base Number (TBN) was 0.9, which is slightly below their cut-off of 1.0. The level of iron in the oil was higher than Universal Average reference data (at a mean of 7800 miles), but all other components/contaminants were substantially below the reference data (ie, they were favorable).

    So I am satisfied that I am good to go with a Full Synthetic Oil change interval of 10,000 miles.

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