Oil changes are an oft-argued, seldom-solved subject on the great knowledge web of the internet. If you’re unfortunate enough to dive into forum arguments about oil change intervals, oil brands, weights, and additives, you’ll quickly figure out that nobody has a clear answer for what is right. So, we’re here to solve that for you.
General rules can be applied to maintenance schedules and service intervals, but every car is technically different and should be treated uniquely for these differences. A variety of factors can impact oil life, and we’re here to explain everything you need to know. Let’s get into it.
So, How Often Should I Change My Oil?
Your safest bet is to follow the guidelines in your owner’s manual for your specific car. Every model of car has a different kind of oil and oil-change interval based on factors that engineers have determined for it. For any normally used car, this should be gospel, and all other information should generally be ignored. Yes, even the 10,000-mile engine oil change interval that modern cars boast is completely safe thanks to the advancement of modern synthetic oil. The fabled 3,000-mile engine oil change is just that — a fable. Especially now.
However, there are use cases that can affect the recommended interval drastically. For example, a truck that tows frequently or full-time should get serviced on a much shorter interval than a comparable non-towing truck. For cars, track driving or hard driving will severely reduce the lifespan of the oil. A similar rule applies for recommended transmission and differential oil change intervals. Or, a car that isn’t driven enough miles per year to be serviced.
Factors That Affect Oil Change Frequency
The biggest factors are usage and age. For trucks that are used in heavy-duty tasks like towing or see a lot of low-speed high-load situations, a good rule of thumb is a 25-50 percent reduction in oil change interval mileage. If it recommends a 10,000-mile interval, then do a 5,000-mile interval.
Or, for a tracked car or a car that is driven hard, use a similar rule or change the oil after every track day. It is rare to get the oil hot enough to break down for most folks tracking their car the first time, but experienced drivers that push hard for long sessions should change their oil every few track days at least.
If all else fails and you don’t drive enough to reach that mileage in a year, do an annual engine oil change.
How Do I Know if I Need To Change My Oil?
Most new cars will have a maintenance reminder system that alerts owners when it is time to do various maintenance. If your car is equipped with a system like that, listen to that, or do shorter intervals according to your use case. Make sure to reset the system every time the oil is changed.
If your car is not equipped with that system, roughly track your mileage. Oil change intervals are not an extremely precise science and can vary by hundreds of miles. Use a trip meter if possible, or just jot down the mileage when the car was last serviced, and reference from that. Another option is putting a piece of tape inside your engine bay and writing down the date and mileage every time you do a change.
Of course, it is possible to push these intervals farther with modern oils. Some people have reported as high as 14,000 miles with the same oil, verified by lab testing. Whether this works for you is dependent on usage and you should monitor your engine closely if you decide to push the interval. There is never a need to go below the service interval with normal use, but going over the interval takes some extra care.
If you have absolutely no idea when your last oil change was, it’s always better to change it earlier than later. At the worst, you waste $40 doing it yourself and giving your engine a refresh.
FAQs About Changing Oil
We can’t read your mind, but we want to try to answer any questions you have before you start the job. We’ve selected common points of confusion from our experience, as well as commonly asked questions from popular search results. We answered those questions below.
Q. How many months can I go between oil changes?
A. You should typically use mileage and usage to determine when you need to change your oil, but it should be changed at least once a year.
Q. Does oil go bad if you don’t drive?
A. Yes, it can. Make sure to drive your car up to operating temperature regularly so condensation can boil off from the oil. Generally, it only lasts one year.
Q. What happens if I don’t change my oil?
A. Permanent deposits of sludge and permanent engine damage can occur with old or used oil. Oil loses its ability to lubricate over mileage and time thanks to the byproducts of combustion.
Q. How much does an oil change cost?
A. A DIY oil change can cost around $30-$75, while a professional one can be $75-$150.
Q. Can you go 10,000 miles with synthetic oil?
A. Yes, easily. Most modern full-synthetic oils are engineered to go 10,000 miles and more with normal use.
Q. Should I change my oil every 3,000 miles?
A. No, there is no need with modern synthetic oil. This was only necessary on older vehicles with conventional oil, and much less modern engines.
Q. Does the brand of oil matter?
A. Not really. All that matters is the type of oil: conventional, synthetic blend, or synthetic. Even then, the main differences between them is the quality of the base oil and the additive packages that extend life.
Learn More From This Helpful Video Tutorial
For those who don’t entirely believe us, believe this research conducted by CBC News in Canada about oil change intervals and lab testing. It’s a trusted source and its excellent additional information on how and when to change your oil.
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