When should you get an oil change?

An oil change is one of the easiest and quickest ways to keep your engine running well for a long time. The engine oil not only lubricates all the parts inside the engine that are moving, but it also removes contaminant particles from inside the engine and filters them out using the oil filter. After a certain amount of time the oil filter can no longer remove the particles from the oil and the oil starts to degrade, reducing its ability to lubricate the engine effectively. You don't want to get to the point where the oil is incapable of lubricating the engine, so regular oil changes are essential for the longevity of your engine.

When should you change your oil?

bad oil pump symptoms

With this information in mind, you inevitably will be asking, “How often should I change my oil?” Every manufacturer has a recommended oil change interval, and many modern cars even have oil quality sensors that will monitor the contamination level and lubrication properties of the oil to determine when it needs to be replaced. These new technologies allow for variations in driving style and engine load that may factor into when you need to change your oil, so they are very helpful tools if you are wondering how often should you get an oil change.

If you own a car that does not have any of the fancy oil monitoring technologies, some guidelines can help determine how many miles to oil change would be best. 

Some factors that may impact oil quality and life include:

  • City driving. Stop and start city driving tends to place more stress on the engine, and so if you are driving mostly in the city, those miles will do more damage to your engine and engine oil than if you are spending most of your time driving on highways.
  • Spirited driving. If you tend to push your vehicle to the limit when you drive, that also places more stress on your drivetrain and engine, so you will want to maintain a shorter oil change interval.
  • Towing or hauling. Vehicles that do a lot of towing or hauling also push their engines to the limit, so they will require a shorter oil change interval.

Many mechanics will swear by the 3,000 to 5,000-mile oil change interval, and it isn’t possible to change your oil too soon, since the cleaner the oil, the better lubrication and cleaning properties it will have. If you drive very low distances throughout the year though, you should change your oil at least once a year, even if the mileage is lower than 3,000 miles.

How often should you check your oil?

If you own a newer vehicle, the likelihood of burning or leaking oil should be very low, but you should still check your oil level about once a month, just to avoid problems creeping up on you. Any vehicle that is more than a few years old has the potential to either burn a small amount of oil or have small oil leaks, so it’s a good idea to check the oil whenever you fill up the gas. if you do several oil level checks over a period of several months, you will start to learn the oil leaking tendencies of your vehicle, and you will be able to tailor the number of oil level checks to your specific vehicle, based on the typical oil usage that you see over that time.

What to look for when checking your oil

There are two main things that you are looking for when you check your oil. The first is to determine if the oil level is within acceptable parameters. When you pull your dipstick out, use a rag or paper towel to wipe off the tip and then insert it again before pulling it out to look at the oil level. This will give you a more accurate reading and allow you to see what the actual oil level is. If the oil level is between the markings on the dipstick, then your oil level is okay.

The second item to be aware of when checking your oil is the coloration and consistency of the oil. If the oil is very dark and impossible to see through, it is usually a sign that you should do an oil change soon. Dark, opaque oil indicates the presence of contaminant particles, since new oil usually has a gold color, and is mostly transparent.

Choosing the right oil for your car?

Modern vehicles have the oil specifications for the engine written on the oil filler cap, which you can find on top of the engine. It should be some type of screw-on cap with writing on it. You should see something like 5W-30 written on the cap and those numbers correspond to the thickness of the oil at various temperatures. If you don’t have the oil thickness for your vehicle written on the oil filler cap, check your owner’s manual for the oil specification you require.

The number before the W refers to the thickness of the oil at very cold temperatures, whereas the last number refers to the thickness of the oil at engine operating temperatures. Lower numbers indicate a thinner oil.

You can also use this resource which breaks down the different types of oil.

Is synthetic oil better?

different types of motor oil

Many high-performance vehicles, and even a growing proportion of regular cars, require synthetic oil. Even if your vehicle does not require synthetic oil, it can provide more consistent lubrication at a wide range of temperatures and also resist breakdown and oxidation. If your car calls for standard oil and you follow the recommended oil change interval, your engine should be fine.

You can check out the difference between synthetic and conventional oil.

Should I change my own oil?

Learning how to do your own oil and oil filter change is a great first step in developing the skills to maintain your vehicle. Get your oil at AutoZone, as well as oil filters and any other parts or tools that you require for the job. It doesn’t take long, and it’s a fun way to get to know your car!

Advice, how-to guides, and car care information featured on and AutoZone Advice & How-To’s are presented as helpful resources for general maintenance and automotive repairs from a general perspective only and should be used at your own risk. Information is accurate and true to the best of AutoZone’s knowledge, however, there may be omissions, errors or mistakes.

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