How often your car needs an oil change depends on several factors, including the type of car you drive, how old your car is and the type of driving that you do. For years, car manufacturers and service stations recommended changing your car's oil every 3,000 miles (4,828 km). This is no longer the standard in most cases, however, and many people consider changing a car's oil that frequently to be wasteful and unnecessarily costly. Most experts recommend getting an oil change no more than every 5,000 to 8,000 miles (8,047 to 12,875 km), and some cars can go 20,000 miles (32,187 km) or more between oil changes. It is always a good idea to check the recommendations in your car owner's manual and pay attention to your car computer's diagnostic readings, if your car provides them.
Oil's Role in a Car Engine
Motor oil is used to lubricate the moving parts of automobile engines. It prevents the metal surfaces from grinding against each other and becoming worn or damaged from friction. Oil also prevents corrosion, helps cool the engine and helps keep the engine clean by soaking up the byproducts of combustion, such as silicon oxide.
Factors that Affect Oil Life
When a car's oil becomes contaminated or begins to break down, it will start to do its job less effectively and should be changed. How long it takes before this is necessary can vary. Different types of cars can have different engines that will use oil differently, so they might need oil changes at different intervals. A car that has an older, less efficient engine likely will need an oil change more frequently than a newer car that has a more advanced engine.
Another factor is the type of driving that you do. Taking short drives, driving in stop-and-go traffic or using your car to tow something, such as a trailer or another vehicle, might shorten the life of your car's oil. If you often drive in temperatures of more than 90° Fahrenheit (32.2° Celsius) or less than 10° Fahrenheit (minus-12.2° Celsius), or if you often drive in extremely humid weather, you also might need to change your car's oil more often. If your car has a computer that automatically monitors its oil system, it likely will tell you how much life your oil has remaining and when it is necessary to change the oil.
An oil change usually is a relatively simple and inexpensive procedure. There are many oil-change stations that specialize in this service, and some of them do not require you to make an appointment. You also can learn how to change your oil yourself to save a little money, but you should make sure to do it properly, because driving your car without enough oil can ruin the engine. Also, it is important to make sure that your car has the right kind of oil. Your car owner's manual should provide recommendations for the best oil to use.
When to Change the Oil
Check your car owner's manual to see the manufacturer's recommendations for how often you should get an oil change. Keep in mind that these recommendations often are based on severe driving conditions — such as short trips in stop-and-go traffic during very hot weather — so you might consider them to be the maximum frequency for oil changes. For example, if the manual says to change the oil every 5,000 miles (8,047 km), you likely do not need to change it before that distance, and you might even be able to wait until you have driven about 8,000 or 10,000 miles (12,875 or 16,093 km). On the other hand, if you have a car that sits unused for months at a time, you might have to ignore distances and have the oil changed at least once a year or so.
The Old Standard
The recommendation to change a car's oil every three months or 3,000 miles (4,828 km) is no longer considered the best practice for modern cars and oils. Getting an oil change before it is necessary wastes oil and increases the cost of maintaining the vehicle. Many service shops still use this recommendation, however, and critics say that this is done only to increase business, without regard to whether such frequent oil changes are necessary.
In some cases, companies offer leases or loans on new cars with service agreements that allow the owner to have the oil changed and have routine maintenance done for free or for a low cost. Additionally, a leased car agreement or warranty might specify that the car owner must abide by normal servicing requirements. In those cases, it might be necessary to have the oil changed every 3,000 miles (4,828 km) to avoid paying additional fees or voiding the warranty.