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How Often Should I Change My Oil?

How often should I change my oil

Here I go again. I'm sitting in my car driving to work and I look down at the information displayed on my dashboard. It tells me that my oil life is 0%. Oh my! How in the world did that happen? It's time for an oil change again. So the questions is, how often should I change my oil? My uncle, the mechanic, told me several years ago to always change my oil every 3,000 miles. Is this still true today?  

As the lubricant for the moving parts in your engine, oil is extremely important; it prevents excessive engine wear and tear and is vital for the continued functioning of your vehicle.

Determining Frequency for Oil Change 

Knowing what affects the cleanliness of your oil can help you make an informed decision about when to change it.

There are many parameters to consider in determining when it is time to change your engine's oil, such as:

  • manufacturer recommendations
  • driver behavior
  • vehicle age
  • climate
  • road conditions 

What Affects Oil Change Intervals?

Where To Start? (Manufacturer Recommendations)

A good starting point would be to look at your owner's manual, which usually supplies a number between 5,000 and 7,500 miles. The manufacturer actually built the car, and as such should be viewed as the supreme authority when it comes to maintenance advice.

However, one thing to consider is the manufacturer recommendations are based on ideal driving conditions. These include:

  • driving short distances
  • never drive over the speed limit
  • flat road surface, etc. 

The average driver would be hard-pressed to accomplish this ideal scenario. You're better off using the "severe conditions" maintenance schedule as your guide, which will have you changing your oil roughly every 3,000 miles, just like my uncle recommended.

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Driver Behavior 

Once you've uncovered the carmaker's estimated mileage schedule for an oil change, there are a few driving issues that need to be reviewed to adjust that estimate. As stated above, ideal driving situations are not necessarily a reality. You must change your oil more frequently if you're driving more closely resembles:

  • stop-and-go traffic
  • towing a trailer
  • jackrabbit starts
  • heavy acceleration
  • high-speed driving 

Hard driving is a major wear and tear factor in determining the mileage amount for an oil change. Conversely, if you're not driving very much, you'll be able to get away with longer periods in between oil changes. This is a situation when you wouldn't need to change your oil as regularly and could stick closer to the manufacturer's suggestion. But remember, it is good to change the 'black gold' in your car even if you don't drive it that much. 

When you do go in for an oil change, we also recommend a high-quality oil filter, as this is every bit as important as the quality of oil itself. 

Vehicle Age

If your car has been around the block a couple of times, oil changes should be at more frequent intervals. This is due to "blowby". Over time, soot and grime builds up on the rings, making them slightly permeable, and allowing liquids and gases to pass through. This results in contaminated oil that needs to be changed more regularly. 


compressed fuel and air that has leaked into the engine's crankcase

Climate And Road Conditions

The climate you normally drive in and the type of roads you normally drive on are important to consider. More frequent changes are recommended if:

  • the climate is extremely hot or extremely cold
  • you frequently travel on dirt roads, or
  • drive up and down hills or mountains

Once you have determined how often you should change your oil the next step is to decide what type of oil would your vehicle benefit from the most.

Oil Selection 

There are three different types of oil to choose between.

  • conventional
  • synthetic
  • synthetic blend 

Recommendation of oil types can vary a great deal between cars and the environment in which they operate. Conventional oil is organic and limited in its capabilities when compared to the synthetic oils. The synthetic oil has fewer imperfections in their chemical buildup, but are also the most expensive option of the three choices. Conventional oil is highly reactive to temperatures, which isn't true for synthetics; also, synthetics give you better engine performance, as they are more slippery. Synthetic oil is recommended for longer engine life and better engine performance, especially in older vehicles.

Once the type of oil is chosen, then the weight must be considered. The weight or viscosity, which describes the thickness of oil, is an important factor in determining which type is right for your car. Too thin, and it won't lubricate the engine parts well enough when it heats up. Too thick, then it will be sluggish. Either way, it could lead to engine damage. If you look in your owner's manual, the manufacturer will confirm the type and weight of oil you should use for your car.

 Many of us would prefer to get an oil change every 7,500 miles but, how many of us can say that we are ideal drivers in an ideal driving environment? An oil change at 3,000 to 5,000 miles are numbers more representative of actual driving conditions. By erring on the side of caution and changing your oil more frequently, you'll help to extend the life of your vehicle. To further extend the life of your car or truck, ask the mechanic to check your air filters while getting an oil change. Dirty air filters can put additional stress on the engine and decrease your fuel efficiency.

This article was written with the help and resources from the non-profit Car Care Council. The "Be Car Care Aware" campaign is a consumer education program about the benefits of regular vehicle care, maintenance and repair, designed to provide knowledge from all segments of the automotive aftermarket industry.

The non-profit Car Care Council is the source of information for the "Be Car Care Aware" consumer education campaign promoting the benefits of regular vehicle care, maintenance and repair to consumers. To view the Car Care Council's consumer education website, visit www.carcare.org

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