When Should You Change Your Oil - Edmunds.com

When Should You Change Your Oil?

It's Not 3,000 Miles


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If you are one of the many people who let a windshield reminder sticker govern when they get an oil change, here's our advice to you: Drop that habit. Instead, follow the automaker's recommended service intervals. In many modern cars, your best bet is to rely on the vehicle's oil life monitoring system to let you know when it's time for a change.

Let the Manual Guide You
Oil change information is in the maintenance chapter of your owner's manual. If for some reason you've misplaced your owner's manual, many automakers have put their manuals online. You can also search our Edmunds Maintenance Schedules. We have an extensive maintenance database on vehicles dating back to l980.

In many instances, you'll find that the owner's manual lists two service schedules. These are based on "normal" and "severe" or "special" driving conditions. Read the descriptions carefully to see which schedule reflects how you drive. In our experience, the vast majority of people fall into the normal schedule.

Trust Your Oil Life Monitor
In recent years, a number of automakers have installed oil life monitors of varying complexity in their vehicles. The more basic versions are more maintenance minders than actual systems. They're based on mileage, and switch on a maintenance light when the vehicle hits a predetermined mileage range.

The more advanced oil life monitors, on the other hand, constantly take information from numerous sensors throughout the vehicle and then use a complex algorithm to predict the life of your oil. Based on your driving conditions and habits, the frequency of your oil changes can vary.

These systems take the guesswork out of knowing when your next service is due. Just drive as you normally would and wait until the maintenance light comes on. You'll be surprised to see how far a vehicle can go between oil changes. The hardest part is not letting your preconceived notions of oil change intervals second-guess the monitor.

It's also important to note that these systems are calibrated to work with the factory-recommended oil. They aren't sophisticated enough to recognize that you've upgraded to another blend, so save your money and stick to the factory fill.

Use the Time Estimate
If you have a weekend car or put very low miles on your vehicle, you'll have to change your maintenance strategy a bit. Robert Sutherland, principal scientist at Pennzoil Passenger Car Engine Lubricants, says that over time, oil becomes contaminated by gases that blow by the pistons, and the longer the oil sits with that contamination, the more it degrades.

Whether an automaker uses an oil life monitor or set mileage intervals, all of them also prescribe a maximum time frame for an oil change. For example, the 2010 Toyota Prius has a recommended oil interval of one year or 10,000 miles — whichever comes first. Since some oil life monitors are more sophisticated than others, the vehicles that employ them will have different time recommendations. You'll also find this information in your owner's manual.

Get an Oil Analysis
The issue of what constitutes "normal" versus "severe" driving has long been a point of contention among vehicle owners, mechanics and dealership service departments. All have their own motivations for their recommendations. But the best way to determine how you drive your vehicle is to get your oil analyzed.

An oil analysis will tell you the condition of your oil, and it also can reveal any problems that your engine may be experiencing. Some sample tests can show traces of fuel and coolant in the engine oil, which are early signs of engine problems. When you get your results back from the lab, you'll also get a recommendation on how much further you can go between oil changes.

Extended-Life Oils: It's Safe To Switch
Many oil companies are releasing extended-life oils that are guaranteed for the specific mileage listed on the bottle. Mobil's most advanced fully synthetic product, Mobil 1 Extended Performance, for instance, is guaranteed for 15,000 miles. The company recommends it for vehicles that are beyond their warranty period. This is an important point because many automakers will void your warranty if you do not follow their recommended service intervals.

Owners who change their oil themselves and are looking to extend the time between oil changes can safely switch to a 15,000-mile oil and make a lot fewer trips to the mechanic. They also should switch to a high-mileage oil filter, since the factory filter wasn't designed for extended intervals.

By going to an extended-life product, older vehicles, such as a 1998 Ford Mustang — which calls for oil changes every 5,000 miles — could cut back from three changes per year to just one.

Related Articles:
Stop Changing Your Oil
Oil Life Monitoring Systems

VIDEO: Motor Oil — Understanding the Numbers

VIDEO: Motor Oil — Debunking Common Myths

VIDEO: Motor Oil — Conventional vs. Synthetic

To find a dealership that knows how to treat shoppers right, please visit Edmunds.com's Dealer Ratings and Reviews.



  • I more of a question than a comment. I just came out of my Hyundai dealer where I went to do the 45,000 mile maintenance total cost $435.00. I also came out with a list of recomendations that the mechanic suggested, for example flush the stearing wheel oil $99.00, clean fuel injectors $135.00,drive lines fluid service $159.00,ihrutte service $80.00 my car is a 2006 Santa Fe. Can some one tell me please if I have to go and spend another $ 500.00 performing this suggestions in this car? I think that I am being taken for a very expensive ride. I would appreciate anyone's help. Angela

  • law911 law911 Posts:

    You talk about Oil but not oil Filter is it the same time frame as the higher oil changes or do you need to change it in betwene times also

  • salbers salbers Posts:

    Your expose of the automotive oil change scam is on point and long overdue. Your explanation of the variables of oil selection is helpful, but incomplete because you do not address the issue of API ratings. These ratings are specifically provided to help consumers select the correct oil for their engine which nearly all manufacturers reference. Further, since, as you say, oil quality has been rising over the years, I think you'll find the the cheapest oil available nearly always is sufficient to comply with the API rating required for nearly all vehicles. This means that the majority of high priced oils are not cost effective unless they make a contribution to extended oil change intervals. Do you agree?

  • rodneya rodneya Posts:

    I'm not sure I trust the auto manufacturers to have my best interests in mind when they recommend an oil change interval. It's not in their best interest that I drive the same vehicle a quarter of a million miles or more. They want it to be durable enough that I'll buy another one, but they would like me to buy another one every few years. I've always changed my oil at about 3000 mile intervals and my 1997 Chevy S10 pickup now has 205,000 miles on it. The valve covers and oil pan have never been off. It burns a little less than a quart of oil in 3000 miles. I doubt that the engine would have lasted this long with longer drain intervals. Yes, I've paid about $2000 for the 68 or so oil changes, but $2000 won't begin to cover the cost of an engine overhaul.

  • napleshood napleshood Posts:

    The Vlvoline engine guarantee requires a change every 4,000 miles

  • famoster famoster Posts:

    I have a 2001 Passat, had the oil changed at 106,000 so I thought. at 109500 oil light came on when on a banked turn, took to my mech. and found there was not oil in the engine. I use synthetic oil. I believe that on my last oil change, they did not put new oil in at all. Still runs well, Synthetic oil is the only oil to use.

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