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Car Oil Changes:
How Often and When Should You Change Your Oil?
It may not seem like it, but motor oil is one of the most essential components to keeping your car on the road. Clean and regularly changed oil helps provide the lubrication necessary to keep all the parts of your engine running smoothly and keep your engine from overheating. Oil also collects the byproducts that regular combustion produces, ensuring they don't lower your car's fuel economy or power. Regular oil changes are one of the best ways to keep your car in proper working order; if neglected, your oil could turn into sludge, damaging your engine and possibly rendering your car completely non-operational.
How Often Should You Get an Oil Change?
Every vehicle is different, but you can follow some general guidelines to ensure your engine stays in the best shape possible. So when should you change your oil? It's best to do it consistently, preferably every 3,000 to 10,000 miles. But this number can vary. Your vehicle's specific oil change frequency will depend on several factors, including:
- Type of Oil: For many years, conventional oil was the only option you had when getting an oil change. With the advent of synthetic oil, you can now go much further in between changes, with some brands lasting up to 20,000 miles. Synthetic oil is also far better for your engine, with advantages that include the following:
- Keeping your engine cleaner by containing fewer impurities
- Resisting the formation of sludge and deposits in your engine
- Flowing better at low temperatures
- Protecting your engine at high temperatures
- Type of Car: Some vehicle types need oil changes less often, like hybrid vehicles. Because the gasoline engine gets a break due to sharing the workload with its electric counterpart, hybrid cars can go much further between oil changes. These cars also have a lower risk of engine failure due to the reduced stress they experience.
- Vehicle Use and Purpose: Depending on what you use your vehicle for, you may need to get oil changes more frequently. If your car is used for commercial driving or heavy towing, that will likely put more stress on your engine and cause more buildup in your oil. Vehicles used for off-roading or racing will also experience rougher driving conditions and more oil contaminants. You can avoid engine damage and failure during operation by changing the oil more often.
Oil Change: Time vs. Mileage
There are two basic metrics by which you can determine when you need an oil change: time and mileage. When you go in for a professional oil change, you'll notice a sticker on your windshield. This sticker usually has the current mileage along with a higher mileage and future date. These are the technician's recommendations for when you should come in next, but how many miles between oil changes usually ranges between 3,000 to 6,000. Time estimates are slightly different, with automotive techs recommending between three and six months.
Oil change estimates are usually a general recommendation and not a hard requirement. There are a few reasons your car may not need oil changes as frequently, including:
- Your vehicle may be newer and require oil changes less frequently
- You use synthetic oil
- You rarely drive your vehicle
- Your driving behavior doesn't stress your engine
Even if you infrequently drive your car, getting regular oil changes is still a good idea. Check your oil once every month or two to see whether it's dirty, and try to get an oil change at least twice a year. If you don't, you could do serious damage to your car.
What Happens If You Don't Change Your Oil?
If you wait too long between changes, your oil can become sludge. This thick and slow-moving substance is awful for your engine and can slow down the moving parts that make it function. This can have several consequences, including:
- Damaging Your Engine Components: Some of the functions of your motor oil are to soak up excess heat and lubricate your engine so it can move properly. Once the oil gets old, it can no longer complete these functions, leading the internal components to damage each other during operation. As these parts warp and grind, your engine may begin to seize up and fail. If the damage is extensive enough, getting an entirely new engine is the only fix.
- Blowing Your Head Gaskets: Head gaskets help seal your engine's combustion chamber, allowing it to build compression and maintain engine power. Coolant and oil can leak into other engine parts if these gaskets blow. This will cause overheating and increase the possibility of a fire breaking out. Repairing a head gasket is costly, and far more complex than a simple oil change.
- Lowering Your Fuel Efficiency: Oil is responsible for keeping your engine clean, which allows it to run to its full potential. As combustion occurs, oil and your air filter capture byproducts and other debris that can slow your engine down. If your oil and air filters get old, they can no longer complete this function, which causes your engine to struggle as it powers your vehicle.
- Void Your Warranty or Lease: Many warranties and leases have a clause requiring the driver to get regular maintenance. This maintenance almost always includes regular oil changes; failing to do this could void your warranty or lease. For a warranty, that could mean that certain repairs will not be covered if they are required. For a lease, it could mean losing ownership of your car altogether.
If left for too long, old oil can even cause complete engine failure. This would make your car useless and require you to replace the entire engine or get a new vehicle altogether. Checking whether a car has been appropriately maintained is very important when looking at used vehicles; that's why getting a vehicle history report is vital.
Vehicle history reports can give you valuable insight into any available car's history, including details like:
- Vehicle Overview
- Title History
- Sales History
- Location History
- Residual Values
- Junk/Salvage Records
- Insurer "Total Loss" Records
- Auto Specs
- Title Brands (Problem Checks)
- Mileage Information
- Awards and Accolades
- NHTSA Crash Testing and Recall Data
- And Much More!
This can help you ensure the seller has taken proper care of the car and confirm they are being honest about the vehicle's history. Without a report, it's easy to fall prey to a car-buying scam or overpay for a damaged vehicle.
Oil Change Frequently Asked Questions
How Often Should I Change My Oil?
Knowing how often to change the oil in your car depends on your vehicle type, what oil you use, and what you usually use your car for. You'll want to change your oil every 3,000 to 5,000 miles or every three to six months. Every year, you'll average between two and four oil changes; this number can be higher if your car is used for more rugged purposes.
If you are concerned about your oil's current status, you can check it using the oil dipstick. Simply remove the dipstick, wipe off the residual oil, and reinsert it to get an accurate reading. When you remove it again, check that the oil line is above the minimum line and below the maximum line. If the oil is below the minimum or incredibly dirty, it may be time to add oil or get a complete change.
How Many Miles Can You Go Over an Oil Change?
The recommended mileage or time between oil changes can be exceeded a bit without much consequence. Still, you don't want to go more than 1,000-2,000 beyond the recommendations set by your automotive technician. To be safe, you should change the oil before reaching the limit, though that isn't always possible. You should also not exceed the recommended change time if you frequently have rougher driving conditions. This includes:
- Extremely cold or extremely hot weather
- Poorly maintained roads made of gravel, sand, or dirt
- Frequent heavy towing or hauling
- Stop-and-go traffic, like one experiences driving in the city
You should also pay attention to the dashboard warning light that indicates when your oil needs to be changed. If you wait too long past your recommended date or mileage, and your warning light comes on, that means that your oil quality has significantly deteriorated. Unless you want your engine to suffer damage, you'll want to take it in for an oil change immediately.
Is it OK to Change Oil Once a Year?
Most automotive technicians recommend you change your oil more than once a year. If you drive less than 6,000 miles annually, it may be okay only to get a single oil change each year, but you risk possible damage to your engine. Contaminants, moisture, and other particulate matter can get into the oil over time, even if you rarely use your vehicle.
To be safe, you should try to get an oil change every three to six months. Vehicles can sometimes go up to 10,000 miles (and beyond) without getting an oil change, but that is usually in optimal driving conditions. Severe driving conditions, on the other hand, can mean more frequent oil changes. These conditions include driving in high humidity, extreme temperatures, poor quality roads, heavy towing, or frequent idling/stopping. Getting an oil change once a year is not recommended if you are driving in any of these conditions.
How Much Does an Oil Change Cost?
While prices will vary depending on the area you live in, and what type of car you drive, the average oil change costs between $15 and $65. You can also expect to pay more for higher quality oil and any auxiliary services like a new oil filter. Labor costs can also vary depending on the automotive professionals you visit, with higher-end services charging more to compensate their experienced technicians.
Can You Change Your Oil Too Often?
Technically, changing your oil more often than is necessary won't damage your engine. But, it is a waste of time and money and isn't the most environmentally conscious way to go about vehicle maintenance. Oil reclamation and processing are expensive, and the EPA estimates that 200,000,000 gallons of used oil are not correctly disposed of each year. By changing your oil more frequently, you are wasting oil that could still be used and putting further strain on the recycling process.
If you are concerned about your oil's quality, you can check it once every few weeks to make sure it's clean. If the oil is below the minimum line on your dipstick or has taken on a dark and dirty appearance, that will signify it's time for a change. Checking your oil frequently and sticking to a regular maintenance schedule is the optimal way to ensure your engine runs smoothly.
Is Synthetic Oil Better for Your Car?
Overall, synthetic oil is better for your car (and engine) than conventional oil. While conventional oil is perfectly adequate at lubricating the moving parts of your engine, synthetic oil has several advantages. These include:
- Higher Chemical Stability: Synthetic oil has a higher viscosity, which means it changes less and withstands temperature changes during engine operation. High viscosity also means excessive friction and wear don't destabilize the oil, helping it retain its lubrication properties.
- Slower Oxidation and Acidification: Conventional oil is prone to the chemical degradation associated with oxidation, which leads to a higher volume of combustion byproducts, fuel/water contamination, and particulate matter. This, plus its propensity to acidify quickly, means that conventional oil will turn to sludge far more quickly than its synthetic counterpart.
- brakes Down Slower and Protects Longer: Because conventional oil is made of minerals, it is more volatile than synthetic oil. This makes it break down more quickly, especially in extreme temperatures. Synthetic oil also has a longer lifespan, lasting between 5,000 and 7,000 miles on average. Some synthetic oil can even last up to 25,000 miles, far outpacing the expected lifespan of conventional oil.
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