The oil change: the quintessential car maintenance task. Everyone who owns a car knows something about how changing their vehicle’s oil helps keep the thing running. But just how essential is this piece of maintenance? There seems to be a lot of varying information on what should be one of the simplest regular vehicle maintenance tasks. Because of this, confusion runs rampant surrounding this topic and many different questions arise. When should I really change my oil? Is it actually important to change my oil? I have a certain brand of car, does that mean I can change my oil less frequently? My owner’s manual says I should change it this many miles, isn’t that the best?
In reality, all of this confusion is unnecessary. For the average driver, there’s one thing that needs to be taken into account to determine when they should change their vehicle’s oil: the type of oil. Not the brand of oil, not the brand of vehicle, and certainly not the mechanic that changes it. Your vehicle’s owner’s manual may recommend changing the oil around every 10,000 miles or something similar. However, what most people miss is that this is under what’s referred to as “normal” driving conditions. “Normal” driving conditions should really be called “ideal” driving conditions. Almost nobody who regularly drives a car will experience “normal” driving conditions on any given day.
Normal driving conditions are vague and unspecified in the manual. They go something like this: no driving up hills, no driving down hills, no air conditioning on, no stop and go traffic, no stop signs and traffic lights, no frequent trips under 5 miles, no operating in very cold weather, no operating in very hot weather, and so on. Seems pretty ideal to me. Who doesn’t regularly encounter many of these things? If, somehow, you don’t regularly encounter any of this, you’re good to go on whatever mileage your owner’s manual specifies for normal driving conditions. The other 99% of us fall under the “severe” driving conditions category, and need to follow those recommendations to keep our vehicles in good working order.
So how many miles should you drive before you think about getting an oil change? Since most vehicles operate at about the same efficiency and most drivers drive in about the same conditions, there are very simple guidelines you can follow depending on what type of oil you put into your vehicle. For most people, that oil will be straight up, good old-fashioned, non-synthetic regular oil. Regular oil should be changed after about 3500 to 4000 miles. A little bit fancier synthetic blend oils can go between 4500 and 5000 miles before needing to be changed. Super fancy full synthetic oils can go about 7500 miles between changes (no matter the manufacturer of the vehicle). Remember, all of these numbers are estimates based on averages. Every single vehicle/driver combination is a little different than every other, and will add different amounts of wear and tear to a vehicle’s engine. If you want the best estimate for you personally, talk to your mechanic!
The cheapest, most effective insurance you can get for your engine is regular oil changes at appropriate intervals. Over the life of your vehicle, regular oil changes will save you far, far more money than they cost. Maintaining your vehicle’s engine will also vastly increase its resale value when it comes time to get a new car. More importantly than any of that, regular oil (and fluid) changes are the easiest way to increase the overall safety of yourself and your passengers. What are you waiting for? Get that oil changed!