Auto Care Guide: When to Get an Oil Change

When to get an oil change depends on how much you drive your car and in what conditions. The general rule for changing your car's oil is every 4,00 to 5,000 miles, but your needs may vary. Not changing your oil frequently can result in damage to your engine, so it's important to stay on top of it.

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Rachel Bodine graduated from college with a BA in English. She has since worked as a Feature Writer in the insurance industry and gained a deep knowledge of state and countrywide insurance laws and rates. Her research and writing focus on helping readers understand their insurance coverage and how to find savings. Her expert advice on insurance has been featured on sites like PhotoEnforced, All...

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Written by Rachel Bodine
Insurance Feature Writer Rachel Bodine

Leslie Kasperowicz holds a BA in Social Sciences from the University of Winnipeg. She spent several years as a Farmers Insurance CSR, gaining a solid understanding of insurance products including home, life, auto, and commercial and working directly with insurance customers to understand their needs. She has since used that knowledge in her more than ten years as a writer, largely in the insurance...

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Reviewed by Leslie Kasperowicz
Farmers CSR for 4 Years Leslie Kasperowicz

UPDATED: Jan 15, 2022

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What You Should Know

  • An oil change is recommended every 4,000 to 5,000 miles
  • Older vehicles will need an oil change more frequently
  • Signs that your oil needs changing are irregular vehicle exhaust, increased engine noise, and the check oil light is on

Owning a car comes with benefits like independence, mobility, and freedom. Most travel in the US is highly dependent on roadways, and owning a car makes it easier to get to work given the comparatively long transit time on buses and other public transit.

However, cars also come with costs. Some costs, like accidents, are unpredictable. Others, like monthly auto insurance and fuel, are fixed from month to month.

And then there’s the oil change. While you may be tempted to skip on a routine oil change service, failure to refresh your car’s oil could result in major mechanical problems (and their associated expenses).

So, how do you know when to get an oil change? Most dealerships and oil-change shops recommend an oil change interval between 4,000 and 5,000 miles. But in some cases, your car can last a bit longer.  Read on to learn everything you need to know about changing your oil.

Before you learn more about when to get an oil change, make sure you have the best price for car insurance. Enter your ZIP code above to compare free quotes from top auto insurance companies near you.

General Guidelines for Changing Your Oil

The oil in your car fulfills a variety of roles, including engine lubrication, removal of debris from the engine, and cooling the engine’s components. Bad oil or old oil can mean danger on the road. 

Be sure to change your oil proactively. Does that really mean 4,000 miles? In some cases, that might require getting an oil change on either end of a road trip.

Each car is built differently, but there are still some general guidelines you can follow. 

  • An older vehicle will need more oil changes – The amount you can drive between oil changes can often depend on the age of your car. Some modern engines can drive up to 10,000 miles without an oil change, whereas some older cars may need an oil change every 3,500 miles.
  • More often is usually better – More oil changes mean more visits to the mechanic.  More visits mean more opportunities to check the wear on your brake pads, coolant, and air filter and nip problems in the bud. While vehicle maintenance is important, don’t feel pressured into having more work done than you initially planned when going in for routine maintenance. 

Unfortunately, there’s no car repair insurance that will pay for oil changes. They’re considered routine maintenance, and not paid for by insurance.

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Changing Oil In Severe Driving Conditions

Some drivers may need oil changes more frequently because they drive in severe conditions.

No—we don’t mean thunderstorms and hail. Severe conditions arise most frequently in the course of regular commuting.

You should closely follow the maintenance schedule listed in your owner’s manual if the following apply:

  • You mostly take short trips – Repeated trips of between 3-7 miles require turning your car’s engine on and off quickly throughout the day, which can take a toll.
  • You’re in stop-and-start traffic – High traffic is considered a severe condition as far as your oil is concerned. If you’re commuting during rush hour, your oil will need to be changed much more quickly than if you were going the same distance without the staccato movement.
  • You drive in extreme heat or cold – If you’ve taken a science class, you already know that significant differences in temperature affect matter (including liquids). The same applies to the oil in your car. If you are regularly driving in extreme heat or cold, chances are you should be conservative with your oil change frequency.

Keep an eye on your car’s oil needs so you’re always ahead of the game with oil changes.

Changing Your Oil Reactively

Whenever possible, change your oil ahead of time rather than when it is almost gone. However, life can get busy, and sometimes a routine oil change slips through the cracks. 

If you aren’t keeping up with the oil level in your car and you haven’t tracked the distance driven since your last oil change, your car will let you know.

Look out for the following signs:

  • Irregular vehicle exhaust can indicate motor oil is too old. While a change in vehicle exhaust can mean other things, getting an oil change is the first action step.
  • Increased engine noise often indicates an issue with your oil. The purpose of car oil is to ensure smooth movement under the hood. Listen closely, and you may be able to tell when you’re due for a change.
  • The check engine light may not indicate an engine issue, but rather an oil issue. Obviously, if your car has a check oil light, that will be a better indicator of if and when you need to change your oil.

When to Change Your Car’s Oil: The Bottom Line

Adequate oil is essential to the long-term health of your car, and it should be changed on a regular basis. If you’re looking to save on car costs, look elsewhere—for example, your insurance policy.

Taking out appropriate coverage and getting regular oil changes are two great ways to ensure you’re behind the wheel for years to come. 

Now that you know when to get your oil changed, take a moment to compare auto insurance rates. Enter your ZIP code now for free auto insurance quotes from top companies.

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