How Often Should I Really Get the Oil in My Car Changed?

Tero Vesalainen/iStock via Getty Images
Tero Vesalainen/iStock via Getty Images /

Even if your car looks immaculate on the outside, it needs regular oil changes to stay in good shape. Motor oil keeps engine components lubricated and cool as they work to move your vehicle from point A to point B. While waiting too long to refresh your oil can lead to engine damage, changing it too frequently is a waste of money and resources. The good news is that newer car models make it obvious when you're due for an oil change.

According to AAA, most new cars come with oil-life monitoring systems built in. When your oil is no longer doing its job, an alert will pop up on your dashboard. This light—which usually resembles an oil can with liquid dripping from the spout—is your signal to schedule an appointment at an auto body shop. Your mechanic should reset the oil-monitoring system after changing your oil. If you prefer to change it at home, you can reset the system yourself by reading the instructions in the car owner's manual.

The old rule of thumb stated that a car's oil should be changed every 3000 miles or so. This is no longer the case. In most new cars, oil is good for at least 7500 miles before it needs to be replaced. Ford, Volkswagen, Porsche, and certain Toyota engines are built for intervals of 10,000 miles, and BMW engines can run on the same oil for 15,000 miles.

These numbers vary based on your driving habits. "Severe service"—a.k.a. extreme hot or cold conditions, heavy trailer towing, and extensive stop-and-go driving—will wear out your oil faster. In such cases, your oil-monitoring system should adjust the change intervals automatically, so there's no need to do the math yourself.

There's one situation where you are recommended to change your oil before the dashboard signal comes on. If you're an infrequent driver, it may take you a while to rack up mileage on your vehicle. Even when your engine is off, oil can still age, and it should be refreshed at least once a year with or without the maintenance reminder.

The lights on your car's dashboard aren't there for decoration; they send messages that are important to your safety and the health of your vehicle. Here are more common dashboard symbols and the meanings behind them.

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