How often do you change your oil?

August 25, 2016

Growing up, most of us were told to change the oil in our cars every 2,500 or 3,000 miles. We recently conducted a quick poll, though, and found that few of you still heed that advice--if you ever did.

As you can see, a quarter of you still stick to the script, dutifully carrying out service every 3,000 miles. However, nearly half of you have foregone the wisdom of yesteryear, opting to travel 5,000 miles before switching out the oil.

That's not a bad thing. The oils that our parents and grandparents used were less durable than today's, as were the engines in their cars and trucks. Modern oils and engines can handle a fair bit more abuse.

However, we wouldn't suggest that you follow the example of the three percent who answered our poll with "hardly ever". (Or, as some on our staff say, "as often as we floss".) Changing your oil regularly can extend the life of your engine, and conversely, not changing it frequently enough can lead to a range of serious issues.

The problem is, knowing when to change your oil is an inexact science. The ideal time can change, depending on what, where, and how you drive. For example:

Older cars may need more frequent oil changes: That's in part because older engines lack some of the technology that helps keep newer ones running cleaner.

Stop-start drivers may need more frequent oil changes than highway drivers: There's plenty of debate around this point, but the general idea is that at highway speeds, the engine gets hotter, helping oil to absorb contaminants better than when it's cool. If you spend most of your time driving short distances, the engine may not get hot enough for long enough to help the oil do its work.

Synthetic oils mean fewer oil changes: Conventional oil costs less to replace, but if you can use synthetic in your car, it may be worth the extra bucks--especially if you let mechanics change your oil for you. Some synthetics allow drivers to go 15,000 miles between changes, saving car owners time and money, without sacrificing cleanliness or performance.

To determine when to change your own oil, we recommend doing something that few people actually do: read the manual that came with your car. Nearly every passenger vehicle currently in production has a recommended oil change interval of 5,000 miles or more, and for some, that number is far higher. (If you've lost your manual, you might be able to find stats for your car here.)

Also, if you're fortunate enough to have an oil life monitoring system in your car, keep an eye on it. That may be the best guide of all to tell you when it's time to change up things.

The one thing you shouldn't do if you take your car to a garage for service is to obsess over the oil-change reminder sticker they slap on your windshield. Many shops still push the 3,000-mile rule to ensure a steady flow of customers.

Got any tips or tricks on oil changes you'd like to share? Do so in the comments below.

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