How Often Should You Change Your Oil?

checking oil
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If you are a car owner, you know that regular oil changes are a part of the deal. But just how often should you be changing your oil–and what are the consequences if you don’t?

What Is An Oil Change?

Motor oil keeps your vehicle’s moving parts running smoothly, literally, by lubricating them and preventing friction. Over time, that oil gets dirty–a standard oil change consists of unscrewing the drain screw of your vehicle’s oil pan, collecting the old oil, replacing the oil filter with a new one, and adding fresh motor oil.

That’s it. An oil change is not a tune-up, but rather a simple and vital part of maintaining your vehicle.

Key Takeaways

  • Oil changes start at about $20
  • Service costs vary by location
  • You can change your own oil—but that doesn't mean you should

How Much Does An Oil Change Cost?

Oil change costs will vary widely depending on your location, your car’s make and model, and the type of oil you choose. On the cheap end, they’re about $20. Just be advised that while they have your attention (and your presence), a smart auto shop will try to sell you extras, like new wiper fluid or wipers, a tune-up, a car wash–all things you may or may not need, so make sure you know the general condition of your car before heading to the shop.

Can I Change My Oil Myself?

While you certainly can, that does not necessarily mean that you should.

First and foremost, you can’t just (legally) drain your old motor oil and call it a day. As a toxic waste, you must properly collect and dispose of it, be sure to find out your state and city’s local laws on waste disposal before you begin.

If you are a handy DIY-er and know your way around a car, you can figure out how to do an oil change yourself. It’s a relatively simple process, at least as far as car maintenance tasks go.

What Happens When You Don’t Change Your Oil?

It quickly becomes a problem. Old oil can get thick with engine byproducts, losing its ability to lubricate properly. If you hear knocking or vibrations coming from your engine, you may be in some trouble and on your way to a seized engine, which is precisely what it sounds like. Even if things don’t get quite as bad as your car not being able to start, making all of your engine parts do extra work to power your vehicle is a great way to wear them out more quickly, and you could yourself with some pretty costly repairs down the line.

How Do You Know if You Need an Oil Change

There are a few methods to go by to anticipate when it may be time to get that oil changed.

  • Don’t ignore the obvious: Of course, if the “check oil” light is blinking, you don’t need to read this article – get yourself to a garage for an oil change, pronto! In the rare event that your oil doesn’t need changing, a faulty indicator light could be a sign of another problem that you should have inspected sooner rather than later.
  • Check your owner’s manual: Who would better know how often to change a specific car’s oil than the very folks who built it? Your owner’s manual will specify how often you ideally should change your oil depending on your driving behavior.
  • Oil life monitoring systems do the work for you: In some newer cars, your vehicle’s computer will keep track of how often you need an oil change based on the actual driving that you do rather than some preset timeline. If you have one of these vehicles, you don’t have much to worry about in the oil change department.

What About The 3,000 Mile Rule?

The 3,000-mile rule may have been immortalized on many a sticker that mechanics might affix to your windshield after an oil change, but this “rule” is an outdated myth.

It’s much better for the planet and your wallet for you to stick with the info that’s in your manual. Changing the oil more frequently won’t make your car run more smoothly, and will cost you $50-100 each time, on top of the cost of any additional services you buy while you are there and the time you spend driving to and from the repair shop.

Perhaps more importantly, used motor oil is an environmental toxin full of chemicals we should not necessarily be running through unnecessarily. Many cars need a little over a gallon of motor oil per oil change (check your manual to find out your car’s needs), so it’s best to get one only when you need it.

Article Sources

  1. Walmart. "Auto Services," Accessed Oct. 1, 2019.

  2. Environmental Protection Agency. "Managing, Reusing, Recycling Used Oil," Accessed Oct. 1, 2019.

  3. Federal Trade Commission. "Auto Repair Basics," Accessed Oct. 1, 2019.