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Unless you're driving an electric vehicle, changing your car's oil is the car ownership equivalent of going to the dentist every six months for a cleaning , your mechanic cleans everything out and checks for any potential issues that need to be addressed.

Until recently, it was standard practice to change your car's oil every 3,000 miles, but advancements in oil blends and automotive technology mean it's no longer as easy to know how often to change your oil.

Changing your oil too often won't hurt your car, but will hurt your budget. On the other hand, not changing it often enough can hurt both your car and your budget. Read on to know exactly when to change your oil at a AAA-approved auto repair facility.

Oil Change Schedule

You should generally change your oil every 5,000 to 7,500 miles or once a year.

When to change your oil depends on several factors:

  • Your driving habits
  • Where you live
  • Your car's age
  • The type of oil used

Consult your car's owner's manual for the most accurate oil change schedule. If you don't have your owner's manual, you can find it online.

Normal vs. Severe Service

How you drive your car and where you live impacts how frequently you should change your oil. Older cars typically base oil change intervals on mileage and often include two maintenance schedules for different driving conditions: normal service and severe services.

Severe service involves operating your car under one or more of the following conditions:

  • Trips that are less than five miles
  • Climates that have extreme temperatures, sand and dust
  • Continuous stop-and-go traffic
  • Towing or carrying heavy loads

If you drive your car under severe service conditions, use the more rigorous schedule for oil changes. If your driving habits fall under normal service, you may not need to have an oil change as often.

Newer Cars

Newer cars have oil-life monitoring systems that alert you on the dashboard when an oil change is needed. Early versions of this technology were based purely on time or mileage between oil changes, but current systems are capable of analyzing factors like driving conditions to determine when the oil needs to be changed, eliminating the need for normal and severe service maintenance schedules.

If you have an oil-life monitoring system in your vehicle, your service technician will reset it. If you change your oil, follow the directions in your owner's manual to reset the system yourself.

Types of Car Oil and When To Change Them

Modern engines undergo rigorous testing to meet exacting standards, and as a result, they require specific oils that meet industry and manufacturer specifications for long service life.

When choosing the right oil, look for an oil that matches the specifications in your owner's manual. Specifically, the oil you select should:

Your auto repair shop can provide information on your vehicle's recommended oil specifications as well.

Conventional Oil

Conventional motor oil is the most common and is made from refined crude oil. It's a great option for driving under normal service conditions, and drivers often prefer it because it's cheaper than the other types of car oil.

However, conventional oil requires more frequent oil changes (generally every 5,000 miles) because it breaks down faster than the other types of car oil.

Synthetic Oil

Synthetic oil is an oil created entirely in a lab from chemical ingredients. Because it is engineered rather than refined, it:

  • Doesn't break down as quickly as conventional oil
  • Contains fewer natural impurities that form into sludge over time
  • Is more viscous at extreme temperatures
  • Flows faster through the engine

These factors make synthetic oil better for severe service conditions and high-performance or high-mileage engines. Mechanics also recommend it for older engines that need additional protection from damage.

Synthetic oil is more expensive than conventional oil, but since you'll be changing your oil every 10,000 to 15,000 miles based on the formula, you may save money with fewer oil changes over the car's lifespan. As the time between oil changes increases, you may need to pay a visit to your mechanic to replace the air filter to filter out dust and debris so it doesn't enter the engine..

Semi-Synthetic or Synthetic Blend Oil

Synthetic blend oil is a mix of conventional and synthetic oil, making it a middle-of-the-road option in terms of performance, price and oil change frequency (every 6,000 miles).

How To Check Your Oil Level

While oil can last longer between changes, not getting your oil changed as often makes checking your oil level regularly more important. You should check your oil level at least once a month to ensure you aren't leaking any oil.

Keeping an eye on your oil level will help you avoid costly car repairs. If your oil level drops too low, it can cause damage that isn't covered by your new-car warranty.

To check your oil level:

  1. Park on level ground.
  2. Turn the car off.
  3. Pop the hood.
  4. Remove the oil dipstick from the engine. (Your owner's manual can tell you where to find the dipstick and how to remove it)
  5. Wipe the dipstick with a clean, lint-free cloth.
  6. Reinsert the dipstick fully before removing it again.
  7. Read the oil level. The high and low marks should be identified and as long as the oil level is within that range, you don't need to add any oil.
  8. If you are low on oil, add half a quart at a time, repeating steps 5-7 until the oil is within the limits indicated on the dipstick.
  9. Wipe the dipstick one last time with your lint-free cloth.
  10. Reinsert the dipstick and attach it securely.
  11. Close the hood.

What Happens If You Don't Change Your Oil?

Your engine contains several moving parts, and engine oil protects and cleans them while cooling your engine. While you can go a few miles over or a few weeks past the suggested oil change intervals, going an extended time without changing your oil can have several negative consequences:

  • Overheated engine: While your coolant does most of the work keeping your engine cool enough to run, engine oil cools parts of the engine coolant can't. As oil degrades over time and use, it loses its ability to absorb heat, causing the engine to overheat. This can warp parts of your engine or cause oil to burn off, releasing toxic chemicals into the air through your exhaust pipe.
  • Damage to engine components: Oil acts as a lubricant protecting the various moving parts of your engine by reducing friction. As oil deteriorates, the moving parts will experience more friction, speeding up the regular wear and tear process. A banging sound in the engine may indicate damage has occurred.
  • Dirt buildup: Oil picks up small particles and debris like dust or sand as it moves through the engine. An oil filter removes most of those particles from the oil, but over time the debris may cause the oil to turn into a thick sludge, limiting its ability to move through the engine. In extreme cases, the damage caused by dirty oil can necessitate replacing the entire engine.
  • Decrease fuel efficiency: As oil loses its ability to do its job, your engine is forced to work harder. As a result, you'll need more fuel to move the car, negatively impacting fuel economy.
  • Voided warranty: Your car's warranty guarantees that the manufacturer will replace damaged parts if they wear out before they should, but there's one caveat , you have to stick to the maintenance schedule. Not following the manufacturer's maintenance schedule can void your warranty, leaving you footing the bills for expensive engine repairs.


Here are some answers to other FAQs related to oil changes to help you make the best decision for your vehicle.

What is an oil change?

During an oil change, a mechanic removes used motor oil from your vehicle's engine and replaces it with new oil. They will also replace the old oil filter with a new one to ensure your oil stays clean over time.

While they have your car, most mechanics will also do a safety check on your lights and tires and a quick inspection of other parts of your vehicle to make sure everything is working correctly.

How much does an oil change cost?

An oil change can cost anywhere from $20 to $100, depending on where you get your oil changed and the type of oil you select.

Changing your oil yourself is the cheapest way to change your oil, averaging about $40. However, you'll have to dispose of the oil responsibly.

How many miles can you go over an oil change?

Oil change intervals aren't exact, and your driving habits can impact how frequently you need an oil change, so you can go a little over the recommended limits.

However, if your oil-life indicator light illuminates, you should schedule an oil change ASAP to prevent damage to your engine.

What should you rely on to determine when to change your oil?

Always defer to the maintenance schedule in your owner's manual for oil change intervals. While oil-life indicators are helpful, they are not always accurate.

How often should you change your oil filter?

Always defer to the recommendations in your owner's manual. Most manufacturers suggest replacing your oil filter at every oil change to keep your engine running at its best.

Does oil go bad if you don't drive your car?

Engine oil will go bad if you don't drive your car. Conventional oil can separate, and dust and debris can cause it to clump. You should always change the oil once a year even if you don't meet the minimum number of miles.

Use a AAA-Approved Facility for Your Next Oil Change

If your car needs an oil change, bring it to one of AAA's nearly 7,000 Approved Auto Repair Facilities. Our approved facilities have met AAA's high standards for technician training and certification, insurance coverage, appearance and customer satisfaction.

In addition, AAA members qualify for special benefits, including discounts on labor, an extended 24-month/24,000-mile parts and labor warranty, and support.

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