How Long Can You Go Without an Oil Change?

How Long Can You Go Without an Oil Change?

Oil naturally deteriorates over time and collects dirt. Additionally, cars are unique because no two cars undergo the exact conditions. Many variables can shorten or extend your oil change frequency.

Oil Change for Newer Cars

Most new vehicles come with oil-life monitors that use sensors to determine when your next oil change is due. These typical oil-life monitors account for harsh driving conditions and adjust your car's estimated oil change interval accordingly.

Oil Change for Older Cars

In older cars, the oil change process is less precise. A variety of conditions can influence your oil change maintenance schedule:

  • Oil Type - Synthetic oils last longer than conventional engine oils.
  • Oil Levels - Top off your oil immediately if below safe levels. Change oil if your lubricant is dirty.
  • Driving Conditions - Rough driving habits, extreme temperatures, uneven terrain, and dirt roads shorten oil life.
  • Engine Type - Diesel engines have shorter oil life because their combustion stroke is much more violent than a petrol engine. Moreover, diesel engines go through more significant strain than their petrol counterparts.

For most people, the best course is to check the vehicle’s owner's manual for the recommended oil change schedule. The manuals have regular and severe schedules you can follow.

Cars exposed to ideal conditions need only follow the regular maintenance schedule in the owner's manual. In contrast, severe maintenance is necessary for cars that are regularly exposed to the following conditions:

  • Heavy towing or track driving.
  • Extreme hot or cold temperatures.
  • Off-roading.
  • Frequent sub-5,000-mile trips in cold weather.

Signs it's Time to Get an Oil Change Soon

Oil changes are extremely important to the health and longevity of your vehicle’s engine. You can run on low oil levels without suffering severe damage. However, there are some signs that indicate when you should prioritize your oil change.

Knocking Engine

A noisy, knocking engine is indicative of poorly lubricated camshafts and valve train. The sound often comes from bad crankshaft bearings. An imbalanced crankshaft or cracked flywheel flex plate can also create a noisy knocking sound.

The Oil Light Turns On

Most vehicle’s instrument panel oil warning light comes on when your oil levels dip below safe levels. In most cases, it will glow yellow if your oil levels are below recommended levels but will glow red if you are below ideal operating oil pressure levels. If your oil light turns red, stop your engine immediately, add oil if needed, and, as soon as possible, conduct a full oil change service.

Burning Odor

If you smell burning oil inside the passenger cabin, your oil levels are likely already low. Without sufficient oil, your engine's components will rub against each other, creating friction and heat. Excess heat will cause the remaining oil to burn up, thus creating a strong burning aroma.

Smoke Under the Hood

If you notice smoke under your hood, it's likely your engine has just overheated. Again, engines are sealed and have little in terms of heat dissipation. Components generate additional heat when they grind against each other, causing the engine to overheat and parts to warp.

Blue or Gray Exhaust Smoke

Blue exhaust smoke commonly indicates that your engine is burning oil because of a leaking valve seal or faulty piston ring. This could mean oil is permeating into your engine cylinders. This is an important indicator because it shows you that your car is consuming more oil than necessary. Do note that an oil change isn't going to solve the issue. You'll need an expert to check your engine.

Dark, Dirty Oil

Oil inherently becomes dirty over time because it picks up dirt and sludge during operation. Dirty oil is a major concern because it affects your oil's viscosity, impeding its protective properties. Make sure to check the oil's texture. If it's smooth, there shouldn't be a cause for concern, especially if you run a diesel engine.

However, if the oil is gritty, it's best to drain and replace your oil and oil filter.

What Happens if You Don't Change Your Oil?

The first thing to understand is that oil is a fluid that has a direct impact on the performance and longevity of your engine. Engine oil performs three primary functions:

    1. Lubricates parts, preventing metal-on-metal contact.
    2. Protects parts from heat, preventing warping.
    3. Ensures free movement, facilitating optimal power transfer and peak engine performance.

If you've been researching engine oil for a while, you've likely read countless times about how oil is the lifeblood of your engine. This is true because, without engine oil, your engine would destroy itself.

Consider the extreme conditions inherent to an internal combustion engine:


Most car engines have a normal operating engine temperature of 195 to 220 degrees Fahrenheit. Engines have many seals and gaskets, preventing heat and pressure from escaping.


Engine parts normally do not have direct contact. Most cars typically idle at 800 rpm. If parts were to come in contact, they'd strike each other at a rapid rate.


Internal combustion yields a series of explosions that create immense pressure. Manufacturers place great focus on building sturdy engines for this reason.

Without engine oil, your engine and its components would be unable to keep these conditions at manageable levels. Putting off your oil change isn't going to yield immediate catastrophic damage. Your engine will not function as efficiently. Moreover, driving after your oil change is due increases the risk of severe engine damage and worsens with each mile.

You'd eventually have a cascade of problems that are often irreversible. Without proper lubrication, engine components would make direct contact, increasing friction, heat, and vibrations.

Engines are sealed and trap pressure. Engines are unable to manage the additional heat generated from metal-on-metal contact. As parts grind against each other, vibrations intensify. This greatly increases the risk of overheating your engine or blowing a head gasket.

Moreover, engine damage that stems from poor oil maintenance is not covered by new vehicle warranties. The irony lies in the excessive repair bill that comes from stretching a dollar by putting off an oil change.

How Many Miles Can You Go Over an Overdue Oil Change?

Many people go 5,000 to 10,000 miles between oil changes, provided that oil levels are at optimal levels. It also depends on whether you've followed the recommendations shown in your owner's manual up to this point. If this is the first time you've been overdue for an oil change, don't fret. Just keep in mind that you'd be missing out on the advantages of a well-oiled engine. Remember that the sooner you change your oil (after it's past due), the better it will be for you, your car, and your wallet.

Find a Caliber Auto Care location

Caliber Auto Care takes the place of your dealership’s service department and your local quick oil and mechanical repair shop with efficient, high-quality auto repair or maintenance services at an affordable price.

We know that scheduling car care services between work, school and play can be a hassle. That’s why we make it as easy and straightforward as possible, offering you neighborhood convenience, superior service, comfortable waiting areas or free local shuttle service and the option of staying in your vehicle for some services while we work. It’s all about meeting your needs and standing behind our work.


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