How Often Should You Change Engine Oil?

The Importance of Engine Oil

Engine oil plays a vital role in cars. It ensures that parts move freely and mitigates the effects of extreme engine operating temperatures. Engine oil also reduces friction and the wear of engine parts, which means that it protects the engine's integrity.

You can think of engine oil as synovial fluid (or joint fluid) found between our joints. Without that fluid, our bones essentially grind and wear each other out as we move.

The same principle holds true for engine parts, except the speed at which parts deteriorate is dramatically higher. You need to consider that engine components move exponentially faster than our joints ever could.

For context, most cars idle at around 800 rpm on average. Now imagine your engine's crankshaft, pistons, valve train, and gears rotating at a similar speed. It's easy to see how the heat, contact, vibration, and pressure would destroy an engine without lubrication, heat protection, and shock dampening.

Knowing How Often to Change Oil

The effectiveness of engine oil deteriorates over time. On one hand, drivers need to protect their engine by changing oil routinely. On the other hand, they wouldn't want to waste good oil and hard-earned money. Below are two points of reference to guide you.

For Cars Under Vehicle Warranty

Newer vehicles sometimes come with a pre-installed oil-life monitor that factors in driving conditions and vehicle usage into its oil change intervals. The instrument cluster will then alert drivers when an oil change is due soon. Remember that this notification differs from the red oil pressure warning light you see as you start the engine.

Also, while an oil-life monitor provides an accurate way to determine your oil change frequency, it shouldn't be your sole indicator. Some drivers put only a few miles on their cars, which means their oil-life monitors might not track much deterioration in oil. In this case, it's best to change the oil every 12 months.

For Cars Out of Warranty

If you own an older car or one without an oil-life monitor, your oil change frequency may involve a bit more guesswork. Oil change frequencies fall under two general schedules: regular and severe maintenance.

Regular maintenance schedules apply to drivers who apply good driving habits and travel mostly on properly maintained roads. In contrast, a severe maintenance schedule applies to drivers who:

  • Primarily drive short trips (5,000 miles or fewer).
  • Primarily drive short trips (10 miles or fewer) in freezing weather.
  • Regularly drive in stop-and-go conditions in hot weather.
  • Drive at low speeds for long distances.
  • Travel regularly on dusty, muddy, and rough terrain.
  • Tow trailers for long distances.
  • Drive on tracks.

Owner's manuals always indicate oil change intervals for both types of maintenance schedules.

What Happens If I Don't Change Engine Oil?

Motor oil can sometimes be expensive, but this is one aspect of car maintenance you should never cheap out on. First, you have to understand that oil breakdown is a natural process. Over time, the effectiveness of your engine oil deteriorates. Overlooking this critical detail will lead to a world of headaches that essentially turn your car into a money pit. It's a slippery slope where one problem exacerbates another.

Higher Risk of Overheating

More metal-on-metal contact means greater friction and higher temperatures. The lack of a protective heat-dissipating layer will mean temperatures will hit extreme levels fairly quickly. With high enough temperatures, a piston can even weld itself into the cylinder, destroying your engine. Even if things don't reach this point, components such as wiring, belts, and sensors can also melt.

An overheated engine will never resolve itself and is a very costly repair that will lead to more problems when left unaddressed.

Leads to a Blown Head Gasket

Pressure is proportional to temperature, especially in an internal combustion engine. When an engine exceeds acceptable temperature thresholds, the cylinder head and engine block expand too much. This, coupled with the increased pressure, will cause your engine to blow out a head gasket.

A blown head gasket can also affect the potency of your engine oil. Blown head gaskets often also cause coolant leaks, wherein coolant leaks into your engine's oil pan. Antifreeze thickens the oil, increasing its viscosity. This hinders the oil's ability to flow throughout the engine, which in turn impedes its engine lubricating and protective properties.

Decreased Engine Performance and Fuel Efficiency

A poorly-oiled engine strains harder to produce the same level of power than one that's properly maintained. When you have to step harder on your accelerator to maintain a certain speed, it causes your car to consume more fuel than necessary. Even scarier is the thought of your engine giving out when you need it most, as is the case with overtaking.

Promptly changing your engine oil is a crucial aspect of car maintenance. It is something that is expected of any reasonable car owner because it prevents severe engine damage. Neglecting your oil change intervals will cause severe damage to your engine and will impede vehicle function.

The Benefits of Prompt Engine Oil Changes

Getting your oil change intervals right doesn't just help you avoid migraine-inducing, wallet-draining problems. It also comes with a number of benefits that will make your car ownership and driving experience much more pleasant. A few of these benefits are:

Optimized Engine Performance

When your engine's parts move freely, the transfer of power is likely to be commensurate, if not greater than your engine's strain. This means your engine delivers power at optimal ranges, allowing it to perform up to spec or even better.

Improved Fuel Efficiency

A well-oiled engine doesn't have to work as hard to produce power. This improves fuel economy, allowing you to get more mileage out of a full tank.

Prolonged Engine Integrity

A well-oiled engine's parts also experience less heat, friction, and vibration. These properties preserve the integrity of your engine and its parts, allowing you to benefit from your engine longer. This also means your car spends less time in shops and retains optimal performance for longer.

Don't forget cars with engines in prime condition retain their value far better than cars with bad engines. Cars with bad engines will often lose at least $4,000 in value compared to the same car with a well-maintained engine. Considering these figures, a $35 to $125 (for synthetic oil) oil change bill is infinitely preferable.

Is a Professional Service Worth The Cost?

Changing your car's oil is a straightforward task that most people should be able to do. However, working with professionals affords you a more holistic car care package. Getting a professional oil change will not only guarantee your car receives the ideal engine oil, it will also give you an opportunity to address other maintenance issues to provide a more holistic approach to car maintenance. Why focus only on one aspect of your car's performance when professionals can help you achieve the best possible results?​ That’s where Caliber Auto Care comes in.

Whether it’s a gas- or diesel-powered engine, our expert technicians will take care of the repairs or maintenance your car may need. So don’t risk damaging your car engine. Instead, contact Caliber Auto Care to schedule an engine oil change.

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