Wondering how long you can wait in between oil changes before it becomes absolutely necessary? Consider this analogy: The human body needs water to keep everything functioning correctly. Without water, humans cannot survive for long. That is why you must have a certain amount each day. Well, cars are much the same. Without engine oil, your vehicle will not be able to function. So, your vehicle is going to need an oil change eventually. Let’s help you figure out exactly when that is.

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How Long Can a Car Go Without an Oil Change?

Returning to the water analogy, you should by no means wait until your car absolutely needs oil before changing it. When the oil life indicator comes on, it may already be too late. Thus, the general—but somewhat outdated—rule of thumb has been to get an oil change every 3,000 miles or 3 months. Whichever came first.

However, with advancements in technology, new synthetic oil, and more additives, modern vehicles can often go for 7,500 to 10,000 miles before needing an oil change. You should never attempt to go beyond that 10,000-mile maximum.

That said, if you only drive your car 10,000 miles in 3 years, it does not mean that you can wait 3 years for an oil change. Manufacturers recommended getting an oil change at least twice a year, even if you have only driven the car 3,000 miles.

Factors That Determine How Often You Need an Oil Change

In the past, when the 3,000 miles/3 months rule first came about, conventional oil was, well, the conventional choice. Fortunately, things have changed since then. As mentioned, technology has advanced, giving us more fuel-efficient vehicles and superior motor oil formulas.

Still, there are factors that influence how often you need to get an oil change to keep in mind:

  • The vehicle’s make, model, and year. There are a variety of manufacturers and engines out there. Depending on the manufacturer and model, you may need an oil change once every 5,000 miles, not 10,000 miles. Be sure to look in the owner’s manual to learn more about your car, truck, or SUV specifically.
  • Typical driving conditions. Did you know that the start-and-stop nature of city driving is worse for your car than long trips? It’s true. Inner city driving is incredibly hard on the engine, so you may have to get your oil changed more frequently if you do not have longer commutes.
  • Mileage on the vehicle. Older vehicles do not have the same technology as newer models. Plus, high-mileage vehicles tend to go through more oil, which is why high-mileage synthetic oil is such a boon.

Examples

To help you understand the impact of these factors, here is an example:

Car A is a mid-sized sedan from the early 2000s with 100,000 miles on it. The family that owns Car A lives in a suburban community and needs to drive about 45-60 minutes to reach the nearest city. Their car is used on road trips, as well.

Car B is a V8 pickup truck from 2016 that is used for hauling loads from one property to the next in an urban area. There are many traffic lights along the route. Car B also has 100,000 miles.  Despite being newer, Car B has to receive more frequent oil changes, because the engine is undergoing much more stress than Car A.

What Counts as “Severe Driving Conditions”?

It may surprise you that your engine needs more frequent oil changes when you are dealing with severe driving conditions. This means that you will need to change the oil every 3,000 miles or sooner.

Here are some examples of severe driving conditions:

  • Towing or hauling heavy loads or equipment (such as hauling an RV)
  • Driving on dusty or rocky roads
  • Traveling constantly in stop-and-go congestion
  • Going less than 5 miles all the time (or less than 10 miles in freezing temperatures)
  • Frequent cold starts paired with zero warm-up time

Some of these factors you can mitigate or avoid, but others cannot be resolved, such as stop-and-go traffic. The best you can do is prepare for these conditions and ensure that you are changing the oil more frequently.

What Happens If You Do Not Get the Oil Changed?

Let’s say you decide to let your car go without an oil change for 15,000 miles (yes, some cars, like a Honda or Toyota, can last this long). If your car manages to last that long, the engine will probably be close to seizing up. Why? Motor oil is meant to lubricate the engine, but it will start to turn into sludge over time. When that happens, the oil can no longer lubricate the pistons and dissipate heat, leading to the pistons and other elements to freeze up and rub. You end up with warped, worn-down pieces that will need to be completely replaced.

In short, if you do not get your car’s oil changed, you will ruin your engine.

Warning Signs That You Need an Oil Change

Even if you are not entirely sure when to give your car an oil change, there will be signs when it becomes inevitable. Hopefully, you never experience these things, as it could mean your engine is already damaged.

  • Burning smell. If you are driving and start to smell something burning, it could be your engine struggling to perform. This also means that oil may be leaking.
  • Knocking or clanking in the engine. As mentioned earlier, oil is a lubricant that keeps all the pieces of the engine moving without any friction. When oil is no longer doing its job, it may lead to parts of the engine seizing up or knocking together. You will hear this knocking noise prior to the engine overheating and then dying.
  • Oil life warning light. In more modern vehicles, there is something called an oil life warning light on the dashboard (this is not the check engine light). Noticing this light is never a good sign. It generally means that your engine is at risk of damage and needs an oil change as soon as possible. The only place you should drive it next is to the lube shop.
  • Consistency and color changes. When oil is fresh and clean, it is clear and amber-colored. The longer oil is circulating through the engine, the more dirt and grime it picks up. Soon, the oil is gritty and deep brown or black. At this time, you will need to consider getting an oil change. If you remove the dipstick and there is no visible oil on it, then you need an oil change immediately.

Can You Go a Year or Longer Without an Oil Change?

No, you should not wait an entire 365 days before changing your oil. Even if you did not drive your car all that much, the oil will still go bad sitting stagnant. Once the oil has gone bad, it is no longer going to function properly in the engine. As such, any car that has been sitting for a long time should have an oil change prior to driving it for a very long period. Make sure you are changing your oil at least twice a year.

Make Oil Changes Routine

Engine oil is very important. So how long can a car go without an oil change? The recommended period is between 5,000 to 10,000 miles, but some cars can last for 15,000 miles. However, you should avoid pushing your car to this limit, as it can damage the engine. Keep your vehicle running strong and commit to changing your oil at least twice a year or more often, depending on your vehicle and the driving conditions.

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