How Often Should You Change Your Oil?

Updated: Oct. 27, 2023

Think skipping your daily commute means you can skip your next scheduled oil change? Think again.

Between shelter-in-place orders and a greater number of people working from home, road travel is the lowest it’s been in 20 years. Driving dropped as much as 48 percent in the early stages of the pandemic.

If you’ve been driving less often than usual, you may be wondering how your vehicle’s oil change schedule might be affected. Read on to learn why changing your oil is still important, and determine whether you should make any changes to your vehicle’s routine maintenance schedule.

How Often Should You Change Your Oil?

Your vehicle’s manufacturer likely lists a mileage-based (like every 5,000 miles) and a time-based (like every six months) oil change schedule in the user manual. It often recommends changing your oil at whichever interval comes first. Prior to COVID, most people arrived at the mileage-based interval long before the time-based one. So, that’s the figure they relied on.

However, engine oil also degrades with time, so it’s just as important to change your oil when the time-based interval has been reached. The general recommendation is to change your oil every 3,000 to 5,000 miles or every three to six months, with twice a year being the minimum.

Newer vehicles don’t typically require oil changes as frequently as older vehicles, and vehicles that use synthetic oil can go longer without a replacement than those using conventional oil. In any case, you should check your oil at least once a month to ensure it isn’t low or noticeably dirty. Also, find out the cost of an oil change.

What Happens if You Don’t Change Your Oil?

Engine oil naturally degrades over time, so failing to regularly replace it can cause premature engine wear or permanent damage.

Engine oil keeps the moving parts of your engine lubricated. It also contains ingredients that prevent dirt, contaminants, acids and moisture from collecting and corroding your engine. Over time, the anti-corrosive ingredients break down while contaminants and moisture accumulate.

Vehicles that sit unused for long periods are especially vulnerable to engine moisture. This is because they aren’t producing the heat from normal operation responsible for evaporating moisture and condensation. Regularly changing your oil is important. But you should also drive your car for 20 to 30 minutes once a week to clear moisture. Do electric cars need oil changes? No. Battery-powered EVs require less frequent and fewer services than fossil fuel-powered cars.

What Type of Motor Oil Should You Use If You’re Not Driving Much?

Stick to the oil recommended by the vehicle manufacturer, though you may consider synthetic engine oil if you’re not already doing so. Synthetic oil is considerably more expensive than conventional oil. However, it’s more moisture resistant and doesn’t need to be changed as frequently.

Some people may recommend using an oil additive to protect a dormant engine. Keep in mind, however, that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has filed multiple lawsuits against additive manufacturers for false claims and deceptive marketing practices. Use your best judgement if you decide to use an additive. Make sure the one you choose is compatible with your vehicle’s engine oil. Otherwise, it can damage your engine.

The safest and most reliable way to preserve the integrity of your engine oil is to adhere to the oil type and service intervals recommended in the user manual. Part of that means periodically driving your car to burn off excessive moisture.