How to Change Oil

Oil Changing Frequency

Towing heavy loads can shorten the life of your engine's oil.
Towing heavy loads can shorten the life of your engine's oil.
© Bonish

So how often should you replace your engine's oil? Most experts and manufacturers agree that every three months, or 3,000 to 5,000 miles (4,828 to 8,047 kilometers), is the most acceptable. However, some manufacturers like Toyota and Ford say every six months or 6,000 miles (9,656 kilometers) [source: Nagy]. But based on how relatively simple it is to perform this type of vehicle maintenance and how vital it is to your engine, the traditional three months and 3,000 miles (4,828 kilometers) standard is still a good interval for changing out the oil.

There are several schools of thought out there on when to change the oil because oil breaks down at different rates based on its use. For instance, how a vehicle is driven, the environment it's driven in and even city driving vs. highway driving can all affect how long your oil will ultimately last. Extreme temperatures (hot or cold), driving on dirt roads, towing heavy loads or driving your car roughly can shorten the life of your engine's oil.


When your car starts aging, it will most likely begin burning oil, regardless of your driving conditions. This means that you'll need to start checking the engine oil level more frequently to make sure it contains the correct amount of oil or begin regular visits to a local auto maintenance shop to have it checked out. For any car or truck, engine oil levels should be checked every few hundred miles and even more frequently for older cars. Performing this regular car maintenance check-up will ensure that your engine has the proper amount of oil at all times.

Some cars are equipped with warning lights that notify you when certain automotive maintenance needs to be performed. If your car displays a low-oil warning light, don't ignore it. When the light comes on, check the oil level and add the correct amount immediately. Some high-end vehicles are now built with more sophisticated systems that actually let you know when the oil has reached the end of its useful life based on the mileage you've driven and your engine's performance. Again, if your car is letting you know that the oil needs to be changed, don't waste any time.

For more information about changing your own oil and other related topics, follow the links below.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • "How Do I Change My Engine Oil and Oil Filter?" (Nov. 13, 2009)
  • Brauer, Karl. "Oils Well That Ends Well." (Nov. 12, 2009)
  • "Car Talk Service: Oil Changes." March 31, 2005. (Nov. 11, 2009)
  • "The Unofficial DMV Guide - How to Change Your Oil." (Nov. 11, 2009)
  • Memmer, Scott. "How To Change Your Oil: The Real Down and Dirty." (Nov. 11, 2009)
  • Nagy, Chris. "Change Your Oil." AOL Autos. Jan. 27, 2009. (Nov. 11, 2009)
  • "Engine Oil and Filter Change." (Nov. 11, 2009)
  • Wilson, Sue. "Blood in the Body: How is Blood Produced?" (Nov. 13, 2009)