What Happens When You Don’t Change Your Oil

What Happens If You Don't Change Your Oil

Your car’s oil helps keep the engine running at peak performance. Changing the oil regularly is an important part of car maintenance, but drivers can find themselves tempted to skip an oil change to save money or time. 

However, that choice not only sets you up for more expensive repairs in the long run, but it also risks your safety — and shortens the life of your vehicle.

Why Is Oil Important?

Your car’s engine works by turning fuel into power through combustion. The different components, such as the pistons, work alongside each other to accomplish this task as efficiently as possible. Oil keeps these parts lubricated, reducing the friction caused by driving and minimizing wear and tear. It also helps to stabilize the engine’s temperature and to prevent overheating.

Over time, the oil collects debris as it moves through the engine and starts to degrade, which stops the components from working smoothly and causes more friction and slowdown. In order for the engine to continue working properly, the old oil needs to be changed out for new. 

What Happens if I Miss an Oil Change?

We’ve all been there — so busy with life, work and responsibilities that we ignore the oil change light. While missing one oil change won’t ruin your car, it can set off a chain of events that will eventually lead to a complete engine failure.

When your car uses old oil for too long, it will experience premature wear and tear of its different components. The debris-filled oil becomes thick and sludge-like, which makes it harder for the engine’s parts to move the way they’re supposed to. 

Friction between parts will increase, causing damage that will either cause a part to work poorly or stop performing completely. You’ll need to pay for replacement parts, which can cost hundreds of dollars in parts and labor. In addition, degraded oil causes your engine to overheat more quickly. If this happens too often, the engine will stop working.

Eventually, the constant grinding of the parts and the friction will cause your engine to lock up. Not only is this a huge safety concern if it happens while driving, but there’s no way to repair an engine once failure occurs. You’ll be on the hook for thousands of dollars for a replacement.

How Often Should I Change the Oil?

As a general rule, your car’s oil should be changed every 3,000 to 5,000 miles. However, the type of oil, model of car and frequency of use can all affect the timeline for an oil change.

There are two main types of oil: synthetic and conventional. Synthetic oil is created from chemical compounds that mimic the properties of conventional oil without the contaminants. Conventional oil is derived from crude oil. 

While synthetic oil is more expensive than conventional, it is designed to last longer and work more efficiently. It’s also useful for people who live in cold climates or drive short distances, because it can warm up and remove contaminants more quickly.

Most modern vehicles use either full synthetic or a synthetic blend, but the exact type and weight of oil is determined by your vehicle’s manufacturer. Check your car’s manual to find the right oil for your vehicle. The auto shop you go to can also provide recommendations. 

If your manual recommends conventional oil, don’t make the mistake of using synthetic; you’ll only waste money because your car isn’t designed to use synthetic oil to its full effectiveness.

Older vehicles tend to have an oil change schedule that’s dictated by the amount of miles driven. (You can find the recommended mileage in your car’s operating manual.) The schedule is divided into two categories: “normal” service and “severe” service. Follow the severe service schedule if you find yourself driving:

  • For primarily short trips (usually 5 miles or fewer)
  • In extremely hot, cold or dusty conditions
  • With sustained stop-and-go movement
  • With heavy loads or for towing

Newer cars are able to go much longer between oil changes  — sometimes up to 10,000 miles. Most newer cars have oil-monitoring systems that keep track of how many miles have been driven since the last oil change and how strenuous the trips have been. While some systems are simply time- and mileage-based, newer versions can also sense when the oil begins to degrade.

When it’s time for an oil change, you’ll see a light pop up on your dashboard, indicating that you need to bring your car in as soon as possible. Other signs can include knocking in your engine, the smell of oil inside your cabin or smoke coming from the exhaust pipe.

Choosing the Right Auto Repair Shop for Your Oil Change

While you can drive into most auto repair shops for an oil change, it’s worth doing your research about the services offered before making an appointment. Shops often offer a variety of complementary services in addition to the oil change itself. These services can include:

  • Inspection of safety items
  • Fluid top-off
  • Tire air-pressure check
  • Engine light check
  • Tire rotation
  • Brake check
  • Battery check
  • Windshield wiper replacement
  • Charging system check
  • Air filter check

By taking the time to shop around, you can find the best oil change package for your budget. Bundled services, like tire rotation and an oil change, can also save you time.

Oil changes are one of the most important parts of your vehicle’s maintenance routine. When done correctly and on the right schedule, you’ll extend your vehicle’s life and keep the components running safely and efficiently. That’s why it’s so important to find an auto repair shop you can trust.

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