Like everything vehicle related, your mileage will vary with regard to how often to change oil. The frequency is based on a number of factors (and not what the local drive-thru oil change shop sign says). The age of the vehicle, road conditions, mileage, and your driving habits all play a role in how often maintenance is required.
Guide to How Often to Change Oil?
For most car owners, following the manufacturer’s recommended oil change interval will suffice, which is generally around 5,000 miles. Also, many newer vehicles come with built-in maintenance reminders. If you’re unsure as to whether to follow a mileage rule or calendar schedule (if you drive less than the annual average of 13,500 miles), checking the oil-life monitor is a safe bet and, if available, can usually be found within your instrument panel settings or under a vehicle maintenance/service/profile menu on a touchscreen display.
Owners of older vehicles can do a simple visual check of oil level and cleanliness every month. The small divot near the dipstick tip will signify recommended oil level. If the oil mark is too low, feel free to top off. But if the oil color is too dark, that indicates dirty oil and time for an oil change.
If you frequently drive in harsh weather and road conditions, you’ll be scheduling more service stops regardless. Because the vehicle and engine are working harder, the oil change interval will be more frequent and lean more toward the 3,000 to 5,000-mile markers. Owner’s manuals will list “severe driving conditions” as frequent short trips of less than 10 miles, stop-and-go driving in extreme weather, long-distance trailer towing, track driving, and driving regularly on rough, uneven, and/or salty roads.
Another thing to consider is the use of regular oil or synthetic oil, the latter of which is increasingly being required in new vehicles. Older vehicles that initially were serviced with conventional oil can switch to synthetics. Industry consensus is that synthetic oils perform better and last longer — anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 miles — before needing replacement but the premium oil also is much pricier than conventional oil or synthetic blends.