By Anthony Santiago - Editor-in-Chief

September 25, 2023

Have you ever wondered what the "engine oil change due" light on your dash means?

If your oil service light popped up on your dash, I have the answers you are looking for.

As a car enthusiast for decades, I've had oil changes done at the dealerships, at JiffyLube, Pepboys, Independent shops, and DIYers. I have changed the oil in the driveway and underneath the car. I have also changed the oil using an oil extractor.

I have tons and years of experience with oil, so let's dive in with everything oil.

First things first, oil is important. It's the most important fluid in your vehicle, with the coolant being a close second.

It's a crucial term that pops up on your vehicle's dashboard, and understanding its significance is key to maintaining a healthy automobile engine. 

When the oil light pops up, you should heed this warning light. This might be a good time to use an OBD scanner to read your dash lights as well.

For starters, engine oil ensures smoother operation of your car's engine parts.

When the oil level depletes or if there are any oil leaks, it may lead to friction among these parts, causing engine noise and potentially resulting in significant damage, including a shorter engine life.

You definitely do not want to ignore the oil for too long. If you purchased a vehicle from Carvana, you might have gotten an oil change.

If there is a critical issue, your dash will tell you. An oil change service light reminds you that you should change your oil.

Adhering to recommended oil change intervals isn't something to be taken lightly; it ensures reliable service from your vehicle and helps avoid unnecessary visits to the repair shop.

Not sure when to get that oil change done? A good rule of thumb is to change the oil at least once a year. You can prolong the oil change interval if you don't drive a lot. Remember, oil is cheaper than a new engine if you have engine failure.

Understanding the Importance of an Oil Change

What 'Engine Oil Change Due' Means

When the little light on your dashboard flickers to life, stating "Engine Oil Change Due," it's an alert that your vehicle's engine oil level is low or the oil quality has deteriorated.

You see, your vehicle's engine oil is the lifeblood of your engine. It lubricates various components and aids in dissipating heat, ensuring smoother operation. As time goes on and as you drive, the condition of the oil degrades.

New oil is golden and clear. However, as oil degrades, it becomes dark and thick as it keeps contaminants suspended in the fluid. That is why oil is so dark when you change it.

Did you know that oil gets dark after about 1,000 miles? The color of the oil is not a great indicator of when to change it, but the miles (or kilometers) driven.

The Role of Engine Oil in Your Vehicle

Oil is a lubricant. Engine oil prevents direct metal-to-metal contact between different parts, reducing friction and consequent wear and tear.

Oil also cleans deposits and dirt inside your engine and helps keep it cool by transferring heat away from combustion cycle components. Without oil, your engine will seize up and overheat due to friction.

During this driving process, the oil undergoes substantial thermal and mechanical stress, which decreases its viscosity as it heats up, causing it to become thinner versus when it is cold.

It's common practice to use thinner oil in the winter or cold months and thicker oil in the summer. If the oil is too thin, it will not be able to lubricate correctly, and you risk damaging your engine.

If the oil is too thick, it might not flow fast enough to the critical passages in your engine block and lubricate important parts like a turbocharger.

Why Regular Engine Oil Changes are Crucial

Regularly changing your car's engine oil is critical for several reasons:

  • Longevity: Fresh oil reduces friction between moving parts, leading to fewer repairs needed over time—even possibly extending the overall automobile lifespan.
  • Performance: Well-lubricated engines deliver better fuel efficiency than those running on old or impure oils.
  • Prevention: Changing the type of oil used and replacing the filter can prevent potential issues like external leaks often caused by faulty valve cover gaskets.
  • Safety: If left unattended for long enough, low fluid levels could cause an illuminated oil pressure light—an indication of an overworked oil pump and a dangerously overheated engine.

Risks of Ignoring the 'Engine Oil Change Due' Warning

Neglecting the 'Engine Oil Change Due' warning light is akin to playing Russian roulette with your car's engine health.

Over time, old and dirty oil leads to increased friction in an automobile engine, which could cause serious damage, such as overheating and shorter engine life.

Ignoring this warning light might also decrease fuel efficiency because dirty oil makes an engine work harder than necessary. And let me tell you, being stranded during a road trip due to an ignored 'oil change due' indication isn't fun!

Neglecting to change the engine oil can have several detrimental effects on an engine.

Here are the top main consequences of not changing your engine oil:

  1. Increased Engine Wear and Tear:
    • Lubrication: Oil is a lubricant for the engine's internal moving parts, reducing friction and preventing wear. As oil ages, it loses its lubricating properties and can no longer protect the engine effectively.
    • Contaminants: Over time, the oil can accumulate dirt, metal shavings, and other contaminants. If the oil isn't changed, these contaminants can cause abrasion, accelerating wear on engine components.
  1. Sludge Buildup:
    • Sludge Formation: Old, degraded oil can lead to sludge formation. Sludge can block oil passages and prevent oil from reaching critical parts of the engine, affecting its performance and efficiency.
    • Decreased Engine Efficiency and Performance because of Oil Breakdown: As engine oil breaks down, it can become thicker and less effective. This can make the engine work harder, resulting in reduced fuel efficiency.
  • Critical Component Damage: With prolonged use of old oil, critical components like bearings, camshafts, and crankshafts might get damaged due to lack of lubrication. In extreme cases, this can lead to engine seizure, where the engine stops functioning altogether.
    • Potential Engine Failure due to Blocked Passages:

How Often to Change Engine Oil?

Based on Mileage or Time?

Did you know that shorter engine life could be due to not changing your automobile engine's oil often enough? Yup! It's essential for reliable service from our cars.

'Oil change intervals' (OCI), as they're known in automotive maintenance circles, are usually based either on mileage driven or time elapsed – whichever comes first. For example, many manufacturers suggest changing the oil every 6 months or 5,000 miles.

For most vehicles today, manufacturers recommend an interval between 5k-7k miles or every six months, whichever comes first for best results.

However, those numbers aren't set in stone! Suppose you notice warning lights such as an 'oil change light' or 'oil pressure light' or hear unusual engine noises. In that case, it might mean your car needs an earlier visit to its repair shop!

However, advancements in technology have changed over the years; newer vehicles can often go from 5,000 to 10,000 miles between changes. Modern engines now use full synthetic oil, which lasts longer and does not break down faster than conventional oil.

IMPORTANT: Don't take these intervals as gospel truth! Monitor fluid levels regularly via dipsticks for more accurate insight on when to head to the repair shop.

So next time you see that 'Engine Oil Change Due' sign, take it seriously. It's not just a light on your dashboard but an important maintenance item to address to keep your vehicle running smoothly for years to come.

Warning Indicators to Check on Oil

In automotive maintenance, it's crucial to recognize when your vehicle signals that it needs an oil change. Let's dive into some key indicators that suggest your engine oil requires attention.

How long can you drive without an Oil Change?

  1. Conventional Oil: Most older vehicles that use conventional oil typically recommend changing the oil every 3,000 to 5,000 miles (4,800 to 8,000 km).
  2. Synthetic Blend: This is a mix of conventional and synthetic oils. It offers better protection and longevity than conventional oil but not as much as full synthetics. Vehicles using synthetic blend oils might have oil change intervals in the range of 5,000 to 7,500 miles (8,000 to 12,000 km).
  3. Full Synthetic Oil: Modern vehicles, especially those with turbochargers or designed for high performance, often require or recommend synthetic oils. These oils can last longer than conventional oils, with many manufacturers suggesting intervals of 7,500 to 15,000 miles (12,000 to 24,000 km) or more. However, always follow the vehicle's specific recommendations.
  4. Driving Conditions: If you often drive in harsh conditions—such as frequent stop-and-start traffic, very hot or cold climates, towing heavy loads, or driving on dirt roads—you might need to change the oil more frequently. These conditions can cause the oil to degrade faster.
  5. Oil Life Monitoring Systems: Many modern vehicles come with oil life monitoring systems that measure multiple factors to determine when an oil change is necessary, rather than relying on a fixed mileage interval. These systems can adjust the recommended interval based on your driving habits.
  6. Age of the Vehicle: Older vehicles, especiallwith internal wear or or have accumulated deposits over time, might benefit from more frequent oil changes.

You can also check the vehicle's owner's manual for the manufacturer's recommendations for the type of oil your vehicle uses.

Even if the car is driven infrequently and doesn't accumulate many miles, it's a good practice to change the oil at least once a year to remove any accumulated moisture or contaminants in the oil.

If you miss an oil change, you should aim to change the oil within 2,000 miles. That is still pushing it, but most oils have detergents that will help keep carbon buildup in the engine. If you are over by one year, you should try an engine flush to help remove any deposits.

Frequent Oil Changes Can Reverse Sludge Buildup

Remember, frequent oil changes can help REVERSE oil sludge. An OCI of 2,000 - 3,000 miles with a high detergent oil like Shell Rotella T6 has been shown to clean up the valve covers.

Differentiating Normal from Critical' Oil Change Due' Indicators

Some signs are more critical than others when it comes to determining whether your car needs fresh engine oil right away or can hold out until its regular service interval. Let's look at a few examples:

  • The Oil Pressure Light: If this warning light comes on while driving, it means that either there isn't enough fluid moving through your system (due possibly to low levels) or that something is wrong with your vehicle's ability to circulate it (potentially indicative of a broken pump). Either way, you should head straight to a reliable service center. Yellow means low oil, but red oil means low oil pressure.
  • Smoke from Exhaust: While some vapor from your exhaust pipe is normal, especially during colder weather, any smoke is a cause for concern and could indicate an issue with the type of oil or weight of oil being used.

Being mindful of these warning indicators can help ensure a longer, healthier life for your automobile engine.

Ignoring an Engine Oil Change Can Lead to Major Repairs

Procrastination in automotive maintenance might seem cost-effective short-term. Still, it could lead to expensive repair shop visits down the line.

I am guilty of this, too, but you should change your oil on time.

Skipping regular checks of your type of oil can also result in unwanted surprises, such as discovering leaks too late or finding out that your car has been running low on oil. These issues can cause further damage to your engine and shorten its life.

So next time you consider ignoring it, remember - you could be staving off potential costly repairs and ensuring your vehicle performs at its best.

The Process of Changing Engine Oil

Steps in the Engine Oil Change Process

Changing your engine oil isn't as complex as it seems. Here's how I do it:

  1. First, I warm up my car to get the oil flowing. It's easier to drain out.
  2. Next, I park on a flat surface and set the parking brake to secure the vehicle.
  3. Then, using a floor jack, I safely lift my car off the ground.
  4. With my safety goggles, I position an oil catch pan underneath my vehicle's oil pan.
  5. Carefully unscrewing the drain plug with a wrench allows me to let the old oil flow into the catch pan.

It can take a few minutes for all that old oil to drain completely.

  1. While waiting, I usually remove and replace my engine's old oil filter with a new one.
  2. Once drained fully, I then screw back in place securely before lowering my car from the jacks.
  3. Finally, filling up with fresh new engine oil completes this process.

Remember always to check your fluid levels after doing any automotive maintenance yourself!

Let's cover the typical cost of an oil change.

Typical Cost of an Oil Change

Honestly, I'll be upfront: changing your oil isn't free. The typical cost can range anywhere from $30 to $150, depending on your vehicle type and the weight of oil used.

But here's where it gets interesting: think about this expense as a form of insurance for reliable service from your car - because it truly is! Regularly investing in this preventative automotive maintenance can save you big bucks down the line by preventing severe engine damage or even a shorter engine life.

Where to Get an Oil Change

You may be wondering where to get this done without breaking the bank. Any reputable repair shop should do just fine. Some people prefer dealerships, while others swear by their local mechanic shops.

It really depends on what suits you best.

My neighbor uses JiffyLube for his vehicle, which works fine for him. It's better to get the oil changed than to wait for the perfect time.

I opt to do the work myself, but I have the tools and experience. In fact, I recently did an oil change for my CLA250. Check it out here.

Regardless, ensure they check your oil level, other fluid levels, and essential components like the oil filter during each visit. Be sure to change your filter as well, too.

Final Thoughts: Oil Changes Are Important

Let's bring it all together now. Understanding what the "engine oil change due" warning light means is crucial to ensure a longer and more reliable service from your automobile engine.

First things first, when that oil change light flickers on your dashboard, don't panic. It's merely a sign that your engine oil level might run low or the quality has deteriorated over time. Regularly checking this fluid level is an integral part of automotive maintenance.

Remember, neglecting to change your engine oil can lead to serious problems like external oil leaks and increased engine noise. If you're about to embark on a road trip or it's been a while since your last visit to the repair shop, take this as a signal to get an oil check.

Next up - knowing when to do an oil change isn't just about watching for lights or monitoring levels. Keeping track of your miles driven between changes also matters greatly! Oil change intervals can vary based on factors like the type of oil used and individual driving habits.

If you ever spot an unexpected warning light while driving or hear any unusual noises under the hood - don't ignore them! Problems with parts such as the valve cover gasket may cause these symptoms and indicate potential issues with your original engine.

A word of advice: Always watch for signs of trouble - be it through warning lights such as the "oil pressure light," sudden changes in performance, or visible signs like oil leaks around the car. And remember - different weight oils suit different vehicles, so always make sure you're using what's best for yours!

So remember, maintaining regular checks on our vehicle's engine health isn't rocket science after all! It's all about staying tuned into our vehicle's signals and keeping up with routine maintenance tasks.

Doing so extends our vehicle's life and ensures a safer, smoother ride for ourselves. So next time you see that 'oil change due' light, you'll know exactly what to do!


How many miles after the oil change is due?

At least once a year is a good rule of thumb. However, depending on how demanding your driving is, such as stop-and-go traffic or towing, I recommend changing between 5,000 - 7,500 miles.

You can drive a few thousand miles over if you get a service light, but I definitely suggest changing it within 3 months.

What happens when engine oil is due?

Typically, oil changes replace the old oil as well as the filter. As time goes on, the oil degrades, and the performance decreases. In addition, the oil acts as a lubricant for your engine's metal-to-metal surfaces so that any metal particles will be suspended in the oil. Removing all the old oil is good practice.

What to do if you change your oil but it still says the oil change is due?

This typically means that the service interval for the oil needs to be reset. You can search YouTube for how you can do it yourself. Most modern vehicles enable you to reset it without a scanner.

Is it OK to change different brands of oil?

Yes, is it okay to change brands? What matters most is the oil weight and the oil change intervals. I recommend using oils that meet certain standards by the manufacturers, especially if you have a turbo since the engine has more strain.

Is it OK to switch engine oil?

Yes, you can top up and mix oils as long as they are the same weight. Engines are designed with specific tolerances that allow oil to flow correctly in different temperatures.

Does brand matter in engine oil?

Ideally, yes. You want to select an oil the manufacturer recommends for the best performance. However, you can add oil if you are low in a pinch.

Do oil additives work?

Yes, there are oil additives that help combat friction and noisy lifters. However, many additives are snake oil.

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Anthony Santiago - Editor-in-Chief

About the author

I am a passionate car enthusiast who likes to help people save money and avoid headaches when it comes to cars. I believe that everyone can find the right car at the right price. I share my tips and experience so you can learn quickly and maximize your next SUV, truck or car purchase.

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