Check Engine

Reliable Vehicle Service & Care Info

Pouring oil into a car during an express oil change.

Do You Know When It’s Time to Change Your Oil?

Getting the oil in your vehicle changed is pretty quick, simple, and can save you a lot of money in the long run. Oil changes are part of the proper maintenance of any vehicle, and not only will they keep your engine running smoothly, which can save you money on gas, but they’ll help prevent the engine from wearing down or breaking by keeping all the moving parts well lubricated. You can get an express oil change at the dealership where you bought your vehicle or from numerous service centers.

Of course, getting an oil change is important, but how do you know when it’s actually time to do so? That is, fortunately, not much more complicated than the oil change process itself and relies on a bit of proactive effort on your part, as well as being aware of how your vehicle is running. Here are a few things to keep in mind and some steps to take to make sure you know when it’s time to go in for that express oil change and keep your vehicle running smoothly.

Check the Oil Level

Perhaps the single best way to stay on top of your vehicle’s maintenance and know when it’s time to go in for an express oil change is to regularly check the oil level. You can do this by opening the hood of your vehicle and finding the dipstick that goes into the oil in your engine and pull it out. Make sure your vehicle is turned off and on level ground when you do this.

Use a rag to wipe the end of the dipstick off, then reinsert it into your engine and pull it out again. This will show you what the oil level in your vehicle is at. You’ll typically see two lines on the stick, one that indicates minimum level and one that indicates maximum level. You want the oil line to be between them – don’t overfill your engine with oil, but you should add more if it is too low.

Man checking his dipstick for oil

Check the Oil Color and Texture

While you are checking the level of your oil, you should pay attention to the color and texture of the oil – you should do this after you wipe it off and get a fresh sample. Good motor oil is fairly translucent and amber in color. If you cannot see the stick through the oil, and it appears dark or black, then you definitely need to go in for an express oil change as soon as possible.

If you’re not afraid to get your hands dirty, wipe a little oil off and rub it between a finger and your thumb. It should feel smooth – after all, the oil is there to lubricate your engine. If you notice grittiness or a rough texture, then it’s probably time to go in for an express oil change.

Pay Attention to How the Engine Feels and Sounds

While you are driving your vehicle, you should always be mindful of how it feels while running and how your engine sounds. If you notice that it is running a bit more choppy than usual, or your engine sounds louder than normal, then you might need to go in for an express oil change. The more you drive your car, truck, or SUV, the more you will come to know how it normally feels and sounds, and changes in that behavior will become more noticeable.

Make sure you let your engine warm up when it’s cold outside before driving anywhere. Otherwise you might notice it feels rougher than normal while it’s warming up and the oil is getting dispersed properly. If the engine stays rough or loud, even with time to warm up, then it may be time for an express oil change.

Watch for the “Check Engine” Light

Your vehicle probably has a Check Engine light somewhere on the dashboard that is meant to warn you about serious issues with your vehicle. If you see this light come on, then you might need to get your oil changed. Any time the Check Engine light comes on, you should consider it a serious warning about a problem and take your vehicle in for an inspection as soon as possible.

Some vehicles have a dedicated Check Oil light separate from the Check Engine light. If you see this come on, then head in for an express oil change to make sure your engine keeps running smoothly.

Pay Attention to Strange Smells

If you notice any strange smells coming from your vehicle while it is running, then this is a big warning sign about something being wrong. It may mean you have an oil leak and that oil is burning on your engine. Some smells can also indicate that you need to get an express oil change because the oil is no longer properly lubricating the engine and it is overheating.

Not only are these smells a warning that something is wrong with your engine, but they can be dangerous to you. If you smell exhaust and other things while in the cabin of your vehicle, then you are breathing potentially toxic fumes. Be sure to open your windows and get fresh air, and get your vehicle in for service as soon as possible.

Keep an Eye on Your Exhaust

This one can be a little tricky, but whenever possible, keep an eye on the exhaust that comes out the rear of your vehicle. Some puffs of white exhaust that disappear can be normal, especially when the weather is cold. But if you see heavy or dark exhaust or anything that looks like smoke, then this is a major warning sign about issues with your car and the engine. You might need to go in for an express oil change, but it could also be a more serious issue.

You’ll probably notice something like this when looking in your rearview mirror while driving. If you suspect you see something, then safely pull over or get to a parking lot. Once it is safe to do so, get out of your vehicle, leave it running, and check your exhaust for yourself to see what it looks like.

Keep Track of Mileage between Oil Changes

Even if everything else about your vehicle is running smoothly, it could still be time to go in for an oil change. Motor oil naturally breaks down over time and does not work as well as it first does. In the past, mechanics would often recommend going in for an oil change about every 3,000 miles. Pending your oil type and driving habits you may get more mileage out of the oil but it is still generally a good idea to get it replaced every 3-5 thousand miles.

Today, however, with synthetic oil and better vehicles, this old rule of thumb may no longer be true. Instead, check the owner’s manual for your vehicle to see how often the manufacturer recommends getting the oil changed, and follow that guideline. When you go in for an oil change, they will often give you a sticker with the date on it, to make it easier to keep track of when you last had the oil changed.

When It’s Time for an Oil Change

Once any of these indicators occurs and it’s time to change your oil, you have a few options available to you. If you are properly set up for it, you can always change your oil yourself. You can also take your vehicle to the dealership where you bought it, if they have a service center, and get an express oil change there. Depending on the details of any warranty you have on your vehicle, you may need to do this to ensure the warranty is not voided by improper care or lack of service.