Changing your car engine oil keeps it running efficiently and prevents against damage. If the oil is in bad condition, warning lights are on, or the engine is making strange noises, get your car oil changed right away.
Knowing when your car needs an oil change can be difficult, especially when the little sticker the technician put on your window peels off in the sun. Then what? How will you ever know when your next oil change is due? Don’t sweat the small stuff – these are four signs that your car needs new oil.
Oil level and condition
Back in the good old days, people had to check their oil all the time. Engines weren’t built as well, so they sucked down oil like your morning cup of joe. Nowadays, we're spoiled by our hassle-free cars and rarely bother to check the oil. Heck, many of us don’t don’t even know where the dipstick is! But checking your oil is still a good practice: it helps you make an informed decision about when your next oil change is due. The color of the oil on the dipstick is a reliable indicator of your oil condition. If the oil is anything other than honey or amber colored, or the level is below the full mark on the dipstick, you’re due for an oil change.
Illuminated maintenance reminder
Different cars have different oil change intervals, and some vehicles have maintenance reminders that flash on the dashboard when it’s time for an oil change. It’s as if your car is saying “pay attention to me!” The problem with solely relying on your maintenance reminder is it’s not always very accurate. The powertrain control module in your car uses algorithms to estimate when an oil change is due. Most of the time, these formulas are based solely on mileage, and don’t take into account oil level or condition, so they can be very misleading. If you’re only relying on your maintenance reminder to tell you exactly when to change the oil, you might want to double check.
Warning lights on
If you’ve waited so long for an oil change that warning lights are on, you need to get one ASAP. Some lights that may come on due to overextended oil change intervals include the check engine light (especially if your engine has variable valve timing), the oil pressure light, and the oil level warning light. Any of these warning lights mean that you need to get your engine checked right away.
Strange Noises from the Engine
Ticking or knocking noises from the engine may indicate a low oil level or the wrong oil viscosity. This is because engines rely on oil for proper lubrication, to stay at the correct temperature, and to maintain clearance between parts. Unfortunately, by the time things get to the point where your engine is making unusual noises, extensive damage may have been done. This means that instead of getting a simple oil change, you might be getting a gargantuan repair bill – or a whole new engine.
Instead of waiting for signs your vehicle needs an oil change, it’s best to keep track of when it's due by keeping a log. You can do this in a notebook you keep in your glove compartment, or by making a note in your smartphone. You should also occasionally check your oil to make sure it's the right color and at the correct level. If there's any uncertainty, the safest bet is to get your oil changed. It's a simple, inexpensive service that protects against long-term damage or engine failure.
Mia Bevacqua works at YourMechanic.com. Have your own question about oil changes or anything else auto related? You can ask one of our highly trained technicians and get an answer quickly, usually within 24 hours.