At What Oil Life Percentage Should Oil Be Changed?

Last Updated on November 3, 2023

Generally, experts recommend changing your oil when it reaches 10% to 30% on the oil life percentage tracker.

However, actual oil life varies widely based on vehicle type, the type of oil you used, your driving habits, your location, and many other factors. In some cases, your oil needs to be changed after the meter reaches 40%. In other cases, you can safely drive beyond the meter’s limits while still having clean, particulate-free oil.

Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about oil life percentages and oil changes.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Experts suggest changing your oil when the oil life indicator is between 10% and 30%, but the exact percentage may vary based on individual driving conditions and vehicle specifics.
  2. Oil life can be influenced by factors such as driving habits, oil type, vehicle type, environmental conditions, and geographical terrain, necessitating more frequent changes for some cars.
  3. Modern oil life indicators are designed to account for various conditions like road and driving patterns to provide a more accurate assessment of when an oil change is needed.
  4. Driving with low oil life increases engine wear and tear due to insufficient lubrication, heightened corrosion, and overheating, highlighting the necessity of regular oil changes to prevent engine damage.

Change Your Oil at Around 15%, on Average

Generally, you’re safe to change your oil once it reaches 15%, on average.

Changing your oil when the tracker is above 15% may be unnecessary. Your oil is mostly free of particulates and is working fine to lubricate the engine and cool hotspots.

Changing your oil below 15%, meanwhile, could shorten your car’s lifespan. Your oil could have excessive particulate matter when it’s in the last 15% of its lifespan, increasing wear and tear and boosting the chance of a breakdown.

Ultimately, the cleaner your oil, the better your car will run. If you want to be extra safe, change your oil above 15% to reduce the risk of particulate matter affecting your engine. Changing oil is cheaper than replacing an engine.

Factors Impacting Oil Lifespan

Some oil gauges are smart, taking multiple factors into consideration when tracking the percentage remaining in your oil lifespan – like the number of cold starts and how you drive your vehicle.

Other oil gauges simply track mileage, giving a rough estimation of when to change your oil.

Some of the factors that impact oil lifespan include:

  • The way you drive your car (fast and erratic driving or city driving, for example, uses more oil than steady driving or highway driving).
  • The type of oil you use (synthetic oil lasts significantly longer than regular oil).
  • The type of vehicle you drive.
  • Whether or not you were towing anything or hauling heavy loads while driving.
  • Temperature, dust, air pollution, and other environmental factors.
  • Geographic factors (like if you frequently drive on hills).

Based on all of these factors, some cars need an oil change sooner than others. Some cars need an oil change every 7,000 miles, for example, because they use synthetic oil that lasts longer. Other cars need an oil change every 3,000 miles because they use standard oil and are driven erratically in the city or at high speeds and with heavy loads over hills.

Trust the Oil Life Indicator

Oil life indicators are smarter than many people realize. Most oil life indicators distinguish between different driving habits, giving you a more accurate prediction of the lifespan of your oil.

Oil life indicators consider things like road conditions and engine performance, for example, along with normal vs. erratic driving habits.

If your car is frequently driven erratically, for example, then your oil life indicator could drop faster than a car driven normally on the highway.

Why It’s Bad to Drive with Low Oil Life

The longer you drive with low oil life, the worse the wear and tear will be.

When your oil life indicator reaches 0%, it means the oil has lost the properties that make it useful for your vehicle. It’s no longer lubricating your vehicle as much as it should, increasing wear and tear and raising the chances of a breakdown.

When ignored long enough, lack of an oil change could lead to noticeable engine damage. Your engine continues to run, but it doesn’t have proper lubrication or greasing. This causes increased resistance within the engine, which could cause serious damage to the vehicle.

Some of the reasons it’s bad to drive with low oil life include:

  • Oil removes heat by washing friction points within the engine. When oil is past its optimal lifecycle, it could cause your engine to heat up more than it’s supposed to. Your radiator and coolant cool the engine, but oil washes the specific friction points.
  • Oil protects against corrosion. Oil contains special chemical additives to reduce corrosion. The parts of your engine are exposed to high temperatures and experience significant temperature fluctuations. Over time, this leads to corrosion. Oil reduces corrosion, extending the lifespan of your engine.
  • Oil reduces wear and tear on the engine. A combustion engine creates carbon deposits and soot. These particulates enter the oil, rub against surfaces, and increase wear and tear on your vehicle. If you haven’t changed your oil in a while, you may notice metal dust and chips in the dirty oil. The longer you go without an oil change, the more those particulates remain in your oil, reducing the lifespan of your vehicle.

Ultimately, you shouldn’t treat oil changes as a luxury: they’re an important and mandatory part of owning a vehicle.

Final Word

Generally, you should change your oil when your oil life indicator drops between 10% and 30%.

Most mechanics recommend changing the oil every 3,000 to 5,000 miles.

However, your actual oil life percentage varies based on many factors, including the way you drive, the type of oil you use, your vehicle, and other factors.

On average, however, you should schedule your oil change once your vehicle’s oil life indicator drops to 10% to 30%.

Remember: oil is cheap, but engines are not. By changing your oil on schedule, you can reduce the risk of engine failure.

James Shaffer
James Shaffer James Shaffer is a writer for and a well-seasoned auto insurance industry veteran. He has a deep knowledge of insurance rules and regulations and is passionate about helping drivers save money on auto insurance. He is responsible for researching and writing about anything auto insurance-related. He holds a bachelor's degree from Bentley University and his work has been quoted by NBC News, CNN, and The Washington Post.
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