How Often to Change Oil If Don’t Drive Much?

You could be driving less frequently for many reasons. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have to change oil unless driving for a certain mileage. The oil change schedule doesn’t depend on mileage only.

How often to change the motor oil? Generally, the answer lies in the owner’s manual. But those answers found in the manuals are mostly based on mileage. What if you drive fewer miles than your automaker suggests? It’s always advised to change the oil once or twice a year in such cases.

Are there other ways to decide on the oil change schedule or find out if the oil has expired? We’ll find the answer here and see how timely oil changes can protect your engine.

What Happens If Your Vehicle is Sitting Mostly?

There are two major problems that could arise if your vehicle is sitting most of the time. These include:

Moisture & Condensation Buildup

Your vehicle can be prone to engine moisture if you don’t drive too much and your car sits idle for a longer period. And it’s obvious since it’s not producing heat from the regular operation that evaporates condensation and moisture.

That’s why driving for around 30 minutes or more than ten miles weekly is recommended so the engine can burn off the moisture. The moisture can result in an oil-water mixture that can lead to the accumulation of acid and sludge. As a result, your engine will corrode and have a decreased service life.

Change in Viscosity

Besides moisture buildup, you must’ve seen the oil thickens (viscosity increases) in the winter and thins out in the summer (viscosity decreases). It happens due to a natural phenomenon called oxidation that changes the physical and chemical composition of the oil.

The change in viscosity can make the oil less efficient in maintaining the right lubrication between your vehicle’s moving parts. The degraded oil can also lose the ability to prevent contamination from dirt, sludge, acid, etc. To restore lubrication with the right viscosity, you must change the oil timely regardless of how frequently you drive.

How Often to Change Oil If Don’t Drive Much?

# How Often to Change the Oil Based on Mileage

Many think that oil change depends on mileage only. But it’s not true. You must’ve seen most manufacturers recommend an oil change interval between 3,000 (4,828 km) miles to 7,500 (12,070 km) miles. But do you know some even recommend oil change intervals as low as 1,000 miles or 1,609 km?

It applies to those who drive fewer miles than their automaker recommended. We’re assuming you have an infrequent driving routine consisting of trips less than or equal to 10 miles. So you’re probably not making longer (highway) trips at high speeds.

As a result, your engine isn’t producing enough heat to burn off the condensation and moisture that builds up in the system, leading to the breakdown of the oil ingredients.

The problem with shorter trips and infrequent driving is they’re harsh on the engine. And only frequent oil changes can help reduce the damage. What if you drive even rarely and not even 1,000 miles in six months or so? We’ll find out the answer.

# How Often to Change Oil Based on Time

We’ve seen the oil change interval based on the mileage. But more factors determine the oil change schedule. Most vehicle manufacturers and car shop owners will recommend changing your oil twice a year if you don’t drive your car much.

So you should change the oil every six months (if you drive fewer than 3,000 miles) to avoid any damage to the engine. Since you’re not driving enough to evaporate the moisture, flushing out the buildups with fresh oil every six months will ensure good health for your engine.

But newer vehicles that use premium synthetic oil will have a better oil life (and an extended oil change schedule) than the older ones that use conventional oil.

Why Regularly Changing Engine Oil is important?

The last thing a vehicle owner would want to experience is premature engine wear! It happens if you fail to replace the engine oil regularly. Since engine oil degrades with time, it can cause wear and damage your engine permanently.

Engine oil ensures your engine components are lubricated and moving properly. The ingredients in the oil are engineered to prevent corrosion, contamination, and buildups. But with time, the oil’s non-corrosive and non-contaminating ingredients break down, allowing the moisture and contaminants to accumulate.

So whether you’re driving it frequently or not, you must change the oil regularly. Moreover, you can’t let your vehicle sit unused for too long. You must drive for a short period every week besides regularly changing the engine oil.

Is There a Way to Tell If the Oil is Expired?

Generally, motor oil comes with an expiry date. However, it can be expired even before the indicated date. Although checking out the expiry date is the basic way to find out the oil change interval, some other signs can also tell you the oil has expired. Do the following to find out the signs.

  • Check the color of the oil; If it’s clear and transparent, you still use it. But if you see any haziness, it’s diluted, and you should change it.
  • Diagnose the consistency of the oil using a dipstick. If you find any separation, it’s a sign that the oil needs to be changed. You’ll also have to change the oil if it has become thick or solidified.
  • In some cases (for old or leaking oil), you can decide on the oil change schedule by smelling it. You can notice a burning or acrid smell, indicating something’s wrong with the oil that needs to be changed.

How Modern System Monitors Oil Life?

If you own a modern, sophisticated car like the latest Mercedes-Benz model, you may see some difference in monitoring oil life. In an article in the Chicago Tribune, Mike Calkins (an expert from AAA Travel Service Organization) talks about how sophisticated systems monitor oil life. He talks about different factors that these systems use to calculate oil life, such as:

  • Number of Cold Starts
  • Type of Oil
  • Speed of the Vehicle
  • Average Engine Temperature
  • Outside Temperature
  • Other Engine Parameters

They use an algorithm that uses the above factors to calculate the oil life. So it’s more than just the mileage. According to Calkins, people who drive less than 6,000 miles a year should see their manufacturers recommending changing the oil yearly. If you’ve got a sophisticated system, as talked above, you’ll easily be notified how often to change the oil.

Final Words

You may be working from home in post-covid situations and driving less frequently. That could make your skip your next commute, but it can’t help you skip the next due oil change.

The degradation of motor oil is a natural phenomenon. So whether you drive frequently or not, the oil will lose efficiency to prevent build-up and also fail to keep the moving components of the engine lubricated.

So your engine can experience premature wear or serious damage. Flushing out all the unwanted stuff using fresh oil once in a while is the only solution. So if you’re making frequent harsh starts but running shorter trips, you should change the engine oil every 1000 miles or every six months, whichever comes first. You can also check out the user manual or wait for the oil change alert if you own a modern car.


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