What Happens If You Don’t Get an Oil Change?

Neglecting to change your car’s oil will leave your engine vulnerable to excess wear and tear and even a total engine shutdown.
Written by Abbey Orzech
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
Engine oil is among the most important components of your vehicle, and neglecting oil changes can lead to heavy consequences like excess wear on your vehicle and even engine failure.
Although we may say otherwise, most of us have forgotten (or “forgotten”) to get an oil change at a time or two. Maybe you were just 50 miles past the marker or maybe you didn’t remember you were due for a servicing until you’d gone 300+ miles past the recommended interval. 
But just because many of us are guilty of not getting an oil change at some point doesn’t make it okay to skip out on this all-important service!
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What is engine oil and what does it do?

Engine oil behaves as the life-giving fluid of your vehicle’s engine. It can be conventional motor oil, synthetic oil, a blend of the two, or even high-mileage vehicle-specific oil, but without it or with oil that is contaminated, an engine and its components are vulnerable to all kinds of damage.
Clean oil keeps all the carefully engineered parts of your engine properly lubricated and able to perform their work without wearing out or breaking quickly. It also reduces the risk of your engine overheating by absorbing the excess heat emitted from the friction of the engine’s moving parts rubbing against each other. 
Essentially, properly maintained engine oil keeps your engine in working condition—it’s a non-negotiable for a healthy vehicle.

What happens if you miss an oil change service?

Missing even just one oil change can potentially wreak havoc on your engine’s systems. The severity of whatever problem arises can depend on how long overdue you are for an oil change service and how old your vehicle is, but you’ll need to watch out for these major issues no matter what your car’s status is.

Oil build-up

Part of an oil change service is replacing the oil filter. The oil filter catches debris and dirt before they make their way into the engine so they don’t gum up the engine’s operations.
When you miss an oil change, you’re also missing an oil filter change and contributing to a clogged oil filter that has to force the built-up debris through the engine systems because it has nowhere else to store it.

Vehicle wear

Without the lubrication that clean oil provides, an engine’s components are left to grind and scrape against each other. This excess friction and fighting the moving parts have to put up with sans oil creates unnecessary wear and tear on the engine, meaning your vehicle can suffer damage easier.

Loss of effectiveness

Contaminated oil or a low oil level become less effective in their role. Effective lubrication and heat absorption go out the window—really, the engine—resulting in the reduction of the engine’s power output and overall driving quality, sometimes dramatically.

Oil turns to sludge

Remember all that debris that now circulates the engine because of a clogged oil filter? It will also contribute to oil sludge and overly contaminated oil.
With sludgy oil and a mucked-up oil filter, your car’s engine will have to work harder with fewer resources. And since the engine has to burn more fuel the more it works, you’ll be looking at worsened fuel economy in addition to worsened vehicle performance.

Complete engine failure

This is the major issue with not getting oil changes. As all of the above problems begin unfolding—engine components grinding furiously, breaking more easily, and overworking your engine—your vehicle is more and more vulnerable to complete engine failure.
There comes a point when the lack of excess heat absorption and lubrication caused by poor oil quality reaches a most unfortunate culmination and your engine simply can’t stand the work anymore. In this case, it will shut down or seize up and your only option is a complete engine (or even vehicle) replacement.
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How often should you get your oil changed?

Of course, we all want to avoid that tragic ending and the best way to do that is by getting regular oil changes. But what exactly does “regular” mean?
It is the recommendation of many mechanics and car manufacturers that you change your oil every 3,000 to 5,000 miles when you’re using conventional motor oil. However, if you’re using synthetic oil that is designed to last a bit longer, you could go 7,500 to 10,000 miles between oil changes.
While these are nice benchmarks to keep in mind, your vehicle’s year, make, model and even your area’s climate will also help to determine the necessary frequency of your car’s oil changes. Older vehicles that do not have automatic oil quality and oil level monitors will best adhere to mileage markers. Many newer vehicles, though, come with sensors to let you know when you’re driving with contaminated oil or low oil levels.
Any vehicle will have the manufacturer’s recommended oil change interval listed in the owner’s manual, but you can also consult an oil service expert for more personalized advice. It is also a good idea to pull out the engine oil dipstick every month to ensure your oil is at the correct level, color (it should look amber or light brown), and consistency. 
If you detect anything out of the ordinary, it’s probably time for an oil change.

How to change your oil

Once you’ve determined that your car is due for an oil servicing, you can either bring your car to a mechanic so they can change the oil for you, or you can change the oil yourself. If you opt for the former, all you’ll need to do is show up with your car. But if you choose to DIY your oil change you can follow these steps:
  • Warm the engine up to its normal operating temperature, then shut your vehicle off while on level ground or on raised jack stands
  • Grab a drain pan and wrench and head under the engine to unscrew the oil drain bolt and allow the old oil to drain out completely into the drain pan
  • Replace the oil drain bolt but leave the drain pan where it is, then removes the old oil filter
  • Install the new oil filter
  • Head back up to the engine bay area and remove the oil fill cap
  • Refill the engine with the amount and type of oil recommended by your car’s manufacturer and replace the oil fill cap
The last thing you’ll want to do is to pull out the dipstick and make sure your oil looks debris-free and has the right light-brown color. When cleaning up, pour the old oil into a sealable container to be brought to a recycling center for proper disposal, and you’re done! Your engine can get back to work and you can rest easy knowing that work won’t cause a complete engine failure.

How to find cheap car insurance

Being a car owner is an expensive endeavor. With regular maintenance, emergency maintenance, fuel fill-ups, and car insurance, it’s easy to spend hundreds of dollars on your vehicle a month.
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An oil change typically costs between $35 and $75.
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