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These days, both engine and oil technology allows for less frequent maintenance than ever. Some brands even claim that you only need to change your oil once a year. But how often should you change your oil? There are both mileage and timespan targets to keep in mind to help protect your engine.

An oil change service station
Jiffy Lube Service Station | Getty Images/Bob Riha Jr

Annual oil changes may not be a good idea

There are a few oil brands out there that claim you only need to change your oil once a year. However, in many cases, this may not be often enough to keep your engine safe. Understanding how your engine oil works each time you drive can help understand how often you should change it.

When you first start your car, the engine oil is cold and flows less freely than when things start to warm up. No matter how many miles you drive, this process of heating and cooling oil will cause it to break down over time.

Even if you just go for a 10-minute drive, your engine oil will have gone through one of these heat cycles. So knowing how often you drive can help answer the question of how often you should change your oil.

Each time your oil goes through a heat cycle, its chemical properties degrade. Over time, this leads to oil that flows less at cold temperatures and loses its viscosity at higher temperatures. That means it is less able to properly protect internal engine parts at both the coldest and warmest engine temperatures.

Understanding heat cycles and mileage for oil change recommendations

A mechanic performs an oil change
A mechanic performs an oil change | Jeffrey Greenberg via Getty Images

We’ve already discussed heat cycles, but mileage also affects engine oil over time. The sustained high heat inside an engine will also slowly break down that oil over time. In addition, the churning inside an engine will alter the physical properties of your oil as well. Together, both heat cycles and mileage often mean you should change your oil more often than once a year.

In truth, annual oil changes are really only recommended for vehicles that drive short distances just once or twice per week. For vehicles that travel less than 8,000 miles per year and aren’t driven very often, modern technology means that annual oil changes are viable.

Letting your car sit too much can also cause issues

Unfortunately, just letting your car sit can also cause issues, according to Consumer Reports. While engine oil can easily hold up for a year of little to no driving, the seals inside your engine may not handle it so well. Knowing how often to drive your car is just as important as knowing how often to change your oil.

When cars sit for too long, the rubber seals and hoses can become brittle. Then, when subjected to the higher temperatures and pressures of driving, these components can fail and cause greater issues.

Circulating oil throughout the system can help prevent this brittleness from setting in to your internal engine parts, improving longevity.

What is the best interval for oil changes?

While recommendations vary, a good rule of thumb is seven months or 7,000 miles. This allows for oil changes often enough to maintain proper lubrication without throwing unnecessary money down the drain by changing your oil too frequently.

Keep in mind that this only applies to modern synthetic oil in modern engines. Older cars and conventional oil change recommendations will be closer to five months and 5,000 miles, if not more.

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