How Often to Change an Engine Oil Filter

With the exception of electric vehicles, all other cars (including your hybrid) have an oil filter. Regarding routine maintenance, the engine oil and oil filter are items that need to be replaced more often than anything else on the vehicle. Yes, even your tires. There has always been a debate as to how often this is necessary, and there always will be a debate because, well, it depends. A general rule of thumb is 5,000 miles between oil changes but this will vary based on vehicle age, usage, and manufacturer requirements.

how often to change oil filter

What Does an Oil Filter Do?

From complex climate control systems to one-time-use face masks, filters are utilized everywhere and have one purpose: stop things from getting to the other side. These things can be anything from large dust bunnies to particles of a few microns, depending on what is being protected. Because of this, filters are designed similarly by combining multiple layers of paper, fabric, and/or other materials to stop certain particulates from passing through. 

In an automobile, the oil filter captures these contaminants and prevents them from circulating through the engine. Without an oil filter, dirt and other particles much smaller than a strand of hair can and will freely travel into the engine assembly and cause damage due to clogs and other debris. If the engine parts can’t move, neither will the vehicle. 

Oil filters don’t just manage waste but also maintain oil flow. That being said, filters can only absorb a finite amount of pollutants. Once an oil filter is saturated, its efficacy is lost and, thus, you have an unprotected engine.

How Often to Change Oil?

Like everything vehicle related, your mileage will vary with regard to how often to change your oil. The frequency is based on a number of factors (and not what the local drive-thru oil change shop sign says). The age of the vehicle, road conditions, mileage, and your driving habits all play a role in how often maintenance is required.

For most car owners, following the manufacturer’s recommended oil change interval will suffice, which is generally around 5,000 miles. Also, many newer vehicles come with built-in maintenance reminders. If you’re unsure as to whether to follow a mileage rule or calendar schedule (if you drive less than the annual average of 13,500 miles), checking the oil-life monitor is a safe bet and, if available, can usually be found within your instrument panel settings or under a vehicle maintenance/service/profile menu on a touchscreen display. 

Owners of older vehicles can do a simple visual check of oil level and cleanliness every month. The small divot near the dipstick tip will signify recommended oil level. If the oil mark is too low, feel free to top off. But if the oil color is too dark, that indicates dirty oil and time for an oil change. 

If you frequently drive in harsh weather and road conditions, you’ll be scheduling more service stops regardless. Because the vehicle and engine are working harder, the oil change interval will be more frequent and lean more toward the 3,000 to 5,000-mile markers. Owner’s manuals will list “severe driving conditions” as frequent short trips of less than 10 miles, stop-and-go driving in extreme weather, long-distance trailer towing, track driving, and driving regularly on rough, uneven, and/or salty roads. 

Another thing to consider is the use of regular oil or synthetic oil, the latter of which is increasingly being required in new vehicles. Older vehicles that initially were serviced with conventional oil can switch to synthetics. Industry consensus is that synthetic oils perform better and last longer — anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 miles — before needing replacement but the premium oil also is much pricier than conventional oil or synthetic blends.

What Does an Oil Change Include?

When servicing your vehicle, whether at a dealership, auto shop, or as a do-it-yourself project, the oil filter and engine oil must be replaced together. Although you can top off your engine oil if the filter is still viable, you cannot change the oil completely and ignore the old filter. Draining and replacing old oil is a wasted effort because once the new stuff travels through the used filter, what goes in clean comes out dirty. This is why a standard oil change isn’t just about the oil.

On service forms, you’re likely to see “lube, oil, and filter” listed in the details of an oil change. Simply referred to as an LOF in mechanics shorthand, during an oil change service, the old engine oil is completely drained and replaced with new oil, the oil filter also is replaced with a new one, and the chassis is lubricated. The last bit refers to grease fittings, which are access points (e.g., ball joints, tie-rods) for feeding lubricants into mechanical systems. Chassis lubrication is not specific or available only during engine oil changes, but it does provide that extra bit of maintenance to keep the suspension working smoothly and quietly.

What Does an Oil Change Cost?

Just like oil change intervals, how much an oil change costs also varies. When seeing advertisements for $20 oil changes, always check the fine print. These prices are usually for conventional oil only and at a certain viscosity. Some may or may not include the oil filter or disposal fees either. To be fair, oil filters are generally the cheapest component of an oil change service as the bulk of the final cost will come down to type of oil used, how much of it, and then labor.

So, while you can DIY for less than $20, expect to shell out a minimum of $30 for a conventional oil change and $50 for full-synthetic. These prices are at the low end of the scale, available at national LOF shops and large retailers or big-box warehouse stores that offer automotive services. Dealership visits will cost more but do include additional services like tire rotations, topping off fluids, multi-point inspections, and even a car wash. Service coupons are frequently offered as well.