How Often Should I Change Synthetic Oil?

It's fake but fantastic.

Mechanic pouring motor oil from bottle.
DepositPhotos

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Fakes get a bad rap, whether it’s fake Rolexes, fake handbags, or fake Bugattis. They’re seen as lesser, and by all accounts, they are. They’re not made as well, they’re cheaper, and you’ll look like a cheap poseur when found out. That, however, isn’t the case with synthetic oil. 

Synthetic oil is the term for a lubricants comprised of artificially made chemical compounds. It has earned increased usage across the automotive industry for its greater overall stability and better performance in high-compression engines. 

Using synthetic oil, however, can be intimidating to those who may not be masters of the oil domain. Don’t worry, that’s what The Drive’s crack informational team is here for. So let’s get down to business as we explain the basics of synthetic oil, its uses, its lifespan, and its pros and cons compared to conventional motor oil. Borrowing a line from Seinfeld, with a little bit of a twist, “Synthetic oil is fake but still fantastic.” Let’s dive in!

Synthetic oil poured out of the bottle.
Depositphotos

Synthetic oil.

What Is Synthetic Oil?

Synthetic oil is a man-made chemical compound designed for lubricating conventional internal combustion engines, as well as airplane engines, and metal stamping machines. It is designed to be a substitute for conventional crude oil-based engine oils. It has many positives including reducing strain on the environment caused by the typical extraction and refining processes conventional oil demands. 

Why Use Synthetic Oil?

Gasoline engines have become more complicated, full stop. Manufacturers have gone to tighter tolerances among their moving parts, as well as higher compression ratios (i.e. turbocharged and hybrid engines). Synthetic oil, and it’s more chemically stable properties, are perfect for these applications as it evaporates less rapidly, won’t thicken in cold weather, and won’t produce sludge as quickly as conventional oil.

Likewise, synthetic oil’s longer lifecycle versus conventional oil has also attracted many, with conventional oil requiring changes every 3,000-5,000 miles and synthetic every 7,500-15,000 miles. 

Common Synthetic Oil Problems

While synthetic oils have many advantages compared to conventional oil, there are a few disadvantages such as price, disposal, and what engines are right for synthetic oil usage.

Price

Synthetic oil costs about 10 percent more than conventional. 

Engine Usage

Not every engine is designed for synthetic oil or its properties. Engines in older racecars and rotary engines shouldn’t use synthetic oil. 

New synthetic oil is poured into the engine.
Depositphotos

Pouring in new synthetic oil.

How Often Do You Need To Change Synthetic Oil?

Your oil change schedule depends on three primary variables; make, model, and the year it was built. Generally speaking, oil changes have been recommended every 3,000 miles or every three months. But as engines have become more efficient and oil chemistry has been developed to last longer, modern engines require oil changes far less frequently than cars of the past. 

Some cars, trucks, and SUVs now only require oil changes every 7,500 to 10,000 miles. And synthetic oil can prolong the time between changes even further than that. If you own something relatively new and drive at an average rate, you can get away with an oil change only once a year. To make it a little easier for you, here’s a brief rundown of the most common manufacturers and their lineups’ current oil change schedules.

Acura: 7,500-10,000 miles

Audi: 10,000 miles

BMW: 12,000-15,000 miles

Buick: 7,500 miles

Cadillac: 7,500 miles

Chevrolet: 7,500 miles

Chrysler: 8,000 miles

Dodge: 7,500 miles

Ford: 7,500 miles

GMC: 7,500 miles

Honda: 7,500 miles

Hyundai: 7,500 miles

Jaguar: 15,000 miles

Jeep: 5,000-7,500 miles

Kia: 7,500 miles

Land Rover: 7,500-10,000 miles

Lexus: 10,000 miles

Mazda: 15,000 miles

Mercedes-Benz: 10,000 miles

Nissan: 5,000-7,000 miles

Porsche: 20,000 miles

RAM: 8,000 miles

Subaru: 5,000-7,000 miles

Tesla: You don’t! It’s electric!

Toyota: 15,000 miles 

Volkswagen: 10,000 miles

Volvo: 10,000 miles

An old oil filter.
Depositphotos

An old oil filter. 

Everything You’ll Need To Know About Changing Synthetic Oil

Changing a vehicle's oil only requires a few specialized tools to get the job done, including something to remove the oil plug, something to remove and replace the oil filter, and something to add and extract the oil from the car's engine.

Tool List

  • The proper-sized wrench socket to remove the oil plug (check the owner's manual or online documentation). 
  • An oil filter wrench that is compatible with your car's oil filter.
  • An oil drain pan.
  • Disposable container for old oil (the old oil bottles could work)
  • A funnel.

Parts List

You’ll also need a flat surface, such as a garage floor, driveway, or street parking, though check your local laws to make sure you’re not violating any codes when using the street because we ain’t getting your car out of the impound yard.

Organizing your tools and gear so everything is easily reachable will save precious minutes waiting for your handy-dandy child or four-legged helper to bring you the sandpaper or blowtorch. (You won't need a blowtorch for this job. Please don’t have your kid hand you a blowtorch—Ed.)

  • Raise the vehicle up to access the undercarriage if necessary. If you have a truck or SUV with good ground clearance (at least 10 inches from the ground), you may be able to skip this step. For most cars, however, you will have to raise the front end using a jack or ramps to get enough clearance. It is important to secure the car with wheel chocks or jack stands to keep it from falling off or rolling away when you are under the engine.
  • Cover the ground underneath the engine with some cut-up cardboard boxes. The cardboard will soak up the inevitable oil spills.
  • Let the engine run for 1-2 minutes exactly to warm up the oil before draining. It'll come out easier when it's warm. Disclaimer: DO NOT LET IT WARM FOR ANY LONGER OR YOU WILL BURN YOURSELF. 
Draining the oil pan.
Depositphotos

Draining the oil pan.

Here’s How To Change Synthetic Oil

Oil Change Basics

Estimated Time Needed: Half hour

Skill Level: Beginner

Vehicle System: Oil system

How to Change Your Synthetic Oil

Here’s a quick rundown of how to change your oil. For more information on the topic, consult The Drive’s more exhaustive guide for How to Change Your Own Oil.

  1. Remove the oil cap on top of your engine and place an oil catch pan underneath the oil pan at the base of the engine.
  2. Extract your old oil by removing the drain plug on the oil pan underneath the engine. Be careful not to drop the plug into the oil. You might want to have a rag ready to clean your hand.
  3. Once the oil has drained, reattach and tighten the oil drain plug. Thread the plug by hand and then use the same wrench as before to tighten it, but don't overtighten it as you could strip the threads.
  4. Remove and replace the oil filter.
  5. Using a funnel, add new oil through the opening that was underneath the oil cap at the top of the engine. Your manual will tell you exactly how much to use.
  6. Replace the cap, start the engine, and use the dipstick to check the oil level.
  7. Add oil if necessary.

Get Help With Changing Synthetic Oil From a Mechanic On JustAnswer

The Drive recognizes that while our How-To guides are detailed and easily followed, a rusty bolt, an engine component not in the correct position, or oil leaking everywhere can derail a project. That’s why we’ve partnered with JustAnswer, which connects you to certified mechanics around the globe, to get you through even the toughest jobs. 

So if you have a question or are stuck, click here and talk to a mechanic near you. 

Pouring in new synthetic oil.
Depositphotos

Pouring in new synthetic oil.

Pro Tips To Change Synthetic Oil

Over the years, we've done our fair share of oil changes, including a first attempt that left a small scar on one of The Drive's editor's hands. To prevent that from happening, here are some tips to keep you safe and get this job done right. 

  • If the engine or the engine oil is too hot, let things cool before you start changing the oil, you don't want to burn yourself.
  • Products like Oil-Dri will make oil spills a thing of the past and cleans up quickly.
  • Recycle the old oil and oil filter by taking it to the recycling center or an automotive shop that accepts discarded oil.

FAQs About Synthetic Oil?

You’ve got questions, The Drive has answers!

Q. How Much Does It Cost To Change Synthetic Oil

A: The price of changing your oil varies depending on what sort of oil you use, how much oil is needed, and whether you or a professional handles the job.

Professional oil changes range from $250-100 depending on your car and how much oil it needs. DIY oil changes will only cost an average of $20-50 in parts, but again, the prices depend on your car and its needs.

Q. How Long Can I Go Without an Oil Change?

A: Trust us, we’ve been in the position where life gets so hectic and busy you completely miss your scheduled oil change. And it’ll be weeks until you’re able to do it yourself or have a professional do it for you. Thankfully, manufacturers engineer a little wiggle room into oil chemistry, and your oil won’t immediately go bad once the odometer clicks past your scheduled change. Especially if your car uses modern fully synthetic oils. Just don’t go too long …

Q. What Happens If You Go Too Long Without an Oil Change?

A: As your engine cycles through your oil, it picks up dirt, debris, metal shavings from your cylinders, and other particulates coursing through your engine. As this happens, it can become tar-like and more viscous, which makes it harder for the oil to efficiently move through your engine. If you let it go too long, it could turn into sludge and seize your engine. If that happens, you’re looking at a far more expensive bill than just an oil change.

Q. Is It Bad To Change Oil Too Often?

A: It isn’t, but why would you want to spend money if you don’t have to? Plus, all that extra oil you’re replacing is harmful to the environment, so it’s best to just stick with the prescribed oil change schedule. 

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Got a question? Got a pro tip? Send us a note: guidesandgear@thedrive.com