When should I get an oil change?
July 22, 2021 1:33 PM   Subscribe

We bought a car we rarely drive. When should we change the oil?

We bought a used car (2017 Mini Cooper S) back in August 2020. This is the first car we've owned in over a decade, and I'm not sure how the maintenance schedule for our particular usage model works. We drive the car maaaaaaybe 40 (forty) miles a month on average, and about once a month or every six weeks go a little further afield (maybe 100 miles round trip or so).

When we bought the car, it had an oil change done, I think, a couple months previous to our taking delivery (it had been sitting on the lot for a while before we bought it). The dealer's schedule said that we should get the oil changed at 34,000 miles or in January 2021. I took the car out today for the first time in a week, and I noticed we're just now getting close to 29K miles, and it's almost August. The car seems to be running fine for as little as we run it. At the rate we're going, we won't hit that 34,000 mile mark until sometime in like 2024-2025.

I'm not naive enough to think we can wait three more years to change oil that was last changed in 2020, so I guess my question is, at this point, how long can we go before we do need to change the oil? Given how little we drive it, is there any risk in waiting a few more months or a year before we change it again?
posted by pdb to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total)
Generally the recommendation was 3000 miles or 3 months, which ever comes first.

If you drive your car THAT little you can probably stretch the time frame or 6 months. Twice a year sounds reasonable.
posted by kschang at 1:41 PM on July 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

Newer cars typically go longer than the 3 month/3000 miles rule, even by manufacturer recommendation. My 2017 model year car goes 6 months/5000 miles between dealer-recommended oil changes, and I pretty much stick to that.
posted by LionIndex at 1:51 PM on July 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

I drive more than you do, but still much less than average - I get the oil changed about every six months.
posted by mskyle at 1:55 PM on July 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

Oil breaks down due to time as well, not just mileage. That's why they put a date in addition to the mileage.

Six months is generally the recommendation for conventional oil. If you want to stretch it to twelve you could look into full synthetic instead.

I'm generally lazy and go every 8-9 months with my low mileage car, but they use a synthetic blend where I go.

If you run the same oil until it's not "running fine", you are looking at an engine replacement. Which costs a lot more than a few oil changes.
posted by TheAdamist at 2:04 PM on July 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

Some amount, usually small, of fuel-air mixture will blow by the piston rings, condense on the cylinder walls and end up in the crankcase. Some of its components can break down the oil. In an engine in good condition that is regularly run long enough to reach full oil temperature, this condensate boils off. In an engine that never or infrequently reaches full oil temperature, those harmful components sit in the oil for much longer and break it down sooner. For cars that don't exceed the oil change mileage (3000 miles for petroleum oils or 6000 miles for synthetic oils, typically), it is usually recommended to change the oil every six months. Lots of really short trips and few or no trips to full oil temperature is pretty severe service (from the oil's point of view). It may pay you to revert to petroleum oil if your car uses synthetic, and to change it out even more frequently.
posted by TruncatedTiller at 2:36 PM on July 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

Googling "2017 mini cooper s oil change interval" returns this: All MINI vehicles should receive an oil change every 4,000 to 6,000 miles, and precise oil change frequency guidelines are laid out in your owner's manual.
posted by davcoo at 2:39 PM on July 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

Slightly offtopic: The used car market is absurdly high pricing right now, i would look into what's it's currently worth. It may be worth significantly more than what you paid last year, of course consider taxes and fees.

If you are driving it so little you might consider benefiting from the used car bubble and rebuying in a year and making a couple grand.
posted by TheAdamist at 2:46 PM on July 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A 2017 MINI is new enough that the computer will tell you when to service, and they won't have a published maintenance schedule in the manual because they want it to be dynamic based on conditions. Just follow what it says. I have never had any modern car tell me to change the oil as frequently as every 3 months (even my 2000 MY car didn't want oil changes that often), and my current cars both will usually go a year without asking for it if we don't drive them much. IMHO don't second-guess what the system tells you.
posted by primethyme at 2:49 PM on July 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

The Mini Cooper S uses synthetic oil, the manufacturer recommends 10,000 to 15,000 miles between changes.

Those who rarely drive more than 10 miles at a time (which doesn’t get the oil hot enough to boil off moisture condensation) or who start their car frequently when the oil isn’t hot (when most engine wear occurs) should change their oil more often—at least twice a year, even if that’s every 1,000 miles, according to Edmunds. But commuters who drive more than 20 miles a day on mostly flat freeway can go as far as their owner’s manual recommends, if not longer, between changes.

“The necessity of 3,000 mile oil changes is a myth that has been handed down for decades,” writes Austin Davis, proprietor of the website TrustMyMechanic.com. He says that the economics of the oil change industry demand pushing customers to get their oil changed more frequently—purportedly as “cheap insurance” against problems cropping up—whether they need it or not. One of the largest oil change chains, Jiffy Lube, for instance, is owned by Pennzoil-Quaker State, and as such has an incentive to sell as much of the company’s traditional petroleum-based oil as possible.
- scientificamerican
posted by Lanark at 2:58 PM on July 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

I go a year+ on a vehicle I dont drive very often. I do use synthetic.

Here's some more info on extended oil changes from Project Farm:

Will Annual Oil Change Damage Your Car? Let's find out!
posted by vaportrail at 3:13 PM on July 22, 2021 [3 favorites]

We asked our mechanic about this and they said miles are what matter, with modern cars and engines, and that if you have an oil change indicator or Check Engine light that indicates time for service those are using miles, and that their shop policy is to use whatever the official manual says for intervals.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:34 PM on July 22, 2021

To be fair they did ask "how long do you mean?" as if were we about to stick a car in storage for a year or whatever, because it did seem like they had some opinions about that scenario, but we said we just meant pandemic miles and they were like oh yeah, just come in when it matches the reminder sticker.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:36 PM on July 22, 2021

Best answer: I definitely wouldn't want to go more than a year, regardless of miles. Modern oil, even plain dino oil is a lot better than it used to be, but the additives that make it so good still break down over time and condensation gets in the oil when the car sits. Both of these change the viscosity of the oil and will mess up its ability to lubricate things properly.
posted by wierdo at 3:42 PM on July 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I completely mis-parsed the framing of the question, so to re-state mine in a way that makes way more sense: the conventional measurement under normal circumstances is miles, but yes if it looks like you're going to go actual years without hitting that mileage you should confer with your oil change servicepeople and assume that you should do it at least yearly.

You aren't likely to hurt anything doing it more often, especially if you feel it's sitting unused under weather conditions that might result in damage to some inspectable part of your system from a combo of weather and lack of use. That might also be worth running past your servicepeople, including a discussion of best tire care practices.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:58 PM on July 22, 2021

Best answer: I had a car with an oil life indicator and it usually ran to 15 months per change (on synthetic) with maybe 6k a year in use. I usually got the minor service done at the same time even if it was a bit early, but that was probably not necessary and would be less so if you're doing low miles.

I come from a family of mechanics from outside the US where 'you need an oil change every 3 months' would have gotten me laughed out of the house. I doubt any mini in Europe gets that treatment. We don't have oil change places over there, just full service mechanics, because this is just not a thing.

I would stick to manufacturer's recommendations. I have not killed a car by doing that.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 4:58 PM on July 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

I have a 2005 car that I don’t drive much, 250 miles last year, and get the oil changed about every 3 years. Ymmv and mine is too old to be concerned about engine failure, but the service guys never mention anything and yearly inspections always pass fine.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:17 PM on July 22, 2021

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