Overdue Oil Change: 12 Signs Your Car Needs an Oil Change

Every automaker recommends an oil change after a period of time to keep the engine components lubricated. This helps to reduce wear and tear, thereby increasing their lifespan. However, it may not be possible to remember when it’s time to change the oil due to tight schedules.

So, how can you tell when the oil change is overdue? Fortunately, it shows signs and symptoms. This makes it easy to tell when your car needs oil replacement. But what are these signs?

Continue reading to find everything you should know about overdue oil change symptoms!

Overdue Oil Change Symptoms

Overdue oil change symptoms often overlap with other faults. As a precaution, do not base your judgment on only one. Find the root cause of the observed symptoms before replacing your motor oil.

The following are some of the most common overdue oil change symptoms:

Low Oil Levels

This is self-explanatory! Constantly check the oil level with a deep stick before every trip. When the oil is low, it may be time to change it or top it up if it’s not dirty. Fortunately, some cars are computerized to alert you when the oil level drops below the recommended minimum.

But before changing or topping up the oil in your car, ensure no leakages. Ensure to determine the cause of low oil levels.

Dirty Oil

Motor oil changes color over time. You can observe this if you often use a deep stick to change the level and state of the oil. An overly dark engine oil is probably dirty, which happens over time due to sludge formation. This clearly indicates an overdue oil change.

Burnt Oil Smell in the Cabin

This scenario is rare but sometimes happens when the oil gets dirty or dangerously low. But the most common cause of the burnt oil smell in the cabin is leakages. Motor oil gets burnt when it flows over hot engine parts.

Stop the car when you sense a burnt oil smell and inspect it to determine the cause. This will help you to catch it and resolve the problem before severe engine damage occurs.

Reduced Fuel Economy

The motor engine works well when it’s well-lubricated and cooled. Dirty or low oil levels interfere with this perfect balance, forcing the engine to work harder to overcome the friction between its moving parts.

However, reduced fuel economy can also be caused by other issues within the engine block. Diagnose this problem appropriately before drawing a conclusion.

Engine Stalls

Engine stalls can also occur due to an overdue oil change. Dirty motor oil can clog oil filters, depriving the engine of this vital fluid that keeps it running smoothly.

However, engine stalls can indicate a more serious problem, such as clogged fuel filters, failing fuel pumps, or blocked catalytic converters. This means it should be thoroughly diagnosed and fixed without making hasty conclusions.

Dark Exhaust Fumes

A thick dark smoke whirling behind the tailpipe may indicate a dirty or thin motor oil. Most modern cars produce nearly invisible exhaust. Therefore, dark smoke shows something wrong within the engine block.

Like the previous overdue oil change symptoms, dark smoke from the exhaust pipe alone does not indicate dirty oil. There can be other causes that should be checked.

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Illuminated Service Warning Light

Modern cars have an advanced system that alerts you when the oil change is overdue. They may illuminate an old-school red can or a yellow wrench on the dashboard, while others display the words “Service Engine Soon.” This is a sure indication of an overdue oil change.

Unusual Engine Noise or Knocking

You can tell when something is wrong with your engine when behind the wheel. Everyone gets accustomed to the engine sounds such that it becomes apparent when something is amiss. Any unusual sound or knocking is a sign of a problem, which can be caused by something as simple as an overdue oil change.

Do not ignore any unusual engine noise. Sometimes it is caused by a more serious problem that can only worsen as you continue to drive. Take your car to an auto repair shop for a detailed diagnosis.

Difficulty Shifting Gears

Shifting gears is usually an effortless task. Any difficulty when doing so indicates a problem, which can be an overdue oil change. Engine oil is responsible for keeping all moving parts lubricated and running smoothly.

However, the most common cause of difficulty shifting gears is low transmission fluid. Like motor oil, transmission fluid reduces friction between the moving components to keep the system functioning as it should.

Overheating Engine

The primary function of engine oil is lubricating the components, but it also helps to cool the engine. But with a thin or low oil level, the moving parts rub against each other due to friction. This generates heat.

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Overheating engines, whether caused by an overdue oil change or something else, should be addressed immediately to avoid damage.

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Hard Starts

Hard starting is another sign of an overdue oil change. Unclean or low oil levels can trigger a wide range of engine problems, with hard starts or excess vibrations being one of them. But if you still experience it, it is due to something else, which should also be addressed for peace of mind.

Cannot Remember Your Last Oil Change

The fact that you cannot remember when you last changed the oil can indicate an overdue oil change. You are advised to always keep a record of when the next service is due when changing the oil. Creating a reminder on your phone’s calendar can go a long way.


How long can you drive before changing the oil?

The duration between oil changes depends on the motor oil type and the automaker’s recommendations. Usually, you should change your oil between 5,000 to 7,000 miles for ordinary motor oil or 10,000 to 15,000 miles for synthetic ones.

Why is oil change important?

Motor oil breaks down and gets contaminated over time. This reduces its effectiveness in lubricating and cooling the engine. If not changed on time, it leads to reduced fuel economy, engine overheating, unusual engine noises, and many other effects. There will also be a reduced engine lifespan as its vital parts wear out very fast.

What are the symptoms of dirty engine oil?

Dirty engine oil is often darker or tends to be black in color. Use a deep stick to check the level and color of the engine oil and change it if necessary.

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Final Thoughts

You should keep track of your vehicle maintenance schedule. Know when to change the engine oil and other components as stated in the car’s repair manual. Don’t wait until the signs and symptoms of an overdue oil change set it. It may be too late, and damages have already occurred!

Keep your engine healthy and running smoothly for many more years by changing the oil on time and using the recommended motor oil type.