What Happens When the Oil Change Light Comes On? Here’s What You Need to Know

logo by Editorial Staff | Updated on September 17th, 2023

Wondering how long you can go without changing your oil after the light comes on? You’re not alone; it’s a common question for car owners. Understanding your car’s oil needs is crucial for its longevity and performance. As someone who’s spent years working with automobiles, let me break it down for you in layman’s terms.

How Long to Wait After the Light Comes On?

First things first, if the ‘change oil‘ light illuminates your car’s dashboard, aim to get the oil replaced within the next two weeks or before you drive another 500 miles. This light is different from the oil pressure light, which indicates immediate action is needed to prevent engine damage.


If your car only has an oil pressure light and no separate ‘oil change’ light, pull over immediately and turn off the engine to prevent any damage.

What Does the Light Actually Indicate?

The ‘change oil’ light typically illuminates after 3,000 miles of regular driving, signaling that the oil’s ability to reduce friction has diminished. If this light comes on, make sure to change the engine oil within one to two weeks or before you rack up another 500 miles.

To keep your car in optimal condition, follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for regular oil changes. This simple act of maintenance can extend your car’s lifespan and improve its efficiency.

Why Does the Oil Light Turn On?

Your car’s dashboard may have two different oil light indicators:

  • Change Oil Light: This light serves as a friendly reminder that it’s time for an oil change. You still have a small window of time to get this done.
  • Red Oil Light: If this light turns on, it’s signaling a more serious issue that needs immediate attention. Here are a few reasons why this could happen:
    • Low Oil Level: Possible causes include cracked valves or blown head gaskets.
    • Low Oil Pressure: This could be due to a clogged oil filter or other issues.
    • Faulty Oil Pressure Sensor: Wear and tear can make this sensor unreliable.
    • Faulty Oil Pump: Failure here would mean immediate attention is required.

If the red light comes on, pull over safely and check your oil level with the dipstick under the hood. Refill the oil as needed, and seek professional assistance if the light stays on.

Changing Your Engine Oil: A Brief Guide

It’s a good practice to keep an emergency can of motor oil in your car. If you need to top off, take the opportunity to check for other signs like leaks or the smell of burnt oil, as these could indicate a more severe issue.

What if You Delay the Oil Change?

The guidelines for how often to change your oil have evolved with modern car technology. While the old standard was every 3,000 miles, most cars today can go between 5,000 to 7,000 miles before needing an oil change. Cars using synthetic oil can even stretch this to 10,000 to 15,000 miles.

That said, delaying an oil change for too long can have severe consequences, such as:

  • Engine damage due to inadequate lubrication
  • Increased emissions and lower fuel efficiency
  • Potential for engine overheating and failure

When Is an Earlier Oil Change Needed?

Your driving conditions can dictate how often you should change the oil. Factors such as extreme traffic, short trips, dusty roads, or heavy towing can all shorten the time between necessary oil changes. Being proactive about this can save you money in the long run.

Warning Signs to Watch For

Here are some signs that indicate you should get an oil change:

  • Dark, Gritty Oil: Check the oil with the dipstick; if it’s not clear, it’s time for a change.
  • The smell of Burnt Oil: This usually indicates a leak.
  • Knocking Engine Sounds: Lack of lubrication can cause this, signaling the need for an oil change.


Knowing when to change your engine oil is a vital aspect of car maintenance that can save you from costly repairs down the line. Always adhere to your manufacturer’s recommendations and stay aware of the signs that it’s time for a change. With this guide, you should be well-equipped to make informed decisions about your car’s oil needs.


Editorial Staff

Our writers, editors, content managers, and SEO specialist. We all take part in crafting amazing articles. We spend hours ensuring that each article is based on facts, researched, and thorough. You'll never want to click the back button to look for more answers other than here!