How Long Can an Engine Run Without Oil Before Damage? (2024)

Last Updated on February 5, 2024 by John Robinson

It depends on the car, the oil, and the weather.

Overall, oil can last around 5000 miles before needing a change. However, this estimate can go up if you have a synthetic oil or an additive, preventing the oil from becoming contaminated. Basic or cheap conventional oil will turn to sludge much faster (usually around 3000 miles), and some engines are prone to sludge. Just stick to the guideline given by the manufacturer, and you should be fine.

Are 10 000-mile oil changes Safe?

How Long Can an Engine Run Without Oil Before Damage

For a synthetic oil, it might be, for conventional oil, definitely no.

Oils and engines are different and can result in dramatically different changes. The best way to determine your optimal oil change is to check on your oil every 1000 miles or so.

Keeping an eye on the oil will give you an idea of how it will change color and texture. The darker and thicker the oil, the closer you are to the following oil change. After you’ve adjusted the oil, check the mileage and compare to when the oil turns thicker, and you’ve got your estimate.

In general, most cars are changed between 3000 to 5000 miles, but synthetic oils can push this limit into the 10 000’s.

To learn more about the color of your oil, check out: What color oil is terrible and what does the color of your oil mean?

Can I change my oil only once a year?

You certainly can! If you drive under the recommended mileage.Can I change my oil only once a year

Most manufacturers go on mileage. Your best bet is to check how far you drive in a year and then make an estimate around that. Each oil and car has a different change-point, so make sure you don’t go too far over it. 

How long will conventional oil last?

How long will conventional oil last

Conventional oil can last anywhere between 3000 miles to 5000 miles, an average of around three months, depending on how much you’re driving. Some good traditional oils can push the envelope and reach up to 7000 miles. But keep an eye on the engine and change it if you note any sludge build-up.

Most mechanics encourage fewer oil changes or instead use the oil for longer, especially if you’re using blends or synthetics.

How do I know if I need to change my oil?

How do I know if I need to change my oil

If you’re unsure when to change the oil, your car can tell you quick enough if it needs one.

  • Dark or dirty oil

The first sign is the oil itself. Thick, dark oil is usually a sign it needs to be changed. However, some additives can turn the oil dark. Instead, check out the texture. If it’s thick, it most likely needs to be changed.

The engine will tell you via your engine light if it’s in trouble. Suppose the light is blinking it’s time for a check-up.

  • Exhaust smoke

Excessive smoke from the exhaust, especially in warm temperatures, could be a sign of oil contamination or a head gasket leak. Either way, smoke is never a good sign.

  • Louder engine and knocking sounds

If your engine is rumbling, knocking, or roaring, it means the oil isn’t protecting the parts of the machine anymore, and they are grinding against one another. Oil creates a protective barrier around the parts; without it, the engine will wear out faster.

  • Oil smell in the cabin

If you smell oil in the cabin and it has a mix of gas or exhaust fumes, it means your oil is burning into the exhaust, and your engine is burning out. An oil change might be the least of your worries.

John Robinson
John Robinson

Howdy! I’m John Robinson from Levittown, New York. I am a mechanical engineer for 15 years and already had an established car repair company. I developed a personal relationship with cars since I was a kid. I always love the sounds and smell emitted by a car or truck and even at construction machinery. Since then I have been married but my love for cars only grew.