Signs Your Vehicle Needs an Oil Change

May 10th, 2024 by

A mechanic performing an oil change near Hamilton.

Changing your vehicle’s oil is one of the most important routine maintenance tasks because it directly affects the most vital part of your vehicle—the engine. Getting an oil change near Hamilton will ensure that you’re ready for the road, and visiting a service center like ours will give you access to industry professionals who are comfortable with your particular model. It’s always a good idea to consult your owner’s manual as well as our mechanics about when you should get an oil change, but occasionally, you’ll need one that wasn’t scheduled—but how do you tell?

Your car will give you an indication that something is wrong—more likely, three to five signs that things aren’t working as they should. As a driver, you should be paying attention to the smells, sights, and sounds of your vehicle in order to catch a change in performance. Scheduling routine maintenance is one way to ensure issues are caught early, but you can’t always rely on your vehicle to adhere to your schedule. What clues can help you determine when to take your vehicle in, and how do you know what the problem is? Here are four easy ways to tell when you need an oil change…

1) Difficulty Starting Up

One of the most apparent signs that you need an oil change is when your vehicle has difficulty starting up. You might hear a “coughing” sound, or the vehicle may grind to a halt after starting up. Some of the things that can happen when your car desperately needs an oil change have to do with the engine; if the oil is too low, the engine does not have enough lubrication to make all the parts work together seamlessly, and pushing the vehicle past its limits will only result in damage. You may also find that the pistons need to be replaced or that your engine has failed.

Instead of having to spend thousands on replacing your engine and its components, schedule a regular maintenance visit with your mechanic. Vehicles differ in the time between oil changes, what type of oil to use, and how much; if you’re not sure what the answers to these questions are, you can take a look at the user manual, usually found in the glove compartment. If you still can’t locate it, you can either try to find the owner’s manual online in PDF form or you can talk to a mechanic.

2) Burning Oil Smell

One of the most unpleasant ways to be reminded that your vehicle needs an oil change is the smell of burning oil. If you’ve ever changed your own oil, you know the smell, possibly because when filling up the oil, a little bit splashed on the engine, and now that you’ve revved up your car, that burning oil smell is more pungent than you hoped. Just as with tires, if you smell something, it’s time to pull over and inspect the vehicle to see what might be amiss. It could be anything from low oil to a different kind than you’re used to, or even that the previous oil change was not done correctly.

The smell of burning oil is often described as “hot” or “acrid;” it isn’t a nice smell, and you’ll quickly become aware of it pervading your space. When this happens, it’s much safer to pull over and call someone than it is to keep going, even when you’re in a hurry to get somewhere. If you are familiar with the smell, you likely won’t want to repeat the experience any time soon. If you don’t remember ever smelling burning oil, you may want to check for additional signs of needing to get your oil changed.

An oil can being poured into an engine.

3) Excess Exhaust Smoke

Another tell-tale sign that your vehicle needs an oil change is excess exhaust smoke. Typically you’ll see a light-colored exhaust coming from the tailpipe, but if you happen to glance back and see a lot of darker exhaust than you’re used to, this could be a sign that you need an appointment with your mechanic. Of course, this sign probably won’t appear on its own, but if you don’t see the other signs, your car will begin to smoke excessively, and that’s a warning sign that should never be ignored. If you see this on a friend’s or family member’s vehicle, you may want to check with them and see if they are aware of it.

Sometimes, it can be difficult to ascertain what the excess exhaust smoke means, especially if there are other reasons that your exhaust is smoking; some other common reasons that you see smoke are coolant leaks, overheating, exhaust leaks, a motor oil leak, faulty fuel injectors, or cracks in the cylinder head. It’s important to pay attention to your vehicle because there are only so many things it can do to alert you to issues within its machinery.

4) Engine Overheating

If all else fails, your vehicle will let you know things are precarious or about to become dangerous when the engine overheats. A few ways to tell that are reduced engine power, a slightly sweet or burnt smell, steam coming from the engine area, and thumping noises. Of course, you may also see an alert on your gauge cluster, or you might notice the temperature gauge rising. It’s vital that you don’t crack the engine block, so if you notice any of these signs, please pull over immediately and have your vehicle towed to the nearest mechanic.

Sometimes, the signs are so gradual that you may not notice them until they are so bad that your engine becomes damaged. At that point, you may need to make a tough decision regarding the future of your vehicle: are you attached to enough that you want to get the engine replaced, or will you look for a new or used vehicle you can trade into? Since an oil change requires minimal effort and payment, it would be far easier to begin scheduling regular maintenance visits a year out so that you can plan ahead instead of hoping that your vehicle can wait until the last possible moment.

A close-up of oil being poured into an engine.

Call a Professional If You Notice These Symptoms

Whether you have a new vehicle or an older one, it can sometimes be difficult to tell when an oil change is needed until it’s too late. Pushing your car past the point where it should have had an oil change can result in plenty of trouble sooner rather than later in the form of engine damage—clogging, overheating, losing friction, and wearing out of parts. In order to keep everything running as smoothly as possible, it’s imperative that you keep an eye on your vehicle and schedule maintenance visits when needed or when you suspect there’s an issue.

If you spot your oil leaking, encounter a weird smell, or notice the engine is acting up, it’s time to take your vehicle in for a routine check. You may also want to get into the habit of checking the oil yourself every so often just to make sure you are using the correct kind and amount and that no problems are holding your engine performance back. If you want to keep your vehicle running smoothly for many years, it’s important to take care of the most basic tasks—like oil changes—as soon and often as you can.