Oil changes are standard maintenance unless you have an electric car, so it’s a good idea to know the signs that your car needs an oil change. Some of the signs are obvious, such as the maintenance warning light in newer vehicles. But even that sign isn’t foolproof. Usually, the maintenance reminder is triggered by an algorithm based solely on mileage. It doesn’t factor in your car’s oil level or condition or other driving conditions.

To remove all doubts, here are some other signs to keep in mind.

How You Can Tell It’s Time for an Oil Change

Oil Smell

An oil smell inside your car while you’re driving or outside when you stop, can be a sign you need an oil change, or your vehicle has a more serious problem. The oil could be dirty, or you may have an oil leak or an overheating engine. At first scent of oil, look at your temperature gauge to check for overheating. If it’s over the normal range, contact your mechanic immediately. After the overheating issue is fixed, you’ll want to change the oil whether it was due or not.


When you notice your car’s temperature registering higher than the normal range, that’s a sign you need an oil change and possibly other maintenance as well. Get to a mechanic immediately. A smell of oil plus gas or exhaust can indicate an oil leak.

Even without a smell, overheating can seriously damage your car or start a fire.

Weird Noises

A knocking or rumbling sound is also a sign that your car needs an oil change and a checkup. Oil keeps the metal parts in your engine from rubbing together, so engine noise or unusual vibration may indicate that the oil isn’t keeping your engine lubricated.

Extensive Use

Manufacturer recommendations for an oil change are typically based on time or mileage, ranging from every 3,000 miles or 3 months to every 6,000 miles or 6 months. (Every car is different, so check your owner’s manual for guidelines.) But if you’ve traveled a lot over a month or two, it’s best to get an oil change ahead of schedule. Your oil change service will include a check of other filters and fluids that may need to be changed or filled as well since you’ve driven your car more than usual.

Dark Oil Color

Hopefully, you’re in the habit of checking your oil so you know when it’s clean, it’s a light brown color. Darker oil is dirty and needs to be changed. Thick, sludgy oil can damage your engine and also needs to be replaced.

Low Oil Level or Drips

If your oil level seems low every time you check or you notice oil on the ground, those are signs of an oil leak. Likewise, smoke coming from your engine or exhaust indicates a bigger problem than needing an oil change.

Get Your Next Oil Change in Sanford, NC

Whether you realize it is time for an oil change, or you have other concerns about your car, Fred Anderson Toyota of Sanford has several specials on vehicle maintenance, diagnostics, and other services. We hope to hear from you soon.