Many car models manufactured in the last few years have sophisticated computers that track the performance of your vehicle, including the oil in the engine. A dash reading or alert lets you know when it's time to change your oil. Thanks to newer synthetic oils that last much longer than traditional oil, you can go for several months and thousands of miles between oil changes. However, if you have an older car, or buy a used car, you may not know when to change the oil. Whether your car is old or new, these are some signs to get your oil changed.

Mileage And Time

Every car is different, so you need to check your car manual to find out when you should change your oil based on miles driven or time since the last oil change. When the mechanic changes your oil, you'll probably get a reminder sticker on your car that lets you know when the next change is due. Keep in mind, these estimates are based on optimal driving conditions. If you live in a big city and do a lot of short-distance driving, you'll need to have your oil changed much more often.

Also, if you use your vehicle to tow an RV or boat, you'll need oil changes more often. That's why you should check the oil yourself periodically when you fill up with gas. If you have an old used car and have no idea when the oil was last changed, it's a good idea to go ahead and change it, so you can start with fresh oil. Oil changes are not very expensive, and having fresh oil saves a lot of wear and tear on your car.

Smells And Sounds

As your oil gets dirty, it doesn't lubricate your engine as smoothly as it should. When grit gets in the parts, it may cause your engine to run loudly. You may even notice a strong oily smell coming from your car. Low or bad oil may even make the check engine light come on your dash. When these things happen, you should check your oil to see if it needs to be filled or changed.

Dirt And Grit

It's very easy to check your oil. All you have to do is lift the hood of your car and look for the dipstick. Grab a paper towel, an old rag, or some tissue, so you can wipe the oil off the stick when you pull it out. Now insert the dipstick into the oil and pull it back out. Wipe the stick onto the paper towel so you can see the color and consistency of the oil. Clean oil should be golden in color. It should also be clear. If the oil you see is black and tarry, it needs to be changed. Seeing grit or debris is another sign your oil needs to be changed. At the same time, you can look at the markings on the dipstick to check the level of oil in your engine. If it is very low, you may want to go ahead and have your oil changed rather than top it off. But do one or the other, so your engine has enough oil to run smoothly.

Once you've owned your car for several months and are accustomed to how quickly the oil gets dirty and needs to be changed, you can establish a regular schedule of maintenance. Keeping your oil levels full and clean helps prolong the life of your engine and prevent costly damage.