To let drivers know when to change out their engine oil and oil filter, many vehicles made in the last couple decades have a dedicated “Change Engine Oil” or “Maint Reqd” light on the dash. These lights come on based on fuel and mileage data calculated by the car’s computer. This calculation factors in driving habits (such as city versus highway) as well as acceleration and load tendencies. In other words, “lead footed” city drivers will see their oil change indicator light illuminate more frequently than conservative highway drivers.

 For many years, the standard oil change interval was three months or 3,000 miles, whichever came first. But advances in fuel injection and more sophisticated engine management systems, along with other gains in efficiency, have made that figure obsolete.

Manufacturers discovered that these positive changes were having an effect on engine oil life. The typical oil change intervals recommended by the vehicle manufacturers began to increase from 3,000 miles to 5,000 miles or even 10,000 miles. Your owner’s manual will list your recommended interval.

When you first start the engine, this light should come on for one or two seconds and then go out. If the light stays on, the vehicle is due for an oil and filter change.

Vehicles equipped with an in-cabin messaging system will see an oil life of 10% to 100% displayed in the center of the dash that should go off in one to five seconds. If the oil life is at or near 0%, the messaging system will display an “oil change due” message. Until the oil and filter change is performed and the oil life messaging system reset, the light will continue to display.

By Wes Schwengels

How do I fix the oil change indicator light?

On vehicles with an oil change light, an oil change is needed when the light remains on after startup. It’s best to schedule the oil change within one to two weeks. If you primarily do highway driving, you have a little more breathing room than city driving. If your planning a road trip, have the oil and filter changed before leaving.

Vehicles with an “oil change due” messaging system will display a message when there is less than 10% oil life remaining. When this message displays, the next oil and filter change should be scheduled within one to two weeks or before any substantial driving trip.

Whichever indicator your vehicle has, always have the repair shop reset the oil change indicator after completing the oil change. You should also request that an oil change reminder sticker be placed somewhere on the vehicle that states when the next oil change is due in terms of mileage and time as well as what type of oil and viscosity to use. The oil change reminder sticker provides technical information to the repair shop performing the oil change and also keeps track of the accuracy of the oil change light system itself.

Keep on top of your oil level

At a minimum, you should check your oil level at every other fuel fill-up or once a month. If you do not know how to do this, follow the instructions here or have the repair shop that performs the oil change check it. Even a dealership should be willing to do this for regular customers. This service should not require an appointment, nor should you be charged for it. Vehicle owner’s manuals typically have good instructions with diagrams showing how to check the oil level, as well as other fluid levels.