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I'm going on vacation for 3 weeks and am due for an oil change right at that time. Where I live is cold, I may be able to store it in a garage however. My car is a 2017.

Should I get the oil change before my trip and let it sit with fresh oil or wait and get the oil change when I get back?

  • Welcome to the site, good question! :) – George Nov 29 '17 at 17:31
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    @cybernard Please don't post answers as comments. The only answer as of writing suggests that that might not be the case; here as a comment it's impossible to downvote it so what might be misinformation will be perpetuated. – wizzwizz4 Nov 29 '17 at 18:52
  • The question would be more interesting if you intended to leave your car for three years. – Peter A. Schneider Nov 30 '17 at 15:12
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    @insidesin If you have improvements to this question, edit it. Otherwise, the downvote exists for this reason. Comments are for requesting clarification. Also, it's a perfectly reasonable question if the asker doesn't know the answer. – maxathousand Nov 30 '17 at 18:42
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    @PeterA.Schneider Perhaps you can add an answer to this effect and share some of your knowledge? – maxathousand Nov 30 '17 at 18:45
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There is no correct answer to this. It is only a matter of preference that will give you peace of mind.

Since the car is not being driven, the oil change can happen at either point. You will see no added benefit either way.

While it sits for 3 weeks, the old oil will not become bad or damage anything. Changing it before you leave will just be one less thing you need to do when you return.

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    Equivalently: "Changing it when you return it will just be one less thing you need to do when getting ready to leave." Good answer – Lyndon White Nov 30 '17 at 8:22
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Change it after, especially if you are having the oil filter changed at the same time (which is often recommended.)

It is always possible that the mechanic will carry out the job incorrectly, and fail to replace the plug or filter properly. The filter gasket is quite large. The chances of a problem are low but I wouldn't leave a vehicle (or a house) alone after any event that could potentially cause a leak.

If you leave a car with an oil leak for 3 weeks you will have a garage full of oil, and a car that is undriveable. If you notice a leak between getting the change done and leaving on your trip, you will have to rush back to the garage to get it fixed.

If you do it after you come back, you should notice a leak immediately and be able to take corrective action without a sense of urgency. You will also find it easier to get a fix from the garage if you bring the faulty work back immediately rather than waiting 3 weeks.

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    If it does not spill out while under pressure (drive back from the workshop) it will not spill out just sitting there. The Oil-filter above Oil-Level in most modern vehicles anyways. The worst that could happen is that some drops come out of the drain-plug in the oil-pan, but that has nothing to do with filter change. Also consider that oil is much thinner while hot, so any leak is much worse when the motor is hot. – Daniel Nov 30 '17 at 8:48
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    "you will have a garage full of oil" How much oil goes into an average, new-ish car? – a CVn Nov 30 '17 at 9:49
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    @MichaelKjörling Between 3 liters (small engines) up to about 10 liters (large engines) – Maarten Nov 30 '17 at 13:17
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    Even if "garage full of oil" is a moderate overstatement, everything else applies, especially the "undriveable". Excellent point. – Peter Cordes Dec 1 '17 at 5:26
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    We had an oil change before a driving vacation, and on the way home, suddenly the car starts burning and leaking massive amounts of oil. stopped got a tow, when the car was up on the flat bed of the tow truck, the Drain bolt fell out and landed on the Truck bed. I had my wife take photos of it(her car), because I didn't think the dealership would believe her. So Magically falling out, does happen...occasionally – Eric Brown - Cal Dec 1 '17 at 16:58
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According to How To Prep Your Car for Long-Term Storage:

Change the Oil

Skip this step if you're only storing the car for a week or two. Consider getting the oil changed if you will be storing the vehicle for longer than 30 days. Ford recommends this in its owner's manuals, saying that used engine oil has contaminants that could damage the engine.

So, since you're going to be gone for 21 days, you're still within the margin of not needing a change before you leave, but used oil does cause some damage when it just sits there, so fresh oil is probably a better idea overall. If you had just gotten an oil change, doing it again would have been pointless.

Since used oil is apparently a problem, I'd go with a change beforehand. If you get a synthetic oil change (costs more), you can actually go longer than the "recommended" 3,000 miles, which is actually a myth. Modern synthetics are good for six months or 8,000 miles between changes. You might also be interested in reading Three Months, 3,000 Miles Or Longer?: The Truth about Oil Changes.

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If your changing the oil yourself, I would suggest to drain the oil, leave it with the drip pan underneath and drain plug removed whilst you are gone and when you come back, fill it up with oil again. This way more of the old oil will drain out. To ensure you do not forget what you have done, disconnect the battery and leave a note to yourself ontop of the battery. That way if you go to start the car with no oil, the car will not start and the note will remind you.

It is never necessary to leave an engine drain for so long but I thought it might be of some advantage and offer different perspective to other answers. Nothing bad can happen if you leave the engine with no oil in it. There will be enough of a film to prevent any rust (I did this for a number of weeks to maximise the amount of oil drained before removing a sump. I then left the sump off for some more time whilst the car was outside and no rust developed). If your car is stored on street parking I would not suggest this approach as the oil pan could become disturbed and result in spilt oil and your neighbours will not be happy.

  • Added bonus for leaving vehicle dry: harder to steal! – bishop Dec 1 '17 at 11:16
  • @bishop: Disagree. Just as easy to steal, the thieves will simply destroy the motor while driving it away. Might save the car if stolen to take to a "chop shop" to be broken down for parts, but it'll be a worse outcome if stolen by kids who simply intended to take it on a joy ride around the neighborhood and abandon it in a parking lot. – TMN Dec 1 '17 at 14:30
  • This is really bad advice. Why would anyone do this. – geoO Apr 4 at 1:03
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If you do it after, it will be an additional 3 weeks before you have to do it again.

  • Not really. Nothing happens when you don't drive it, and oil doesn't age all by itself, so the changing interval has nothing to do with time. The shop may give you a time to make it easy, but that's just an estimate. More accurate would be distance (every 7,000 miles or so - I do it every 5,000 because my oil is cheap and it makes the math easy), but even that's an estimate to hand-wave away what the engine itself is actually doing. – AaronD Nov 29 '17 at 19:19
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    @axsvl77 I have not seen oil with a "best before" date on it unlike milk etc... mind you if there is one it will be funny :) – Solar Mike Nov 29 '17 at 19:53
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    @cybernard - The '70s are calling and they want their oil change interval recommendation back! :) Seriously, no modern car calls for an oil change interval of 3000 miles anymore. – Glen Yates Nov 29 '17 at 20:32
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    @cybernard Ford owner's manuals for a 2018 Focus says the "Intelligent Oil-Life Monitor system" tells you when to change, may be up to one year or 10,000 miles, or 3000 miles in max towing/extreme temps. A 2010 (Crown Vic) says a normal oil change interval is 7500 miles/6months, or "Special Operating Conditions: 5,000 miles, 6 months, or 200 hours of engine operation". A 1996 Crown Vic manual had 5000 miles normal, or 3000 miles severe (drive in dust, taxi/police). – Xen2050 Nov 30 '17 at 1:26
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    @GlenYates Ferraris and other highly tuned sports cars often have very low mileage oil change intervals. – Shiv Nov 30 '17 at 3:35
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I'm thinking before. Old oil has tiny particles which might pile up to bottom by the time and as you drain the oil out the tiny particles will not drain out as well.

Of course you can, and you should, run the engine for a good while before starting to drain oil out (also let it cool down a little) - still I would prefer before.

Would you leave your car with old oil for a longer time, say like a year? I wouldn't, I'd change the oil before.

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  • Have any references about bacteria ruining engine oil? Never heard that before, and I wouldn't expect the heat in a running engine to leave much bacteria alive – Xen2050 Nov 30 '17 at 0:48
  • A quick search didn't show anything about bacteria affecting oil changes but there was a lot about bacteria eating oil spills so I'll retract that. Thanks. – Ruminator Nov 30 '17 at 5:46

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