How Often Should You Change The Oil In Your Classic Car?

Ask ten different classic car owners how often they change their oil, and you’ll likely get ten different answers. Maybe even eleven. These days, even modern cars vary wildly by manufacturer recommendations and owners’ opinions alike. So how do you know how often is best to change the oil in YOUR classic? Read on, and we’ll discuss the finer points of oil maintenance intervals. 

Way back in the day, 2500 miles (or three months, whichever came first) was a pretty widely accepted figure for when your oil and filter should be changed. 

You ARE changing your filter too, right? Good. 

As roads got cleaner, air filters more efficient, and engines manufactured to stricter tolerances, the number started to rise. 3,000 miles. 5,000. Mileage as high as 10,000 and sometimes even 15,000 can be found right in the owner’s manual for some cars.

“That’s insane!” you might say, and you’d be right—for the most part. Modern cars using modern oil really can make it to 10,000, but that’s starting to push it. 

Classic cars need to be treated differently. After all, they come from a different time, with different standards of manufacturing and efficiency. Keep in mind the decade the car was built in. 60s and 70s cars weren’t exactly known for being clean or efficient, and this will affect how quickly your oil will get dirty or start to break down. 

Thanks to advancements in engine technology and manufacturing, newer models can make it further without an oil change. The 80s were a bit of a mixed bag in this regard, but in the 90s cars really started to change into what we know them as today.  If we approach all of this logically, we can conclude that the manufacturer’s suggested interval AT THE TIME would suffice in almost every case for your classic car.

There are a few caveats here, however. As with any car, it is an absolute must to use a quality brand of oil and a quality oil filter. I’d strongly advise against no-name or off-brand oils. For filters, it’s hard to go wrong with an OEM part or good aftermarket suppliers like Purolator. 

There are some no-brainer exceptions to the “suggested interval” rule of thumb. One that comes to mind is the fifth generation Corvettes (the “C5”). These are in the 15,000 mile club, and honestly… no. Please don’t do that, on ANY car. The C5 does call for full synthetic, but stick to something reasonable like 5,000 miles.

You’ll also need to consider the mileage of the car and engine. If you have relatively low mileage, or a rebuilt engine, you can certainly go a little longer. But if you’re working with high mileage or an engine that consumes oil, try to change it a little more often.

If you’re like most classic car owners, you’ll probably lean towards changing your oil sooner rather than later anyway. I applaud you. While not absolutely necessary, there is never harm in changing it early. You may want to base your interval on how much down time the car has. If it sits a lot, maybe you’ll do every 1,500-2,500. If it gets driven semi regularly, you could stretch it further. The reason for this is that when a car sits a lot, moisture and other contaminants have a lot more time to make their way into the oil. 

A lot of it comes down to opinion, preference, and how tip-top you want to keep the car running. Look up what was suggested for your car, tailor that to how you use the car, and go from there.

For the record, I change the oil on my own classic car every 2,000 miles. Happy motoring, friends.

Leave a Comment