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Is there a motor oil shelf life?

Posted by: Erik Bjornstad

It’s a simple question, really. What’s the shelf life of motor oil?

shelf-life-of-motor-oil.jpgThat is, if that’s what we’re really wanting to know when we ask that question. On the one hand, we might be wanting to know something along the lines of if I buy some quarts of oil at the store, how long do I have before I need to use them?  And on the other hand, even if we don’t realize it, what we really may be asking is how long does oil last in my engine before I need to change it?

Motor Oil Shelf Life

Simply put, the “shelf life” of oil is up to five years. It’s not something that goes bad in a couple of months.  It’s impossible to predict exactly how long motor oil shelf life is, because it’s situation-dependent. It depends how much exposure it receives to things that can speed up its degradation.

Petroleum products “go bad” because of chemical reactions that are started when they get exposed to things like air and oxygen, heat, light and water. So how you store the oil influences its shelf life. But, again, we’re talking about the difference between a quart of oil lasting for two years in your garage vs. five years.  Just keep it away from long-term exposure to extreme heat, and keep it sealed up so it isn’t constantly exposed to air and doesn’t have the chance to develop condensation. Your oil should last longer than you think it will.

If you have motor oil that you have no idea how old it is, just have a look at it. Pour it out of the container so you can examine it. Fresh motor oil has a pale brown color to it. If the oil is significantly darkened, it may have oxidized. If it has a milky appearance, there could be water in it. It should not be hazy, nor should you be able to detect any kind of settling, or the presence of any particulates.

Absent these things, your motor oil is probably fine to use.

How long does your oil last in your car

The other nuance concerns how long your oil is good for in your engine - how long it "lasts" in your car. Again, this is situation-dependent, because driving conditions are the biggest determiner of how long oil lasts in your engine. That doesn’t mean you need to change your oil after 3000 miles on the clock. The best answer to this question is found in your vehicle’s owner’s manual. The most common answer to the oil change interval question is 7,000 miles. This goes down to 5,000 miles if you fall under the “severe driving conditions” – lot of short trips, very hot or very cold driving conditions, very dusty conditions. Your vehicle owner’s manual will give you the right answer to this question.

You may be interested in these other posts:

Healthy Oil: All About Your Oil


This post was published on July 26, 2016 and was updated on July 26, 2016.

Topics: Lubrication, Car Care