An oil change is one of the simplest pieces of maintenance that owners can perform on their cars. Whether you're an amateur mechanic who knows how to change the oil yourself or you visit the quick lube shop on a regular basis, changing the oil is never really a difficult procedure. Unfortunately, many drivers still ignore the warnings about oil changes and go for a long time without changing things up. This can lead to problems way more expensive than what a quick oil change will cost you.
Oil is frequently referred to as the lifeblood of a vehicle, and for good reason. The oil in a car is responsible for lubricating all of the various engine parts. Without oil running throughout the entire system, metal parts can begin to grind against each other and friction will wear away at the fabric of your engine. Once that starts, there's no going back - a worn down engine part will almost always need a full replacement. It's not uncommon for drivers who ignore oil changes to completely blow out their engine. At that point, it's often cheaper to just buy another car than get it repaired.
Oil changes serve several functions. First, oil naturally degrades over time and begins to get thick and sludgy. This decreases the oil's viscosity and affects its lubrication. Secondly, oil changes also serve to refill the oil. Sludgy oil is one thing, but driving around with no oil or a drastically reduced amount of oil that can't correctly lubricate all the critical parts is simply asking for trouble.
In fact, oil is so important to the vehicle that many places offer "oil analyses." These are a bit like a blood test for a vehicle. An oil analysis will tell you exactly what's going on in your engine. For example, small flakes of metal in the oil will indicate the engine is wearing down - probably because you went too long without changing your oil. The oil will also have traces of residue from other parts of the car, so you'll immediately be able to tell if you have a coolant leak, for example.
This gets into the other reason that oil changes are important - they're an easy way to spot other potential problems with the vehicle. Even if you skip an oil change every now and then, it's important to check the oil levels with the car's dipstick. This will allow you to see if there's a leak in the system. A leak can be especially problematic when it comes to oil, as it probably means that oil is getting into areas where it's not supposed to.
Low oil levels could also potentially indicate the engine is burning oil, which is a serious issue. Drivers can also spot this problem if the smoke behind their engine appears to be blue. This is frequently caused by worn down engine parts that begin pushing the oil into engine compartments. The oil gets burned up, which is not only bad for the engine, but could mean that you'll go through oil much faster than normal. This is a tricky problem with no easy solution. Typically, it requires significant and expensive engine repairs. Some drivers try to get around the issue by refilling the car's engine with oil every chance they get, but this only prolongs the problem and doesn't solve it.
All of this will be easily missed by the owner who doesn't take the time to change their oil every now and again. Experts disagree on the best mileage intervals for oil changes, so check your owner's manual for the manufacturer's recommendation - and be sure you don't forget.