5% Oil Life Remaining: What To Do?

Have you ever found yourself staring at your Honda car dashboard, only to see that dreaded notification: “5% Oil Life Remaining“? It’s a moment that fills us with a mix of frustration, worry, and a touch of panic.

In this article, we’ll explore the ins and outs of dealing with a low oil life percentage in vehicles. From understanding the implications of this warning to taking the necessary steps to ensure your car’s longevity, we’ve got you covered. 

The 5% oil life remaining warning in your vehicle indicates it’s time for an oil change. Driving with contaminated oil can damage engine parts. Oil loses lubricating ability as it collects contaminants, causing friction and wear. Follow your owner’s manual for oil change intervals, usually every 3,000-5,000 miles. Some cars have systems that adjust intervals based on driving conditions. Don’t ignore the 5% warning – schedule an oil change soon.

Meaning of 5% Oil Life Remaining

Engine Oil Life (%)Service timeExplanation
15%Service engine oil soonThe engine oil is approaching the end of its service life. It is recommended to inspect and service the maintenance items soon.
5%Service engine oil nowThe engine oil has almost reached the end of its service life. It is advised to inspect and service the maintenance items as soon as possible.
0%Service overdueThe oil life indicator will be blinking, indicating that the engine oil is overdue for maintenance.

At 15% engine oil life, we’re entering a phase where the oil has begun to lose some of its essential characteristics. Engine oil, aside from lubricating engine components, performs a range of tasks like cooling the engine parts, preventing rust, and keeping the engine clean. After a certain threshold, it becomes less effective at doing these tasks.

This is why, when oil life reaches the 15% mark, it’s a signal for you to schedule a maintenance check-up on the horizon. It’s not an emergency, but like a friendly nudge, it’s urging you to act sooner rather than later.

When the engine oil life hits 5%, it’s a stronger warning. Here, the oil is very close to reaching its serviceability limit. The wear and tear pollutants and heat may have degraded the oil’s quality.

You might see indicator lights or messages like “change oil soon”, or “service engine oil” which are your vehicle trying to tell you that an oil and potential filter change is necessary. These are not just casual suggestions; they are calculated conclusions based on algorithms that monitor your driving patterns and oil quality.

At 0% oil life, the situation becomes critical. Your oil life indicator will blink, reflecting that the engine oil maintenance is overdue. Running your car with deteriorated or insufficient oil can harm your engine and, in extreme cases, may lead to expensive repairs or even total engine failure. Therefore, ignoring this could be detrimental to your vehicle’s health.

If you continue to drive after the 0% oil life remaining message, the vehicle’s dashboard will display a ‘negative mileage’. For example, ‘-20 miles’ will mean that you should have changed engine oil 20 miles ago.

This notification serves as a reminder that your engine has been running without adequate lubrication and proper oil properties for an extended period. Continuing to drive in this state can lead to increased friction, heat buildup, and potential damage to the engine components.

In essence, engine oil is the lifeblood of your vehicle. Just as we wouldn’t ignore our well-being, it’s imperative we don’t ignore these signs when it comes to the health of our vehicle. These stages ranging from 15%, 5%, to 0%, are structured to urge a sense of urgency and necessity for regular engine maintenance for your vehicle’s longevity and optimal performance.

Will 5% Oil Still Protect The Engine?

Yes, 5% oil still protects the engine but you need to start planning your next oil change. To fully grasp the concept behind 5% oil life, it’s essential to understand how your vehicle’s computer calculates oil life and how you can maintain your engine’s health in the long run.

The “5% oil remaining” notification is just a friendly reminder programmed into the odometer, nudging you to change the oil after a certain mileage.

Many people confuse it as offering 100% protection for 5% of the time, or that only 5% of the engine is receiving complete protection. In actuality, this simply means there is still some time left, however, you need to start preparing for an oil change.

Your oil life monitor may give you a percentage, but remember, it isn’t actively testing your oil.

Based on extensive testing and extensive research on how oil degrades over time under various conditions, engineers have developed an algorithm to track and estimate your oil’s life.

But there are also some factors this algorithm doesn’t consider, such as the quality of oil used. If your owner’s manual recommends synthetic oil but you opt for cheaper brands that do not meet engine oil standards, it’s likely your oil has already worn out. Moreover, you should strictly follow the oil viscosity grade recommended in owner’s manual.

Speaking of synthetic oil, it’s widely accepted as superior to regular oil due to its consistent molecule size, enhanced temperature stability, exceptional performance under various temperatures, and increased lifespan. 

Just a word of advice: don’t overthink it. Avoid the uncertainty of oil life monitors and consider setting a regular oil-changing schedule based on mileage or time.

A good benchmark of engine oil change can be every 6000 miles or every 6 months, whichever comes first. Still, stick to what works for you depending on your driving habits and conditions.

It’s also important to check the oil using traditional methods. Use a dipstick to check the oil levels and smell the oil to detect any gasoline traces, which could indicate more serious engine problems. Putting a drop on a white paper towel can help identify the oil’s consistency, color, and whether it’s time for a change.

When your vehicle’s maintenance minder system establishes your oil life is at 5%, it’s time for service. When it hits 0%, it’s not just due but overdue. Driving on degraded oil subjects your engine to unnecessary stress, which could lead to significant damage or even engine failure. Therefore, keeping an eye on your oil life is crucial to ensure your engine’s longevity.

What Is The Best Time For an Oil Change Then?

When it’s time for an oil change in your car, don’t just rely on the dashboard’s oil life message. There’s a smarter approach to deciding when it’s due. Consider three things: the miles driven, the time since the last change, and the 5% oil life remaining warning. Whichever comes first is your cue for an oil change.

Here’s the thing: time matters as much as mileage. Even if you don’t drive your car often, don’t skip oil changes. Over time, condensation builds up in the oil, causing potential damage to your engine. Don’t underestimate the clock!

Even if a vehicle is driven infrequently, it’s still necessary to change the oil once or twice a year. This is because, over time, condensation can accumulate in the oil while it sits in the crankcase. This excess moisture can lead to a breakdown in the oil’s quality and effectiveness, potentially causing damage to the engine.

Additionally, prolonged exposure to oil in the crankcase can lead to corrosion and reactions with engine components, further degrading the oil quality. Engine deposits can also build up over time, affecting the overall performance and longevity of the engine

To illustrate this point, imagine a scenario where someone owns a vehicle that they seldom drive.

Despite the low mileage, if two years have passed since the last oil change, they should still change the oil. The reason for this is to prevent the negative effects of condensation, corrosion, and engine deposits on the oil, which can ultimately harm the engine’s health. 

To learn more, I have explained in my guide: what happens if we change oil after 2 years.

In a nutshell, don’t rely on one thing alone. Look at the bigger picture! Combine mileage, time, and the oil life monitor’s advice for a happy and healthy engine. Keep it simple, and drive with confidence!

Never Ignore Oil Level As Well

Many car owners also ignore checking engine oil levels at regular intervals. They keep on relying on oil life monitor messages and don’t bother to also check engine oil.

Checking your engine oil level is like giving your car a quick health check-up. Now, why is this so important? Well, picture this: your engine is working hard, moving those parts like a well-choreographed dance. But without enough oil, it’s like asking your car to dance on a hot frying pan – not a pretty sight!

When your engine doesn’t have enough oil, bad things happen. Friction increases, parts start rubbing each other the wrong way, and that can lead to serious damage. Nobody wants that, right?

Remember, checking the oil level is easy peasy, and it doesn’t take much time.

To check your oil manually, follow these steps:

  1. Park your vehicle on level ground and let the engine cool down.
  2. Locate the dipstick, usually indicated by a brightly colored handle, within the engine compartment.
  3. Pull the dipstick out, wipe it clean with a white paper towel, and insert it back into the dipstick tube.
  4. Remove the dipstick again and observe the oil’s level color, consistency, and smell.
    • The correct level of engine oil should be between maximum and minimum marks on the dipstick. If the oil appears very dark, smells like gas, or seems too thin, it indicates a need for an oil change.

Now, car owners are also confused about what level of engine oil is considered too low and bad for their car. For this, I have written my guide on how far you can drive with minimum engine oil.

Under What Driving Conditions the Engine Oil Degrades Faster?

Here are the following driving conditions under which engine oil degrades faster:

Heavy Load and Towing

Driving with a heavy load or towing a trailer puts additional stress on your engine, causing it to work harder. Under these conditions, the engine oil is subjected to increased pressure and temperature, accelerating its degradation.

The increased friction and heat can cause the oil to break down faster, leading to reduced lubrication and potential engine damage. To minimize the impact, it is recommended to use engine oils with higher viscosity and additives that provide enhanced protection under heavy load conditions.

Stop-and-Go Traffic

Frequent stop-and-go driving in heavy traffic can also contribute to faster engine oil degradation. This is because the engine operates at lower speeds and experiences more frequent temperature fluctuations, which can cause moisture and contaminants to accumulate in the oil.

Additionally, the constant start and stop movements put more strain on the engine, leading to increased wear and tear. To mitigate these effects, regular oil changes and using oils with detergents and dispersants can help keep the oil clean and maintain its performance.

Short Trips

Short trips, where the engine doesn’t reach its optimal operating temperature for an extended period, can also accelerate engine oil degradation.

During short trips, the engine doesn’t get enough time to warm up fully, resulting in incomplete combustion, increased fuel dilution, and higher levels of moisture and contaminants in the oil. This can lead to sludge formation and reduced oil performance.

Due to this reason, vehicles that frequently do long highway trips last longer than city cars driving in stop-and-go traffic conditions.

Dusty and Off-Road Conditions

If you often drive in dusty or off-road conditions, your engine oil is exposed to higher levels of contaminants, such as dirt, dust, and sand. These particles can find their way into the engine and mix with the oil, causing it to degrade faster. The abrasive nature of these contaminants can also lead to increased engine wear. 

So, if you drive your vehicle with a 5% oil life remaining condition under the above-explained harsh driving conditions, the oil will be unable to protect the engine and will deteriorate faster.

Low % Oil Life Remaining Won’t Go Away After Oil Change?

You have to reset the engine oil life display if you are done with the engine oil change. Here’s how to do it:

  1. If your vehicle has a Driver Information Center (DIC), display the OIL LIFE REMAINING. If your vehicle doesn’t have DIC buttons, make sure it’s in Park (P) to access this display. You can find specific instructions in your vehicle’s Operation and Maintenance Manual. Press and hold the checkmark icon or the trip odometer reset stem (if your vehicle doesn’t have DIC buttons) for a few seconds. This action will set the oil life to 100%.
  2. Another method to reset the oil life system is to display the OIL LIFE REMAINING on the DIC (if available). Refer to your vehicle’s Operation and Maintenance Manual for guidance.
  3. Slowly press the accelerator pedal fully three times within five seconds.
  4. Once again, display the OIL LIFE REMAINING on the DIC. If it shows 100%, you’ve successfully reset the system.

Does 5% Oil Life Remaining Message Indicate That Vehicle Has a Low Oil Level?

The “5% Oil Life Remaining” message isn’t directly tied to your oil level. Instead, it’s like your car’s gentle nudge to remind you that it’s time for an oil change.

This message is your vehicle’s way of letting you know that the oil has done its duty, taking on miles and engine heat, and it’s now gradually losing its effectiveness.

Now, you might wonder, “Could low oil cause this message?” Good question! Low oil levels can indeed trigger the “low oil pressure” warning light, but that’s a whole different ballgame. Your car’s oil level and its life percentage are like two separate chapters in the automotive novel.

Think of it this way: your engine’s oil level is more about quantity, while the “oil life remaining” message is all about quality. The oil’s additives, viscosity, and overall ability to protect your engine from wear and tear are what’s being assessed here.

“But wait,” you might say, “how does my car even know the oil’s quality?” Ah, great point! Modern cars are equipped with smart sensors and complex algorithms that monitor your driving habits, engine temperature, and more. These brainy sensors gather data and churn out that “5% Oil Life Remaining” message at just the right moment.


How much does an oil change typically cost?

The cost of an oil change can vary depending on factors such as the type of oil used, the location, and the specific vehicle. On average, an oil change can range from $30 to $70, but it is advisable to check with local mechanics or service centers for accurate pricing.

Can I use synthetic oil to extend the oil change interval?

Synthetic oil is known for its longer-lasting properties and ability to withstand higher temperatures. Using synthetic oil can potentially extend the oil change interval, but it is still important to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for your specific vehicle.

Are there any signs that indicate the need for an oil change besides the oil life indicator?

Yes, there are several signs that may indicate the need for an oil change, such as dark or dirty oil, engine noise or knocking sounds, decreased fuel efficiency, and the presence of a burning smell. If you notice any of these signs, it is advisable to get your oil changed as soon as possible.

How often should I change my car’s oil?

The frequency of oil changes depends on various factors such as the type of oil used, driving conditions, and the manufacturer’s recommendations. However, as a general guideline, it is recommended to change your car’s oil every 3,000 to 5,000 miles or every 6 months to 1 year whichever comes first.

Can I still drive my car with 5% oil life remaining?

While it is generally safe to drive your car with 5% oil life remaining, it is important to schedule an oil change as soon as possible. Continuing to drive with low oil life can increase the risk of engine damage and decrease overall performance.

What happens if I ignore the 5% oil life remaining warning?

Ignoring the 5% oil life remaining warning can lead to several potential issues. The oil may become dirty and lose its lubricating properties, causing increased friction and wear on engine components. This can result in reduced engine performance, decreased fuel efficiency, and potentially costly repairs in the long run.

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