How Often Does Your Car Really Need An Oil Change?

Ask five drivers how often you should have your oil changed, and you’ll get five different answers.

That’s because there is no simple rule anymore as to how often to change the oil, as there was back in the 1980s and 90s when the rule was every 3,000 miles. Even Jiffy Lube has finally dropped that recommendation from its advertising.

We found John Martini and his daughter waiting on an oil change for their pickup truck, which can go almost 10,000 miles between changes, according to his car’s computer and the alert light on his dashboard.

But Martini is not so sure.

“It doesn’t even come up to say you need an oil change until 10,000 miles. Then you check that oil and its black,” Martini said.

So he said he’s not waiting as long before his next oil change.

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Confusion among car owners

What makes it so confusing these days is that oil change shops will say one thing, but your car’s handbook says another. And now your car’s dashboard sensor may even tell you something else, as it is analyzing the oil based on use, which may be different from the handbook.

Recent reports by car buying guide, and the New York Times all say 3,000 mile oil changes are unnecessary in cars built since 2006. That’s because of better oil and engine technology.

But at one independent shop that does dozens of oil changes a day, co-owner Todd Adams says he’s seen too many people wait too long lately.

“I’ve seen some of these vehicles come in at 10,000 miles, and the type of oil that I see left after 10,000 miles, I wouldn’t recommend that,”  Adams said.

Adams—like many independent mechanics these days—suggests most customers change their oil every 5,000-7,000 miles, even if the dashboard computer isn’t ready yet.

Consumer Reports recommends a change every 7,500 miles for most cars now.

While Mercedes, BMW, Mini and some other makes now push the 10,000-mile range between changes in their newest cars, Adams says you’re not going to harm the engine by changing it a little more frequently, even with synthetic oil.

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If you want to keep your car a long time…

Dan Sweet, another body shop manager we spoke with, agrees that the new, longer intervals are convenient, but not necessarily a great idea for engine longevity.

He specializes in European cars, including some Volvos with 500,000 miles on them, and said if you want your car’s engine to run well past 100,000 miles, you should change the oil more often than the dashboard reminder tells you.

Old, black oil will clog many internal engine parts, resulting in a repair bill that can reach thousands of dollars. Sweet said he’s seen it time and again.

Even if the dashboard monitor indicates you still have 15 percent oil life remaining after almost a year of driving: “Don’t push it. It doesn’t make any sense. When in doubt, change the oil,” Adams said.

That extra oil change is $60 of “cheap insurance.”

And that way you don’t waste your money.



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