How often should you get an oil change? Mixed messages confusing drivers

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 till 10,000 miles. Then you check that oil and its black," Martini said. So he said he is not waiting as long before his next oil change.

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 Edmunds.com, 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 Magazine recommends a change ever 7,500 miles for most cars now.

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

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, he suggested changing the oil more often than the dashboard reminder tells you.

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

Adams said 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."

He said that extra oil change is $60 of "cheap insurance."

And that way you don't waste your money.

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MORE FROM "DON'T WASTE YOUR MONEY":

How to know if car repairs are worth the cost

4 of the biggest lies car dealerships tell to make a sale

3 dashboard lights you should never ignore

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