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New oil change rules have car owners confused

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 1980's and 90's when the rule was "every 3,000 miles." Even Jiffy Lube has finally dropped that recommendation from their advertising.

We found John Martini and his daughter waiting on an oil change for their pickup truck, that 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 til 10,000 miles. Then you check that oil and its black," he said. So he said he is not waiting as long next time.

Confusion among car owners

What makes it so confusing these days is you have oil change shops telling you one thing (some still write 3,000 on the little window sticker they put in.)

But your car's handbook is telling you 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 call 3,000 mile oil changes 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 shops these days -- suggests most customers change their oil every five to 7,000 miles, even if the dashboard computer isn't ready yet.

Consumer Reports Magazine recommends 7,500 miles for most cars now.

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

If you want to keep your car a long time...

Another shop manager we spoke with, Dan Sweet, 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 says if you want your car's engine to run well past 100,000 miles, he suggests you change the oil more 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 has seen it time and again, he says.

Adams says even if the dash says you still have 15% oil life remaining after almost a year of driving, he says "don't push it, it doesn't make any sense. When in doubt change the oil."

He says that extra oil change is $60 in "cheap insurance."

And that way you don't waste your money.

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