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How often should you change the oil in your car?

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How often should you change the oil in your car?
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It’s a message that has been steered at drivers for years: Change your engine oil every 3,000 miles. Mechanics say you could be damaging your engine if you don’t. Yet Consumer Reports says it’s a waste of money.

So who is right?

Read more: Why you shouldn’t let your gas tank run below 1/4 full

Driving in hot traffic? You need more frequent oil changes

To reconcile the varying points of view, you’ve got to consult your owner’s manual and use a little bit of common sense. Most owner’s manuals for newer vehicles will tell you it’s acceptable to go 5,000 miles between oil changes under normal conditions. But you should drop to 3,000 miles if you drive under severe conditions.

Severe driving conditions can take a toll on just about every part of your car — both inside and out.

But what exactly are severe conditions? AAA defines them as the following:

  • Driving on short trips of less than five miles in normal temperatures or less than 10 miles in freezing temperatures.
  • Driving in hot weather stop-and-go traffic.
  • Driving at low speeds of less than 50 miles per hour for long distances.
  • Driving on roads that are dusty, muddy or have salt, sand or gravel spread on the surface.
  • Towing a trailer, carrying a camper (if a pickup truck) or transporting items on a roof rack or in a car-top carrier.
  • Making “jack rabbit” stops and starts — the kind people tend to do when racing from traffic light to traffic light.

If you’re just driving back and forth to work during the week, and to soccer fields and baseball games during the weekend, then there’s really no sense in changing your oil every 3,000 miles.

A couple of years, a Consumer Reports study put the brakes on the myth of the 3,000-mile oil change. They found no noticeable difference in engine protection whether you changed the oil every 3,000 or 7,500 miles.

Ultimately, this one has to be a personal decision. Maybe you’re comfortable changing every 3,000 miles and think 7,500 is too long to wait. Then why not split the difference and do it every 5,000 or so miles? You’ll be saving about a third by going those extra miles between oil changes.

Experts say a $20 oil change is the best preventative maintenance you can do. So the interval is really up to you as long as you don’t exceed what’s recommended in your owner’s manual.

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Theo Thimou About the author:
Theo is director of content for clark.com. He has co-written 2 books with Clark Howard, including the #1 New York Times bestseller Clark Howard's Living Large in Lean Times.
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