Can I Trust My New Car's Oil-Life Monitor?

Dear Driving for Dollars, I recently traded in my 10-year-old car for a 2012 model. The dealer explained that my new car has an oil-life monitoring system, and it will tell me when it's ready for an oil change. He also said that could be 7,000 miles or even more than 10,000 miles. With my old car, I faithfully changed my oil every 3,000 miles. Can I trust my oil-life monitor to tell me when I need an oil change? -- Jon

Dear Jon, It may be hard to believe, but yes, you can trust the oil-life monitor to tell you when it's time for an oil change. And yes, it's okay that it may be far more than 3,000 miles. Both motor oil and engines have seen many improvements over the years, and the vast majority of cars on the road today do not need an oil change every 3,000 miles.

Oil-life monitors use a series of electronic sensors that measure various aspects of the engine during driving to calculate the oil's life span. There's most likely a readout somewhere on your dashboard that tells you how much oil life is remaining or how much has been used. Don't be alarmed if that percentage fluctuates up and down. Like a fuel-economy readout, the oil-life monitor is continuously assessing your driving, so it may show a shorter life span if you are doing a lot of stop-and-go driving and a longer life span if you have traveled on a long trip at highway speeds.

Oil-life monitors are designed to be somewhat conservative, so feel comfortable getting your oil changed when the system recommends it. It's likely that even when the system is calling for an oil change, you still have some life left in your oil.

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