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Buying a Used Car: How Often Should a Car Have Had Its Oil Changed?

If you’re interested in buying a used car, you’re probably also looking to obtain maintenance records for the vehicle before you buy it. At the very least, you’ll want to talk to the seller to find out exactly how well he or she has maintained the vehicle. One question you might ask is how often the owner gets the oil changed — but what’s the right answer? And should you back out of the deal if the changes are too infrequent? Here’s our take.

Depends On The Car

In general, the oil change interval depends greatly on the vehicle. While an old adage says that you should change your oil every 3,000 miles, most manufacturers now recommend longer intervals. Some even go as far as to recommend 10,000-mile intervals between oil changes.

To find out the oil change interval recommendation on a car you’re considering, you can turn to the owner’s manual. If there’s no manual, consider a search engine such as Google. Just type in the year, make and model of your car followed by the words “oil change interval,” and it shouldn’t be too hard to find the manufacturer’s recommended interval for oil changes.

No Records?

But what if you can’t verify whether or not the seller changed the oil at regular intervals because there aren’t any records present? This is a situation many face when buying a new car, and it can be a serious one. After all, lazy car owners might push a car well past its oil change interval, which can cause severe engine damage.

Our advice: If there aren’t any records, take the car to a mechanic for an inspection before you buy it. That’s because it can be hard to verify any details about the car’s previous ownership history without any records, so a mechanical inspection is a really good idea. While the inspection won’t bring back those records, it’ll at least give you a good starting point to figure out how much to budget for repairs and maintenance, and it’s better than being left in the dark when buying a used car.

If the mechanic uncovers major issues — or the seller’s records show that he or she has been lazy with oil changes — we suggest that you strongly consider walking away from the car. Unless the vehicle is especially rare, there will be other models out there that have experienced a better maintenance history.

Doug Demuro
Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

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