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Don't scrimp on your oil change

Tara Baukus MelloIf you are tempted to use cheaper oil products, go longer between oil changes or use a quick oil-change shop, all in an effort to save money, you should proceed with caution. Taking any one of these shortcuts can result in costly repairs and even void your car warranty.

Scrimping on the oil used in your car by using a cheaper alternative to what is recommended in the owner's manual can result in reduced fuel economy and power as well as increased wear on the engine's components. Automakers choose oil and other fluids for their cars carefully, and a car can operate differently if the recommended products are not used. Using the recommended oil can also increase the length of time between oil changes, which reduces your overall maintenance costs.

Not using the recommended oil in some cars can cause engine damage, and it's such a concern that some automakers will void a powertrain warranty if the wrong oil is used. This is especially a problem for some 2011 models that have engines designed only for the use of the newest oil formulation, called GF-5. They would have engine problems if the old formulation, GF-4, was used.

While changing your oil every 3,000 miles was once the norm, automakers of today's cars usually recommend oil changes every 5,000 to 10,000 miles. Some cars are equipped with a monitoring system for oil life that tells drivers when the oil needs changing.

The increased mileage over much older cars means some cost savings for drivers. But, it's important to not go beyond the recommended mileage, or decreased performance and fuel economy (not to mention increased engine wear) can occur, resulting in increased gasoline and repair costs. Drivers of cars without an oil-life monitoring system should also remember that the manufacturer's recommendations for oil change frequency are also for typical driving situations. Automakers usually list situations in which oil changes should be more frequent, such as if you make a lot of very short trips or use your car for towing.

Quick oil-change shops are usually faster, more convenient and cheaper than the dealer for an oil change. But using these shops can result in increased expenses if they don't follow the manufacturer's recommendations for your car and damage results. Sometimes a dealer will match the price of these shops, and you'll have an added layer of protection because the manufacturer will hold the dealership responsible if it doesn't use the correct fluids in your car. With any shop, be cautious if they suggest additional products or services at the time of your visit. Consult your owner's manual to see if those products or services are recommended before you agree.

If you opt to use a quick oil-change shop, read what is recommended for your car in your owner's manual, and refer to that when you bring the car to the shop. Have the shop make a note on the form given to the mechanics of which oil grade, type and weight should be used, then have them show you the containers to confirm they put it in your car.

Whatever type of shop you visit, get a receipt that notes all of these details, plus your car's information and its mileage at the time of service, to protect yourself. Keep this receipt and all paperwork for your car in a safe place so you can prove you have maintained the car properly, in the event you have a powertrain warranty claim.

Ask the adviser

If you have a car question, e-mail it to us at Driving for Dollars. Read more Driving for Dollars columns and Bankrate auto stories.
 

Bankrate's content, including the guidance of its advice-and-expert columns and this Web site, is intended only to assist you with financial decisions. The content is broad in scope and does not consider your personal financial situation.  Bankrate recommends that you seek the advice of advisers who are fully aware of your individual circumstances before making any final decisions or implementing any financial strategy. Please remember that your use of this Web site is governed by Bankrate's Terms of Use.

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