Here’s how often you should really change your oil

Changing your oil is one of the easier maintenance tips that will extend the life of your car. The trick is remembering to change it. So how often should you change your oil? Here’s what experts say you need to know.

How often should you change your oil?

Two factors determine when you’ll need to change your oil—time and mileage, according to Jake McKenzie, the Content Manager of Auto Accessories Garage. “Both time and mileage will allow the oil to break down and become a less effective lubricant for your engine,” McKenzie says.

If you can, check the owners manual for specific oil intervals and the type of oil your car needs, Lauren Fix, a car expert, and ASE certified technician, suggests. The proper oil changes for your specific make and model come from the manufacturer. One of the 7 ways you’re wasting money on your car is assuming all vehicles are created equal. The rule of thumb for most vehicles, however, is to change your oil after at least 5,000 miles. Still, some cars might only require full synthetic oil changes after 7,500 to 10,000 miles, according to Fix. “For many years, the standard advice was every 3,000 miles or three months, whichever comes first,” McKenzie says. “But thanks to improvements in modern engines and modern oils, most cars can comfortably drive at least 5,000 miles or even up to 10,000 miles on the same oil.”

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Never, ever leave these things in your car
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Never, ever leave these things in your car

Medication

Most medicine should be left at room temperature, but a car will rarely stay at that point when not in use. Heat probably won’t make your drugs directly harmful, but it could make them less effective.

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Electronics

Beyond the expense of the devices themselves, gadgets like laptops, cell phones, and thumb drives contain information that could be easy to steal. If you’re in a position where you have to store your laptop or phone unattended, make sure the information is encrypted, says Eva Velasquez, CEO and president of Identity Theft Resource Center. This makes thieves unable to view information without a code, separate from the password used to log in to the device. “It’s a strong layer of protection and would need someone putting a fair amount of effort into it to view,” Velasquez says. “It’s much stronger than password protection.”

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Sunscreen

Ironically, the active ingredients in sunscreen break down in high heat. Leaving it in the car on a hot day could reduce its effectiveness. Plus, the heat could cause it to explode, leaving you with a hot mess. Check out these things you should never leave in your garage.

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Water bottles

Although the research is a bit unclear, studies have linked BPA and phthalates, chemicals found in plastic water bottles, with health conditions like cancer and heart disease. Letting a bottle sit in the sun and heat up could cause these chemicals to leach into the water. Plus, if the bottle has been lying around for a while, it could start harboring microorganisms.

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Handbags

Leaving a purse or wallet in plain sight makes your car a target for thieves, even if you’ve locked your doors or taken the valuables out of your bag. “It doesn’t matter if the alarm goes off,” Velasquez says. “It’s attractive, and they’re going to grab it.” These are the 12 items you should never keep in your purse.

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Sunglasses

Take advantage of your car’s sunglasses compartment while driving, but don’t leave your shades in it after you reach your destination. Heat can warp plastic frames and make metal ones too hot to wear. Leaving your glasses or sunglasses on the dashboard is even worse because the windshield could attract sunlight like a magnifying glass, American Optometric Association spokeswoman Susan Thomas has said.

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Important documents

If you have personal documents that you plan to mail or shred, make that task a priority on your to-do list. Letting files like school transcripts or tax forms sit in your car while you run other errands or until you have time to take care of them leaves information vulnerable if anyone breaks into your vehicle, Velasquez says. “Put it in the car, take care of it, and then you’re done,” she says. “You have to follow through.” If they don't need to be in your car, leave them at home or in the office—but make sure you know the 9 things you should never keep on your desk.

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Passport

Never leave a passport in the car while traveling, even if it seems like it’s too bulky to carry around. Identity theft is even easier with a passport than with a driver's license, Velasquez says. “We have to think of data and pieces of our identity as valuables,” she continues. “You’re not going to leave jewelry in the car, but we don’t have that same level of concern with things that make up our identity, and we need to.”

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Wine

Wait until after work or errands to pick up a bottle of wine. If the bottle gets too hot, the flavor could be affected, and the liquid could expand enough to seep around the cork or push the cork out a bit, contaminating the wine inside. Don't miss these 14 things you should always keep in your car.

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For people who aren’t keeping track of their mileage, another way to know it’s time to change your oil is looking at the dipstick. When it’s dark, it’s time to change the oil, according to McKenzie. Newer cars might even have an oil change light on the dashboard to take out the guessing work. Once you do change your oil, Fix says to opt for the synthetic variety—like this—because it’s a better lubricant. It costs more, but mechanics know you’ll get more miles between changes.

What happens if I don’t change my oil?

Over time, the chemical structures in the oil break down and make it a less effective lubricant, according to McKenzie. And the oil is there to reduce friction, which causes heat. So if you leave your oil unchanged long enough, you’re asking for trouble and a hot engine. “This will at first make your vehicle run less efficiently, but eventually it will destroy your engine, effectively totaling your car,” McKenzie says. If left long enough, the entire engine will shut down, and you’ll have to replace it.

Those who do keep up with regular oil changes will reap the rewards for their car and wallet. According to Fix, keeping up with oil changes helps engines last longer and offers better fuel economy, too. Not changing your oil often enough is one way you’re shortening the life of your car.

Can I just add some fresh oil?

Just adding oil to your car is a huge mistake. You have to actually change your oil to get rid of the dirt and grime built up in your engine, which isn’t the same thing as simply adding more oil, Fix says. Plus, your oil shouldn’t be going anywhere, unless there’s a leak, McKenzie says. If there’s room to add more oil or your levels are low, you could have a larger issue like an oil leak. A car in good condition, however, only needs a routine oil change. If you’re refilling any of your car’s fluids every month, it’s one of 14 signs your car is about to die.

The post Here’s How Often You Should Really Change Your Oil appeared first on Reader's Digest.

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Things car thieves won't tell you
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Things car thieves won't tell you

There are cars we steal the most

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) compiles an annual Hot Wheels report, which lists the top ten most stolen cars in the United States. Here are the top targets from the most recent report and the most stolen model year for each:

Honda Accord (1997)
Honda Civic (1998)
Ford Pickup (full size) (2006)
Chevrolet Pickup (full size) (2004)
Toyota Camry (2016)
Nissan Altima (2015)
Dodge Pickup (full size) (2001)
Toyota Corolla (2015)
Chevrolet Impala (2008)
Jeep Cherokee/Grand Cherokee (2000)

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We love older cars

When you think of the car thieves you see in movies or TV shows, they’re usually after high end, luxury sports cars. And while those do get stolen in real life, it doesn’t happen nearly as often as you would think. Thieves target older cars because they’re much easier to steal.

“In the 2000s, most vehicles started to come equipped with more advanced ignition systems such as chipped keys that need to be in proximity to the dash for the car to start,” says Marc Hinch, an auto theft investigator and creator of stolen911.com. “Many of the vehicles prior to this time are easy to start if you know how to manipulate the ignition.”

If your car was built more than 20 years ago, Hinch recommends taking extra security precautions, like installing steering wheel locks, aftermarket alarm systems, or ignition immobilizers. There are even GPS tracking systems that can send you alerts if your car starts moving unexpectedly. Trust us, they're worth the money. What you really need to look out for are these 7 ways you're wasting money on your car.

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We have a favorite state

Sorry, California residents, but you’re already at risk. California has consistently been the state with the most car thefts since 1960. And according to Frank Scafidi, director of public affairs for the NICB, there has never been a close runner-up.

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We want your car for the parts

Car thieves aren’t just looking for a new ride. They’re most likely going to resell parts of your car, especially if it has custom wheels, a custom engine, or high-end seats. If not, they’re doing it to help facilitate another crime, go for a joy ride, or win a dare.

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And sometimes, we don't even care about the car

Hinch says that car break-ins are actually more common than actual car thefts, mostly because people often forget that they left valuables like laptops and purses in their vehicles.

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Don't assume your neighborhood is safe

Thieves know you’ll think that and act upon it. As part of a plea agreement, a car thief told Hinch that he and his crew would walk through a nice-looking neighborhood at night, checking for unlocked cars. About one out of six unlocked cars had a spare key inside.

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If your car gets stolen, it's probably your fault

Our experts say that a lot of car thefts could have been prevented if the owner had only made sure he locked the car or not left it running when she ran into Starbucks for a quick cup of coffee. These common security slip-ups are basically invitations for thieves to take your vehicle. Another common mistake is leaving valuables in plain sight. Race car driver and automotive expert Lauren Fix says “valuables” include the obvious items like laptops, purses, and GPS units, but that thieves will even go for money in the center console and closed bags that simply look like something of worth may be inside. Here are 9 more things you should never leave in your car.

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Public parking lots are a gold mine

Whether they’re at the airport, the mall, the gym, or the stadium, public parking lots and garages are an ideal location for car thefts. There’s a whole assortment of cars to choose from, and many don’t have adequate security. “In short, if the public has access to your vehicle, then it is at risk of theft,” Scafidi says. Avoid leaving your car on the outskirts of a lot, park as close to the building entrance as possible, and make sure your car is in view of a surveillance system.

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The more hidden your car is, the better (for us)

Another reason parking garages are a prime target for car theft is that thieves are less likely to be spotted there, as opposed to somewhere right on the street. Former car thief Steve Fuller told ABC News that he often chose dark, secluded locations for his jobs. "I liked it because it's quiet. I can hear if somebody was coming," Fuller said. "All I really have to deal with was somebody coming down from their apartment to get in their vehicle, and at that time in the middle of the night it's not usually that often."

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The way you park makes a difference

Luckily, there are precautions you can take against thieves who frequent parking garages. “Park your vehicle with the front end facing an obstacle, such as a wall or guardrail, whenever possible,” Fix tells Reader’s Digest. “This makes it harder for thieves to tow or roll your car away if they can’t get it started.” If you’re on the street, she recommends parking under a light, turning the wheels toward the curb, and locking the steering wheel. That’ll make it harder for someone to tow away your car.

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We study your habits

As unsettling as it is, car thieves may spy on you and your car for extended periods of time to figure out the best plan of attack. Hinch recalls a case that involved a series of warm-up thefts, where thieves would scout for vehicles that owners left running unattended so they would warm up on cold mornings. “I remember reading detailed notes such as, ‘Man warms up blue Yukon at San Felipe and Ross every morning at 7:25 a.m. Goes back inside and comes out with daughters five minutes later to take them to school,’” he says. “Later, during the interview after his arrest, the suspect stated the notes were valuable intel to be sold or traded if it turned out he didn’t use it himself.” Make sure you know the 13 signs your house is being watched.

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We work together

In fact, Hinch says that some thieves will offer a finder’s fee to someone who can provide a location, photos, and/or any other details about a certain car they’re looking for. “Crews looking for a particular type of vehicle to steal will put out bounties for this type of information,” he says. “This info could come from somebody who just drives by and sees a target vehicle or maybe a security guard who can tell the thieves the schedule of a target. I’ve seen texts on crooks' phones such as, ‘He parks the car every day at 8:30 on the west side of the lot’ [and] ‘Comes back out around 12:00.’”

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We have our own specialties

According to Hinch, some thieves only steal what they know, meaning they’re masters at stealing their chosen model and make of car. “If a thief knows how to steal one Camaro, he knows how to steal them all,” Hinch explains. “[For] example, thieves who steal Chevy Camaros know how to silence the stock alarms so it can’t be heard when they break into the car. They know where the stock tracking system (On-Star) is located and quickly unplug it.”

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There's a secret key in your car you probably don't know about

It’s called a valet key, and it can usually unlock the driver’s door and start the car. “A valet key is typically contained in the owner’s manual, in a little sleeve at the back of the manual,” Scafidi says. “Or it can be encased in a plastic index card-sized insert where you simply pop it out of the insert and you can use it as a regular key.” He notes that many new cars have a fob that enables a push-button start, not a regular key, but there are allegedly devices that can capture the signals from the fob and use them to gain access to a keyless car. Find out the 30 things your car mechanic won't tell you.

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We're hard to spot

You probably won’t be able to pick out a car thief on the street. Car thieves blend into crowds so no one gets suspicious of what they’re about to do. That’s why you need to take extra precautions to keep thieves out.

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We don't like stickers

One simple but surprisingly effective way to throw off a potential thief is to put a sticker in your rear window that suggests you have an alarm or tracking system set up in your car. If they suspect there’s a chance they could get caught, thieves are more likely to pass up that car for an easier steal.

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We are relentless

Our experts all agree: Once a thief sets his eyes on the prize, he’ll do whatever it takes to get it. As Hinch explained, he could have perfected the mechanics of breaking into your specific car model. Scafidi says a “slim jim” tool is often used to open locked doors on older cars. Otherwise, they may opt for the classic “smash and grab,” as Fix calls it, where you’re left with a broken window and stolen property. One surefire invitation to car thieves? Seeing an open window.

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The extra precautions really do work

If your car is 20 years or older or is on the list of the most stolen cars in America, going to extra lengths to protect your vehicle could mean the difference between a normal trip to the mall and one that ends with a missing car. Fix advises that you have your Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) chemically etched on your windows, which makes it harder for thieves to resell your car’s parts. You can get this service done at a car dealership or a local police department.

“Use anti-theft systems in your car such as external steering wheel locks, hood locks, tire locks, kill switches, car alarms, and tracking systems such as Lojack,” she adds. “Bonus: Having an anti-theft system might qualify you for a discount on your comprehensive car insurance.” Next, don't miss these 21 secrets burglars don't want you to know.

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