CAR TALK

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - STYLE - RAY MAGLIOZZI Ray Magliozzi dis­penses ad­vice about cars in Car Talk ev­ery Satur­day. Email him by vis­it­ing cartalk.com

DEAR CAR TALK: When I bought my 2011 Toy­ota Camry, the dealer told me that the syn­thetic oil didn’t need to be changed so often, say only about ev­ery 10,000 miles or so. Since I had free ser­vice at the dealer ini­tially, I took it there for reg­u­lar main­te­nance, and de­spite what they told me, they kept chang­ing the oil and fil­ter much more fre­quently than they said was re­quired. I didn’t care, since I wasn’t pay­ing for it. Once my free ser­vice vis­its ran out, I started tak­ing it back to my reg­u­lar me­chanic, who changed the syn­thetic oil ev­ery three months. Since the syn­thetic oil is more ex­pen­sive, when my hus­band asked about this, one of the other guys at the shop (not the head me­chanic) told him, “The dealer just wants you to ruin your en­gine and buy an­other car!” The head me­chanic sug­gested I could go 5,000-6,000 miles be­tween oil changes, de­pend­ing on the type of driv­ing. Yet the re­minder sticker they put on my wind­shield is again for 3,000 miles. I pointed out that the me­chanic might want us to pay ex­tra, more often, for the more ex­pen­sive oil changes that aren’t nec­es­sary. What’s the real deal with syn­thetic oil?

— Su­sanne DEAR SU­SANNE: The dealer is right. Un­less you drive the car ex­traor­di­nar­ily hard — like us­ing it as a taxi in Phoenix in the sum­mer — syn­thetic oil is de­signed to go about 10,000 miles be­tween changes. Chang­ing syn­thetic oil ev­ery 3,000 miles is far too often.

As me­chan­ics, it takes us a while to catch up with re­al­ity. Oil changes used to take place ev­ery 1,000 miles. And it took years be­fore me­chan­ics ac­cepted that 3,000 miles be­tween changes was OK. So there’s a lag in ac­cep­tance among me­chan­ics that syn­thetic oils are re­ally far su­pe­rior to con­ven­tional oils.

If you want to be ex­tra safe and err on the side of cau­tion, I’d say you can change your syn­thetic oil ev­ery 7,500 miles, which is the typ­i­cal ser­vice in­ter­val for lots of cars any­way. But I wouldn’t hes­i­tate to rec­om­mend that most of my cus­tomers go 10,000 miles. While chang­ing it any more fre­quently than 7,500 won’t harm any­thing — ex­cept your bank ac­count — it’s re­ally not nec­es­sary.

So buy a bot­tle of WiteOut, Su­sanne, and keep it in your glove box. And then ev­ery time you drive away from an oil change, just change the mileage on the re­minder sticker.

DEAR CAR TALK: I am try­ing to buy my first car. I de­cided to save up and pay cash for it. I found a pos­si­ble car here in town. It is a 2004 Lexus IS 300 with 64,000 miles. What are your thoughts on it? I went to test-drive it, and it drove well. The only ma­jor re­pairs that I could see in the fu­ture would be a new key fob, tires, brakes and some hail and paint re­pair.

— Rafael DEAR RAFAEL: It’s a nice car. In gen­eral, Lexus makes good cars. And — in gen­eral — a Lexus with only 64,000 miles on it should have quite a bit of life left.

How­ever, you don’t buy a used car in gen­eral — you buy a spe­cific used car. And you don’t know whether it was driven by a lit­tle old lady to Gam­blers Anony­mous on Sun­days, or by her 21-year-old grand­son, who took it rac­ing three times a week.

So, how do you eval­u­ate a used car? You have a me­chanic do it for you.

Sure, if you test-drive a used car and it squeaks and rat­tles and thumps and smokes down the road, and smells like Ed­ward R. Mur­row’s ash­tray, you can de­ter­mine it’s not the car for you and move on. But if you drive a car for 15 min­utes and it “drives well,” there still could be lots of hid­den prob­lems.

And you need to be care­ful right now, be­cause you’ve prob­a­bly al­ready fallen in love with this car. You haven’t given it a name yet, have you?

If you’re se­ri­ously in­ter­ested in the car, take it to a me­chanic that you choose and trust. If you need help find­ing one, do a search at me­chan­ics­files.com. You’ll have to pay the me­chanic for an hour or two of la­bor, but it’s well worth it.

Ask him to check ev­ery­thing. Have him check the com­pres­sion, pres­sure-test the cool­ing sys­tem, look for leaks, check the brakes, the ex­haust sys­tem, the steer­ing com­po­nents, the tires, the sus­pen­sion and any­thing else he can think of that’s ex­pen­sive.

Ask him to tell you ev­ery­thing he finds wrong with the car; which of those items are ur­gent, which can wait; and what the costs are for each re­pair. Then once you have the whole story, you can de­cide whether you still want to buy the car. Or you can de­cide if you want to buy it, but at a lower price be­cause of the re­pairs it needs. And you can use that list of re­pairs to ne­go­ti­ate a fairer price with the seller.

By the way, buy­ing a car with cos­metic dam­age, like hail and paint dam­age, is a great way to save money on your first car. Not only does it de­crease the value of the car, but it’s also the kind of re­pair that can wait in­def­i­nitely, or at least un­til af­ter you bang it up a few more times while you’re learn­ing to drive — which most new driv­ers do.

But get it to a me­chanic first, and make sure the trans­mis­sion isn’t full of over­ripe ba­nanas be­fore you fork over your hard-earned sav­ings, Rafael.

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