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Trust your car when it asks for an oil change

I recently bought a 2008 Honda Civic, LX. We are really enjoying the car and expect to keep it a long time hence this maintenance question.

The Honda has an oil life feature that tells me what percentage of oil is left. Once it gets below 20 per cent a little wrench lights up telling me to change it. Initially I thought this system was actually monitoring the oil and advising me of its condition. I've since learned that the system has to be reset after each oil change, making me wonder if it is just hooked into the odometer. Should change oil according to the driving conditions?

Dave, Fernie, BC

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Although the oil life monitor is connected to the odometer, this is not the only parameter that is used in the actual calculation of oil life. Vehicles that use oil life monitoring systems use a combination of the following:

  • Mileage
  • Engine revolutions
  • Operating conditions

The engine revolutions are simply a counter. The operating conditions are the fine tuner. This parameter considers distance travelled, the number of times you start and stop the engine, how long the engine runs between the start/stop cycles, ambient temperatures, coolant temperatures, engine loading and the full monitoring of all engine-related electronic control systems.

Based on situational algorithms set out by engineers, the time or mileage periods will be affected by all the monitored systems, so you likely will not see a pattern to your oil change schedule. Dave, based on the explanation above, follow the advice given to you by your car.

If the oil life monitor does not come on before your owner's manual recommendation – an unlikely situation – change the oil as outlined in the manual.

The oil life monitor must be reset after each oil change. Your service shop should do this automatically, but if they miss this step, it's easy for anyone to do with your year, make and model.

1. Turn the ignition switch to the "on" or "run" position.

2. Press the SEL/RESET button repeatedly until the Oil Life Monitor is displayed in the instrument cluster.

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3. Press and hold the SEL/RESET button for 10 seconds – this will cause the indicator to blink.

4. Press and hold the SEL/RESET button for 5 seconds – this will reset the Oil Life Monitor to 100%.

There you go Dave, you're set to do your own oil changes at home.

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About the Author
Globe Drive columnist

As associate dean of Motive Power programs at the British Columbia Institute of Technology, Rob MacGregor has nearly three decades' experience in training the province's automotive technicians. He has written extensively on car mechanics, appears regularly on television and is a member of the Autotmobile Journalists Association of Canada. More

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