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I own a 2013 Ford Escape, and it is supposed to be equipped with an intelligent oil system/sensor. The owner's manual says you don't need to pay attention to kilometres due to such a system, but the dealer tells me that I need to have the oil changed every 8,000 kilometres and, again referring to my owner's manual, that is not regular driving nor severe but is extreme, the lowest.

I asked them why the manual says one thing and they say another, and I was told that Ford told them that Canada is considered extreme. I was told that the system only determines it's dirty when it's well past due, that it was based on mileage, again even though it contradicts the owner's manual. I called Ford Customer Service Canada, and they say to go by the owner's manual. Who's right: the dealership or Ford? – Amanda

In a word – Ford.

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Unfortunately, activities such as this have become common practice as dealerships fight to keep their service departments profitable in these times of well-built, reliable vehicles. I get more mail on this topic than any other as consumers face the same dilemma as you.

Ford develops the car, builds it, tests it – in all conditions – and warrants it. Ford engineers determine which lubricants provide the best protection for their vehicle and under which circumstances it should be changed.

Generally speaking, manufacturers recommend two change schedules – normal or severe/heavy-duty, the difference being driving style and conditions. Most of us are accustomed to a set mileage interval and change oil accordingly. But this may be too early or too late depending on the individual case. The new oil life monitoring systems in a wide variety of vehicles were developed to address the issue of different driving styles and advise an oil change according to the specifics of that vehicle. They use a computer program and a variety of sensors that monitor everything from the load placed on an engine and engine operating temperature, to rpm and the number of cold starts.

The difference can be dramatic. If, for example, the vehicle is used to tow heavy loads or climb steep grades regularly, oil life can be shortened by as much as 50 per cent. But if the vehicle is driven long distances at part throttle on a level, stop-free highway, oil life can be extended by as much as 50 per cent.

Go by the owner's manual and service monitor, not the dealer service department. Most manufacturers place vehicles driven in Canada in the extreme or heavy-duty category because of the number of cold starts and longer warm-up times during which the engine is likely under load (being driven).

If you have questions about driving or car maintenance, please contact our experts at globedrive@globeandmail.com.

Follow us on Twitter @Globe_Drive.

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