Auto Service Rip-Offs

Consumer Reports has listed their top 5 auto service rip-offs. Since I am now due for an oil change..the information couldn’t come at a better time. I can’t say that I’ve run into any sleek sales work when I’ve taken my car in for work around town…but it always pays (..or saves) to stay educated on these matters.

Here are the highlights from their report:

1. Flushing the engine or transmission

Those are common ways for dealers to pad their maintenance bills. Automakers recommend against flushing the engine…check your car’s maintenance booklet to see if (and when) it may be needed. (Casey: I have no idea what “flushing the engine” means…but here’s what I’ve learned:   a flush is *supposed* to remove the sludge out of your engine with the purpose of prolonging its life span. A transmission flush pushes fluid through the mechanism to get rid of old fuid via the drain plug. That probably sounds like a great idea…except not everyone agrees that this is actually effective. From what I’ve read…keeping up with regular oil changes should keep your car healthy. If you get the big sales pitch from an auto store for a “flush” I would check with your dealer to see if your car may need it. I would also get a second opinion.)

2. Automatically charging for “severe” maintenance

Some shops assume you need the car’s severe-use maintenance service, which typically involves changing filters and fluids more frequently than the regular schedule recommends. That is a more comprehensive schedule for vehicles that frequently tow or are regularly driven in demanding conditions, such as stop-and-go traffic or dusty areas. See your owner’s manual for details, but most drivers need to follow only the normal schedule. (Casey: I can attest to this. Before moving myself from California to Memphis, TN last year…I was being told that I needed a MAJOR check-up on my car…all the bells and whistles.  They insisted that such a long move made this essential. Instead of dropping $300 to do their magic voodoo on my relatively new car…I asked them to check my fluids, check my breaks and check my tires. All my fluids where fine. My breaks were in great shape. My tires…great treading. There was nothing wrong with my car before or AFTER my move. Savings: $284. You’re allowed to ask questions…its your money. And I ask A LOT of questions when I start seeing double zeros to the LEFT of the decimal point.)

3. Frequently replacing different parts

A mechanic who keeps charging you to replace different parts to solve the same problem is probably having trouble diagnosing your car. Even if the mistake is an honest one, you shouldn’t have to pay for it. Ask the mechanic to refund the cost of the first repair, which probably wasn’t necessary. Otherwise, replace the mechanic.

4. Replacing the same part over and over

That might indicate shoddy workmanship or a poor-quality part; neither should cost you extra. The Internet makes it easy to see whether a model is prone to certain problems. Search for your model in forums. Check for automaker service bulletins and consumer complaints. Or go to “John’s Tool Box.” in our Forums.

5. Insisting that only dealerships can perform maintenance

Legally, you can have maintenance performed by any mechanic without affecting your warranty. Just keep thorough records in case of a warranty claim. The only service that needs to be performed at a dealership are warranty repairs, recalls, or post-warranty work that you want the manufacturer to pay for.


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