When you take your car into a dealership for service you become the target of subtle — and sometimes not-so-subtle — sales pitches from the service advisor. Of course you want to keep your car running, but you also want to cut expenses and avoid unnecessary repairs and service. Check the list below and you’ll be ready to deflect many of the come-ons and strategies service advisors use to generate extra profit for themselves and the dealership.
- “Dealer recommended service schedules.”
When you arrive for even a simple oil change or tire rotation the service advisor is likely to present a “dealer recommended” list. Yes, it’s impressive-looking, with many complicated and important-sounding items on it. But is it necessary? Experts emphatically say no. Instead, look for what is necessary in your owner’s manual. You’ll find only a quarter of the things on the dealer’s “recommended” list of items.
- The “Complete Inspection” scam.
“Your car has a lot of miles on it,” the service advisor tells you. “It’d be a good idea if we gave it a complete inspection.” If you say yes, you’ve just agreed to pay them to find more work to do on your car. Do you really think the service advisor will call you and say, “Well, we checked everything and it’s all perfect.” Nope. Not gonna happen.
- Too many oil changes.
Changing your oil every 3,000 miles costs money, which is what oil-change chain stores want. It also puts you at risk for aggressive “upselling” (see next item) and wastes our precious natural resources. Stick to the schedule in the owner’s manual or watch the maintenance minder on your dashboard.
- Brace yourself for the “upsell.”
For a service advisor, an oil change is never just an oil change — it’s just the chance to upsell other services. “It’d be a good idea to take a look at the ______ .” (Fill in the blank with one of the following: brakes, cooling system, transmission, fluids, alignment etc.) Practice saying this handy phrase: “No, thank you. Just an oil change.”
- Early brake jobs.
“Your brakes have less than 50 percent of the pads left,” the service advisor says with a concerned tone in his voice. Don’t fall for this little ploy. Instead, wait until your brakes are down to about 15-20 percent before you schedule your appointment. Or figure how many miles it’s been since your last brake job and come back for an inspection when the car has covered that amount.
- Having the rotors “turned.”
Often, when you agree to a brake job, the service advisor will say, “The rotors are grooved — it’d be a good idea to have them turned.” On high-end cars this costs $50 per rotor. It’s a high-profit item for the dealership and may be completely unnecessary. Consider this: Experts say that new brake pads adapt almost immediately to the surface of the rotor (the shiny disc you can see through your wheels). Furthermore, turning the rotor means cutting off a useful strip of metal; doing so can actually make the brakes more prone to warping due to heat.
- Multiple automatic transmission flushes.
Service advisors will assure you that you need to change your automatic transmission fluid at 12,000 miles, even though the owner’s manual says this isn’t needed until the car has 80,000 miles on it. Who’s right? Well, the owner’s manual was written by the people who built your car. Furthermore, the service advisor makes a commission for recommending that you have this $200 job done. Who would you trust?
- Spraying oil on the shock absorbers.
One of many things that mechanics do to convince you something is wrong with your car is to spray oil on the shock absorbers. This makes it look like they are leaking hydraulic fluid. Forewarned is forearmed — keep this scam in the back of your mind on your next trip to the dealership.
- Replacement parts markup.
Dealerships typically charge the highest price for parts. It’s convenient to buy from a dealer, but if you want to save money, you can buy the parts from an aftermarket supplier and avoid the huge markup.
- Free “check engine light” diagnosis.
Some companies offer free diagnosis if your car’s “check engine” light is illuminated. OK, the “check engine” light diagnosis is free. But the work they find while resetting the engine light isn’t. This “free” offer is just another way to get you in the door and sell you more service than you might really need. To avoid this, you can buy a code reader at an auto parts store that might give you insight as to what’s really wrong with your vehicle. Or you can take your vehicle to a mechanic you trust, who will diagnose the problem and fix it for a reasonable fee.Way