Car Buying – Chapter 4: Servicing your Car

Car Buying – Chapter 4: Servicing your Car

Car Buying – Chapter 4: Servicing your Car

Here is a piece of information we don’t ever seem to give thought to.  When you go to the dentist for a teeth cleaning, you end your stay with a visit from the Dentist.  The teeth cleaning has a dual purpose. Purpose number one is to clean your teeth. Purpose number two is to find work the dentist can recommend and, ultimately, perform.  This is loosely referred to as an upsell. This has two very important purposes. If the dentist finds a problem, you really should know about it and have the option to address it or not.  Secondly, the dentist can perform additional work … for additional pay.


The same is true with an oil change.  When you bring your vehicle in for regularly scheduled maintenance, the service department takes the opportunity to look for work you may need.  Let’s face it, a $29.95 oil change doesn’t make any money for the service department. In fact, in most cases, it is a loss leader to get you in the door.  This is not an obscure practice in any form of retail sales or service.


Here is where awareness and a little bit of smarts take over.  Let’s hear from Victoria … not a real person and the story is fictitious but meant for illustration.  So, don’t go fact checking the story. It’s a STORY!!!


Victoria has a 2015 Chrysler 200 that she bought new in 2015.  She is about to bring her Chrysler to have the oil changed and she notices that her inspection sticker is about to expire.  She calls her local independent service facility to ask for an appointment. She also asks for a price for her requested services.  The counter person or service writer, Pat, quotes her their Oil change special at $29.95 which includes up to 6 quarts of oil, oil filter and a “free” 10 point inspection.  Then Victoria asks about a RI state safety and emissions inspection. In Rhode Island, that service has a standard price of $55.00. “So,” Victoria concludes, “my bill should be $87.04 with tax.”  Pat says, “Well…around that.”


Victoria makes the appointment, drops her car off and goes on her merry way.  When she returns to retrieve and pay for her service she is hit with the following:

“Well, Victoria”, Pat says, “although your car did pass the RI State inspection, it didn’t pass by much.  Your brakes are worn, you need tie rod ends, and you really should have your brake fluid and coolant flushed.”

“How much will all that cost?” Victoria says, clutching her Visa card.

“We have a special this week.  All these services can be combined into a bundle and will only run you approximately $1,150.00.”

At that Victoria proceeds to have an out of body experience.  She breaks out in a cold sweat. The first thing she can think of saying is, “Is my car unsafe?”

“Well,” Pat says with an air of righteous indignation, “I would do it if I were you.”


Victoria decides not to have the services performed now and asks for her bill.  Remember when we estimated around $87.00? That turned into $138.23. How did that happen?  Let’s see:


Here is an itemized bill:

1.    Oil Change…………………………….. $29.95

2.    RI State Inspection………………….. $55.00

3.    Hazardous Waste Charge………….. $19.95

4.    Shop Disposal Fee…………………… $20.00

5.    Shop Materials Charge…………….. $10.50

6.    Tax………………………………………… $2.84

Total………………………………………… $138.23


Victoria asks, “How come you told me $87.00????”

“I said, ‘around that’” Pat retorted.

Do you think this happens?  It sure does. Lots of times.

The decision Victoria made is unimportant for our purposes.


Here are the takeaways:

First, be sure of your desired services and the scheduled maintenances for your car.  You can get this information on the web. I just did a search for a service schedule for a 2015 Chrysler 200 and there were about a 54 million hits.  Take the time to gather this information. This way you will know what is necessary and what is just upsell for the sake of upsell. Get an exact estimate.  If someone can’t give you an exact number on your requested services with all charges and taxes in it, find another place to spend your money.


Regarding some of the upsells in our story, here are some tips about nonsense services such as transmission, brake fluid, and coolant flush.  It is nonsense. If any of the fluids in your car are not up to standards, change the fluid. Do you consider flushing motor oil?


The big takeaway from this is knowing what services you need and how to shop for these services.  The criteria shouldn’t just be price, it is also reputation and convenience. Look for reviews of any service department you are contemplating patronizing.  You can find reviews – guess where – that’s right … on the web.


If there is the suggestion of some emergency work you need, such as a big bubble in one of your tires that could make the car unsafe, get it fixed.  For most routine maintenance and service, you have choices. Make informed and intelligent decisions.


Although there are any number of unscrupulous and devious people in the motor vehicle service industry, there are many more hard working, sincere and honest people.  Using a bit of common sense, you should be able to select a good place to do business.


One more thing, choosing a service department to care for your vehicle doesn’t limit you to a franchised dealer.  There are plenty of independent service facilities out there that do a great job. The only exception to the choice of dealer versus independent servicer is warranty work.  For warranty items you are limited to a franchise dealer.


Next time we’ll talk about your responsibilities for keeping you and your vehicle on the road, safe and fun.


I hope you find these tips useful.  Please send me suggestions for more helpful tips, or if you want to be notified as we add more tips to our website and social media.  Just send me your email and I’ll notify you as we develop them. My email is

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