Car Maintenance Scams – Don’t Buy Parts and Service You Don’t Need

Car Maintenance Scams – Don’t Buy Parts and Service You Don’t Need
  • Opening Intro -

    College students sometimes fall prey to high-pressure sales people, especially those that work in car dealer or independent retailer repair shops.


By Cedric Sheldon

The tactic, which may or may not be a scam can go something like this — you went in for an oil change and before you know it you consented to have your car’s radiator flushed, its wiper blades replaced and the transmission fluid changed. That means you’ll soon be making a frantic call home to your parents to explain the unexpected $246.87 repair bill they’ll see the next time their Visa or MasterCard statement is sent out.

Did you get ripped off? That’s hard to say — the oil change may have been needed, but the other items could have waited. Certainly, you could have changed the wiper blades yourself and paid 1/4 the price by visiting your local auto parts store. Besides, the guys behind the counter will change the blades for you in the event you find it too difficult to handle the swap out yourself.

It is true: a lot of dealers and maintenance shops get away with doing extra maintenance consumers don’t need or at least could have waited to have done miles down the road or months later. You can avoid being scammed by keeping the following in mind regarding your car:

1. Make “friends” with your owner’s manual — You know that your car came with an owner’s manual. Trouble is, you can’t seem to find it. Likely, it is buried inside of your glove compartment, tucked underneath a pile of papers, behind a flashlight or obscured by your registration stuff. Find it and begin to read it — you’ll be amazed to learn that the maintenance intervals the car’s manufacturer recommends are different and usually much longer than what a mechanic says. The manufacturer knows best — they built your car! Still can’t find your manual? No worries — copies of complete manuals are often uploaded to the Internet and accessible for free.

2. Get your oil and filter changed, nothing else — There isn’t anything wrong with having an oil change place handle your car. Just remember that the only thing you should pay for is to have your old oil drained, the filter replaced, and new oil and a new filter included. Topping off your fluids is fine too, but any other service should be handled by a family member or your trusted mechanic. Oh, by the way, those 3,000-mile oil change intervals are a thing of the past. Most cars can go at least 5,000 miles between oil changes, saving you money and dumping less oil into the environment.

3. Save it until you get home — Unless something breaks while you’re away at school, you don’t need to have a mechanic do “repairs” for you. Some colleges offer repair shops for students — go there if you have a need. Summer vacation, winter breaks and holiday trips home should mean that your car is being serviced by someone you know and someone who knows your car. Leave your car in the hands of a stranger and you risk having that person nail you will a big bill. For unnecessary repairs at that. Besides, your trusted mechanic friend already has your car on schedule, so why deviate from that?

If you get ripped off at the repair shop, you can complain to your local Better Business Bureau. Or, you can give dad a call and let him handle the matter. Better yet, avoid trouble in the first place by reading up on the owner’s manual and telling the repair guy “no” the next time he says your car needs a tune up. Tune up intervals have been extended too — as far out as 100,000 miles for the spark plugs.

Cedric Sheldon writes for the Toyota Parts Center and its factory parts, the latter offering discount car parts you can install yourself.

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