Service you right: How to avoid getting scammed at your dealer’s service desk
(Photo: Michael Simari)
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A substantial share of a dealership’s profit comes from its service department. The more it can charge for service, the more money the dealer banks. The over-servicing of vehicles can elevate the practice of good, proactive maintenance into a criminal scam. In the early 1990s, Car and Driver‘s then technical director and subsequent editor-in-chief, Csaba Csere, testified before a congressional subcommittee about these sometimes fraudulent dealer practices. To avoid them, follow these three steps:
1. READ YOUR OWNER’S MANUAL.
Pay heed to it. Don’t get drawn in by a pamphlet at the dealership’s service desk. It might look official, but it’s not to be trusted. We’ve found that taking the owner’s manual to the service desk ensures that the correct maintenance is performed at the right time or mileage, thereby avoiding unnecessary extras.
Our local Chrysler/Ram dealership, for example, publishes its own maintenance schedules. Its recommendation for a 2012 Chrysler 300C calls for 13 stops over 40,000 miles, including a $130 axle service every 15,000 miles, at a total cost of $2349. Meanwhile, the owner’s manual specifies five stops and an axle service at 24,000 miles, for a total cost of $618 [see below]. The supplemental services might not seem expensive at the time, but the costs add up over the life of the vehicle.
2. RECALL THAT OUR CAR ISN’T AN ANTIQUE.
Any fluid additive, engine cleaner, or obsolete procedure (we’re lookin’ at you, “throttle-body service”) put in or performed on a young, modern car isn’t necessary. Most cars also can go at least 50,000 miles without spark-plug replacement. Does changing your oil every 3000 miles hurt your car when the manufacturer says 7500? No, but it doesn’t help it, either.
3. KEEP IT LIGHT.
Unless you moonlight as a cabbie with your family sedan, stick to the standard service. Severe, or heavy-duty, schedules are overkill for daily drivers. If your car is under warranty, do all the service at a dealership and keep records. Without proof that you properly maintained your vehicle, the manufacturer may reject a major warranty claim such as one made for a roasted engine.
It’s difficult to prove malicious intent when it comes to what your car needs and what it doesn’t, short of hidden cameras and microphones planted on your undercarriage. Just remember to follow what’s in the owner’s manual, no more and certainly no less. Do so, and both your car and bank account should remain in good shape.
WHAT WE SAID: “Unless you drive a taxi or a police car, the standard service recommendations will likely be enough to get the best life out of your car.” — C/D, July 1992
|Service and pricing information based on our website’s long-term Chrysler 300C.|
|*All listed service stops include fluid and general vehicle inspections.|