$150 for an oil change? Dealer secrets exposed by an insider.

Who pays $150 for an oil change?

You do.

You take your car to the dealer where you bought it, wanting an oil change.

They give you a menu of service options: the xx,000 mile service, the engine flush, the performance tune-up, the oil cleaner, the fuel detergent, the engine life-saver, and the super-duper. Of course, they recommend the most expensive option.

You thought this was going to be a $30 oil change, but you’re looking at $150 or more. You say something about not wanting to spend so much, and get a lecture about pay $150 now or pay much more later, and that your car is very expensive and needs a lot of protective maintenance, and that only the dealer can do it.

Here’s the dirty secret that very few dealers or service shops will tell you: all you need (after 5,000 or 10,000 miles; not 3,000!) is a $30 oil change. The rest of those services they’re trying to sell you are pure profit for the dealer. You don’t need new spark plugs or a coolant flush, unless you have a very specific problem that is caused by your spark plugs or coolant. You don’t need to do any of this maintenance “just in case,” unless your car is old and you’re about to drive it across the Sahara Desert (or to Palau)!

Radiator coolant flush? Most cars should have it after about 100,000 miles. Tune-up? There’s nothing to “tune up” on a car built in the last twenty years or so. Spark plug replacement? Spark plugs can last at least 100,000 miles, and a bad spark plug will trigger a warning light on your dashboard. Air filter change? Ok, if it’s dirty, but usually it’s changed after about 50,000-100,000 miles, and a new air filter should cost about $10, not $50! Fuel filter? Also a 100,000 mile item, and don’t worry about it unless you’re having a specific problem.

And all those engine and fuel injector “detergent” and “cleaning” and “flush” services: the “injector cleaner” is just kerosene or paint thinner (methyl ethyl ketone). The technicians pour about $1 worth of kerosene or paint thinner into your fuel tank, run your engine for a while, and charge you $50 or $100 for a “fuel injector cleaning.” This kind of injector cleaning is totally useless, or sometimes harmful to your engine. But if you really want to do it (we don’t recommend it), you could do it by yourself for a few dollars in materials and effort, instead of paying big bucks to the dealer.

A real injector cleaning — the kind that does something — has to be done by a specialized shop, and requires removing the injectors from the engine. We don’t know of any shop in Saipan that will do it. We’ve heard good things about this shop in the mainland US where you can mail in your injectors for cleaning:  http://injector-rehab.com/shop/home.php . But this is only necessary if you are having fuel injector problems. It’s not a regular maintenance item.

Check your car manufacturer’s maintenance schedule, which is in the owner’s manual, and often available online. (Note: the dealer is not a reliable source for a maintenance schedule! They’ll try to sell you a lot of service you don’t need.) If your maintenance schedule doesn’t recommend anything but an oil change, tell the service department that you want only the oil and filter change. You don’t want anything else. You’ll have to say “no” many times and really push them on this, and it will bring down the cost of the service to around $30-$50, not $100-$200. They’ll try to make you feel like you’re abusing your car. Don’t worry. They’re the ones trying to abuse your wallet.

Or you could take your car to Oceanworks, where we never push unnecessary services, and we always try to save you money. By the way: taking your car to a non-dealer service shop does not affect your car’s warranty. That’s federal law (Magnusson-Moss Warranty Act, 15 U.S.C. § 2301), and it applies to all cars sold in the US, including Saipan. If a dealer tells you that you must have your car serviced at the dealer in order to keep your warranty, they’re breaking the law, and you can report them to the FTC.

Want to know more insider secrets about the automotive service industry? Watch for more blog posts from Oceanworks.

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