You are in hurry, and all you want is a quick engine oil change. However, the service adviser at the Acme Quick Oil Change Company has different ideas, and he presents you with a long list of “options”, “packages”, and “special deals” that are designed specifically to make your car last forever. You are also told that your car “could leave you stranded at any moment” if you don’t allow them to run a quick XXX-point safety check, all for (much) less than the price of just an oil change at the dealer.
The service adviser draws your attention to the “menu” of services on offer, and the number of possible choices are truly staggering. All you wanted was a quick oil change, but consider the list of typical additional services on offer at almost any quick oil change establishment today-
- Automatic transmission fluid replacement.
- Power steering fluid check/replacement.
- Head-, and tail light bulb check/replacement.
- Windshield washer fluid check/top off.
- Wiper blade check/replacement.
- Battery test/replacement.
- Engine coolant check/replacement.
- Differential oil check/replacement.
- Tire pressure check.
- Wheel alignment check.
- Brake fluid check/replacement.
- Brake system inspection.
- Brake pad inspection/replacement.
- Transfer case oil check/replacement.
- A/C system check/refrigerant recharge.
- Air filter replacement.
- Cabin air filter check/replacement.
- Serpentine belt check/replacement.
This list is not exhaustive, and the number of options, or combinations of options, are often only limited by the shop manager’s imagination, but do you really need all, or any of this stuff? Well, there are two possible answers to this question, so let us look at each in turn.
No, I don’t need any of this stuff
This is the correct answer if you had been taking proper care of your car. Every item on the above list falls within the scope of the prescribed maintenance and service schedule of all conventional cars, most hybrids, and even some purely electric cars.
While none of the above checks/services/replacements can do any harm if performed correctly and professionally, none of them should be required for a vehicle that is being maintained in accordance with its maintenance schedule, or if it is not due for a full service.
If this is the case, then the question arises as to why you would want to swing by a quick oil change shop for an oil change. There may be legitimate reasons, one of which could be that you are on a coast-to-coast cross country trip, and you want to play it safe by having the oil changed before you cross the hot, arid desert states.
There could be others, but in a case like this, it might be good idea to have the engine coolant replaced as well, but that should be it. If the A/C blows plenty of cold air, you don’t need a cabin filter; similarly, if there are no illuminated warning lights on the dashboard and the vehicle performs well, there is nothing Acme Quick Oil Change Company can do to make it perform better. All things considered then, no, you don’t need any additional services other than those you specify.
Yes, I do need additional services
However, there is another side to the coin, and you may well need some additional services, so let us look at some possibilities-
It may well be that your vehicle is not as well-looked after as it might have been, in which case you could actually benefit from some packages and additional services offered by the Acme Quick Oil Change Company. The problem however is that you need to decide which services you need, how long it will take, and how big the final bill is going to be.
Central to the issue is the fact that most packages are structured in such a way that you need to buy stuff you don’t need to get the services and products that you do need. Not many quick oil change joints will allow you to pick some items from their menu and leaving others out, which means that you are often forced into paying for items you don’t need. The $20 or $30 you had planned on spending could very quickly become $100 or more that you may not be able to afford, so if you need additional work performed, do the following to save some money-
- Bring your own oil:
Most quick oil change establishments will allow you to bring your own oil and oil filter, so you only pay the labor charge. Bringing your own oil has other advantages as well, such as the fact that you get to control the oil that goes into your engine.
While most quick oil change shops that are owned and operated by the major oil companies will generally give you the oil you pay for, there are hundreds of thousands of independent shops that will fraudulently (but happily) give you regular oil when you are paying for fully synthetic oil. Moreover, the oil filters supplied by fly-by-night operators are oftentimes of such a low standard and quality that you may be better off not changing the filter at all.
- Get a written estimate:
Never allow a quick oil change shop to do anything on your vehicle unless you authorize it in writing, and then only based on a written estimate from the shop on what the work will cost, and when it will be completed.
The business models of these establishments depend solely on baiting tactics. Once they have you in their shop, they will find all manner of “faults and defects” on your vehicle, and if you are not knowledgeable about cars, and in particular, your car, you will almost certainly end up paying for “repairs” you don’t need.
- Ask about certifications:
The profitability of quick oil change joints often depends on the fact that the “mechanics” employed there are not ASE certified, and in a vast number of cases, completely untrained. Ideally, you should not even have a simple oil change performed by un-certified persons, much less allow them to work on your brakes or cooling system.
Allowing unskilled persons to work on your car is a sure-fire way to incur even bigger repair costs in the not-too-distant future due to sloppy workmanship, or the failure of sub-standard parts. If you elect to have work other than an oil change performed, only use the services of an establishment that employs ASE-certified technicians.
One more thing…
It would be unjust to say that all quick oil change shops are dishonest, and set on ripping you off. There are thousands of honest operators but the fact that so many are dishonest, ruins it for everyone.
The better option is to avoid this type of shop altogether, because of the high probability that you will either get ripped off, or talked into spending money on services and products you don’t need- or both. If you are far from home and you do need something done on your car, contact the local Better Business Bureau to find a good independent repair shop (or at least avoid the bad ones) that specializes in car repairs, as opposed to a shop that specializes in quick oil changes, with professional car repairs coming in at a distant second place.
Need an oil change? Head on over to International Auto Service, or give us a call at (805) 593-0447 in San Luis Obispo.