One of my biggest frustrations working in the automotive industry is how many service departments, whether franchise, independent or dealership, are overselling maintenance services in the name of better car care. In reality it is only about making money because you, the customer, don't know any better. It is unfortunate because most car owners do not know anything about vehicle care and trust a tech or service advisor to help them take good care of their car.
The manufacturers can't control your monthly payments, insurance costs and the cost of gasoline, so they are focusing on things they can control to help the buyers of their vehicles. They are working hard to improve the design of the vehicle and use better quality fluids. Manufacturers are focused on helping the consumer lower the cost of ownership yet keep the vehicle in good, reliable operating condition longer
In this article, I will describe the five services that I find being the most oversold. This article is written to address the owners of passenger cars or trucks used for average driving conditions for going to work, taking care of the family and recreational needs, not vehicles like trucks that are regularly used for towing, hauling and other similar services.
As you read these examples, the bottom line is to check your owner's manual for the manufacturer guidelines for your vehicle's maintenance needs as this can help keep you from getting oversold. Use the maintenance guidelines for your vehicle that have mileage intervals of 3,000-5,000 miles and show driving conditions for short trips of 10 miles or less, driving in temperature conditions of 90 degrees or higher, 32 degrees or lower as there is not really a place in the Continental USA that would not need that level of service. Don't let the service advisor try to tell you that your local conditions are worse than outlined by the manufacturer in your maintenance guide. Following the guidelines established by the people who designed and built your vehicle will assure you have a vehicle that will last as long as you want to keep it.
Some of the ways these services are sold is by using fluid comparisons showing the fluid is not the same color at the fresh fluid, especially with transmission fluid and coolant. Don't get caught up in this unless your vehicle is getting into high mileage or the manufacture states that service needs to be done as per the maintenance guide. For example, I know a seasoned auto repair guy that has a radio talk show who recommends changing synthetic oil when it starts to discolor, which he says is usually around 4,000 miles in his personal vehicle. What a waste of money! I would buy all that used synthetic oil and easy get another 4,000-6,000 miles out of it.
So here are the oversold maintenance services on my hit list:
There are many honest service departments, techs and service advisors in this business who truly want to assist in helping you keep a well maintained car. I regret to say that many of them blindly sell these services as they are doing what they are told to do by their company, many times to maintain a sales quota, and they may not understand these technical aspects of these services either.
- Transmission Service at 30,000 miles, which can include a drain and refill or a full flush which includes cleaning out the torque converter. The earliest most manufacturers' state in their maintenance guide lines that the transmission fluid should be drained and refilled is 60,000 miles. Many have raised that to 90,000 miles or more. There are even a number of manufacturers that put sealed transmissions in their vehicles which require no servicing at all. It is always safest to stick with a drain and refill as a flush can loosen junk in the transmission system causing damage down the road.
- Coolant Service at 30,000 miles, which can include a full flush and pressure test. Like the transmission service, it is not usually needed per the manufacturer's maintenance schedule till at least 60,000-100,000 miles and many are focusing more on time than mileage on newer vehicles from about 1998. When you do get the coolant service, make sure it does include a full flush through the heater core and a pressure test, which will help reveal any little problems with hoses and the radiator cap.
- Fuel System Flush, Fuel Injector Clean, or a Throttle Body Clean. I can never recommend this as a service because in reality it is a repair and it is not listed in any manufacturer's maintenance guide. Let's face it, you can go have a Fuel Injector Clean then buy some bad gas and have to return to the repair facility and have it done again. If you are using quality gasoline, having tune-ups done as per the maintenance schedule for your vehicle and regularly changing your air filter, it will be rare that you will have the type of symptoms that require this kind of service. All octane of gasoline made is required by the government to have high quality engine, fuel injector and fuel system cleaners for a cleaner burning engine to minimize air pollution. You will have clear symptoms if you need this type of service that can include hesitation on acceleration, hard or slow starting and rough idle to name a few. When you first notice these symptoms don't let them get worse as you could get stranded, get the service performed.
- Alignment Service. With the quality of vehicle steering and front-end suspension design this is now a repair. You will have clear symptoms if you need an alignment which can include the vehicle drifting or pulling right or left, inside or outside smooth tire wear. Your service person may tell you to have regular or yearly alignments because you live in a city with poor road conditions and potholes that can throw your alignment out, but unless you have noticeable symptoms that service is probably not needed. If you drive off-road, then you will have these symptoms if you need an alignment. I recommend having an alignment check or a basic alignment if you have new tires installed on your vehicle.
- Tire Balancing. Tire Balancing is a repair for a loose or missing weight and it must be done when buying new tires. Tires do need to be rotated every 5,000-6,000 miles, some trucks or mini-vans could need them done as early as 3,750 miles. Many times tire balancing is sold with a tire rotation, but is rarely needed unless there are clear symptoms. If a tire is out of balance, the vehicle will shimmy or vibrate at a certain speed range, like 40-50 mph, 55-65 mph. Tire wear will show cupping or feathering on the inside or outside of the tire. It is always important for a service department to do a test drive after rotating tires because sometimes and out of balance tire can be moved from the rear of the vehicle where the out of balance symptoms can't be felt to the front of the vehicle.
Please understand this article is to make you more aware of what the average vehicle needs. However, this is not an absolute article stating that your vehicle may not need some of these services at different intervals than I described. Many times if your vehicle needs these services at an earlier interval than stated in the manufacturers scheduled maintenance guide, then you may have something that needs to be covered under warranty.
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