Car owners place a lot of trust in mechanics to limit maintenance and repairs to what a vehicle needs. But when there's a sizable knowledge gap between vehicle owner and mechanic, that trust can be betrayed. That's why there are some things a car owner should know before heading into the shop for even a routine oil change that will help look out for fibs auto shops tell to get you to spend a bit more.
No. AAA notes that, for low-mileage drivers, most automakers recommend an oil change every 12 months. Modern lubricants can extend the time between oil changes to up to 7,500 miles; vehicles using full synthetic motor oils might wait up to 15,000. Even Jiffy Lube has backed off the 3,000-mile claim.
Auto manufacturers use 100,000-mile or "lifetime" fluid that shouldn't have to be changed for years, if at all, says Mike Calkins, of AAA. More transmissions are sealed and no longer even have a dipstick to check levels. "Transmission oil change or flush depends on how hard you work your vehicle and the conditions under which it operates," says Matt DeLorenzo, managing editor for Kelley Blue Book. "Typically 50,000 to 60,000 [miles] is the norm. checking the fluid for debris and discoloration is key to determining whether or not you need this service."
Modern coolant and antifreeze is meant to last for much of the life of your car. If it doesn't, there's clearly another problem a fluid change won't fix. "For many years, cars have been equipped with enhanced coolants whose change intervals range from five years or 50,000 miles to 10 years or 150,000 miles," Calkins says. "Cars with older green 'conventional' coolant still require changes every two years or 24,000 miles." Letting it go some years can save $50 to $100, though again "it depends," DeLorenzo says. "Check to make sure the fluid is topped off, but every two years is sufficient."
If leasing or financing, keep up with required maintenance. But you don't have to do it at a dealership's pace. Newer cars offer maintenance reminders from monitoring vehicle operating conditions and are trustworthy reminders of when to bring a car in for service, AAA says. Folks who drive less than 10,000 miles a year might get serviced every 12 months.
If you use a car mostly for trips of five miles or less, carry a lot of heavy loads, regularly pull a trailer, do a lot of stop-and-go driving, or live in extreme heat, cold, or dust, bring it in more often. Every vehicle owner's manual has provisions for "severe" driving conditions to consult.
Most dealerships will let you know when recalls and technical service bulletins have been issued for a vehicle, but sometimes one escapes their notice. Edmunds suggests searching for and printing out recall notices and service bulletins before going in for maintenance.
Consumer Reports tells of a Mini owner who took her low-mileage 2006 Cooper S to a local BMW/Mini dealership for a recall and was told it needed more than $6,000 worth of other work. An independent mechanic's estimate was 76 percent lower and said most of the recommended work was unnecessary. Dealers refusing to perform work without other maintenance violates consent orders with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
That question "How many miles on your car?" itself isn't a lie, but the motivation for asking isn't so pure. If you're going in for an oil change and tire rotation at 20,000 miles and the dealership's service representative "recommends" other work based on mileage, you're well within your rights to decline, Edmunds says.
Again, not a lie. Prepaid maintenance is convenient ... for a dealership and its service department. The plans promise to lock in pricing, but don't cover "wear-and-tear" items such as brakes and wipers, Edmunds notes. They make money for dealerships by scheduling more service than needed and charging more than average.
Buying aftermarket parts for repairs is a nightmare, even for folks who know cars. In rebuilding or repairing older cars, be very careful about going with lower-grade parts just to shave off some costs. Read reviews, check multiple sources, and, if still unsure, go with the midgrade or premium part instead. And never go cheap on brakes. But none of that means using only dealer parts.
It doesn't matter if a dealer service rep or an independent mechanic says this: They're both wrong. As Popular Mechanics points out, each has its strengths. Dealer service areas tend to have more bays, operate more quickly, and have more intricate knowledge of newer features and esoteric equipment. Independents tend to be less expensive and put aside more time for an older car. For cars under warranty, dealers are the best bet.
If a mechanic says this, drive off in the other direction. It's a scare tactic designed to keep a car in the shop for more work than the owner intends: "High scare equals high profit," says Consumer Reports' John Ibbotson. In New York, this is illegal, and a shop has to hand over keys when work is paid for.
What does that mean? Consumer Reports says "bad brakes" can usually be fixed by changing brake pads and turning/cleaning brake rotors. If the mechanic says to replace everything, get a second opinion. "Things that should be inspected and you can ask to look at to determine if they need to be changed include air filters, brake pads, and other wear items like tires and wiper blades," DeLorenzo says.
Though a leak is not out of the question, this is usually a tactic of really bad auto shops. Ask to see exactly where the car is leaking, Consumer Reports says. Coolant sprayed on the engine isn't a leak: It's fraud.
If a mechanic diagnoses a problem, car owners are owed an explanation in terms they can understand, Consumer Reports says. A mechanic should also be able to provide an estimate for service. Lastly, they should be able to show the damage or wear to as vehicle. If they can't show any of that, get a second opinion.
Absolutely not. As Angie's List points out, you're responsible only for the work you authorize. If a mechanic decides you need more maintenance, they have to run it by you first. If they do unauthorized work, refuse payment. If they won't relinquish the car, call police immediately.
Unscrupulous mechanics keep fake, dirty filters around to squeeze more work out of you, Angie's List says. Check the manual. If it's way too early for a filter to be changed and the car hasn't been driven all that hard, don't buy it. "Engine air filter replacement intervals today are generally in the 25,000-mile range, but are a common upsell at every oil change," Calkins says. "A little dirt on the filter doesn't mean it's bad, only that it's doing its job. If light from a 100-watt bulb will pass through at least half the filter area, the filter is fine."
"On gasoline engines, fuel filter replacement is rarely necessary on modern vehicles unless a restricted filter is diagnosed as part of a larger fuel system issue," Calkins says. "Diesel fuel filters do require regular service, and it is very important that it be done."
Each set of tires comes with a build date that says when they were manufactured. If you feel like a deal is too good to be true, see if those tires have a few years on them already. "Additionally, although tires might have a pressure printed on their sidewalls, the number in the owner's manual or on the inside of the driver's door jamb is the one that should be used," says Matt Smith, senior editor of automotive pricing and analysis site CarGurus. "The number on the sidewall might indicate the maximum pressure the tire can handle, but that figure doesn't take into consideration the specific car being driven. The number in the manual is designed to keep the tires working safely and efficiently."
A lifetime brake warranty or muffler warranty may cover brakes and mufflers -- but only specific parts, and some shops will use this as an excuse to charge for others (the pipes that connect to the muffler, for example), while all will still charge for labor. A lifetime of "free" parts will never be free, notes mechanic Doug Flint in Alexandria, Va.
It is 2018 and there are still independent repair shops out there trying to make a premium on "foreign" car maintenance. Toyota sells the third most cars of any automaker in the United States, and it, Subaru, Nissan, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Mazda, Hyundai, Kia, Volkswagen, and Volvo all build cars at U.S. facilities. According to YourMechanic.com, a BMW or Mercedes-Benz is the costliest to repair, and Toyotas and Hondas the least. It isn't foreign cars that are costly to repair ... it's luxury cars with expensive equipment.
If unconvinced an old part needed replacing, ask to see it or ask for the part back and check with another mechanic to see if the work was necessary. Mechanics will usually give you the old part, but hit you with a "core charge" because they won't get the broken part to rebuild for resale.
It's been a generation since any car has needed a tuneup. If a car dates back to the 1990s or beyond, maybe give it more routine maintenance; if not, you don't need spark plugs or oil filters changed every 20,000 to 30,000 miles. Mechanic who say otherwise doesn't have your or your 21st Century car's best interests in mind. "With electronic ignition, tune-ups are a thing of the past," DeLorenzo says. "A big part of that was new spark plugs. However, manufacturers are fitting cars with plugs that will go longer than 100,000 miles."
Unless you're driving a truck with ball joints and tie rods that need lubrication or an older car where the ball joints aren't sealed, you'll never need to bring a car in for this kind of maintenance. Unless a shop specializes in trucks or older cars, it should never ask you if your vehicle needs this service.
Consider this one carefully. High-performance and luxury cars usually require synthetic oil, but it's far from mandatory. Synthetic oil does have benefits -- longer life and longer periods between oil changes -- but older cars sometimes don't react well to it. Consult a car manual and consider the cost. Synthetic oil tends to be a bit pricier.
Some cars require premium fuel. But unless an owner's manual explicitly states a need, don't bother. "Using high-grade fuel in an engine designed to run on regular typically won't deliver any noticeably positive effects -- you'll notice more difference in your wallet than in your engine," Smith says.