Rick's Free Auto Repair Advice

Most common auto service rip offs

What are the most common auto service rip offs

Every car maker publishes a maintenance schedule and shops LOVE to push maintenance schedule service because they make oodles of money. Many of the items on the check list are for inspections: Inspect the brakes, inspect the belts, inspect the fasteners, etc. You should have all of these maintenance items done. However, 90% of these inspections and services can be performed by a low level technician. You do not need to pay $150/hr for a dealer ASE Certified Master Technician to check the air pressure in your tires or the condition of your CV boots. Dealers make a fortune off these maintenance checks.

Have maintenance checks done at a locally owned shop

Avoid the chain operated shops since they’re known for selling unneeded services. Instead, do an internet search for a locally owned independent shop with good online reviews. Their price will be lower than the dealer. Stop by the shop in person and get a quote on the checks required at your mileage. In most cases, they will be almost half of what the dealer charges. Save the receipts so you can prove that you’ve performed the services.

Also, refer to your owner’s manual to see exactly what the car manufacturer lists for maintenance at each major mileage guidepost. Dealers love to add in their own “recommended” services like “air induction cleaning service,” “Engine Flush” or “Evaporative emissions service.” Most of these services aren’t in the carmakers’ maintenance guide. Some carmakers even discourage services like engine flushing. (See Engine Flush = Wallet Flush)

However there are a few services not listed by the car maker that are actually worthwhile.

A brake fluid flush is not a scam if the fluid has been tested and it fails the test

Even though the brake system is technically a sealed system, in the real world, moisture does get into the fluid. The fluid rapidly absorbs the water and it degrades your entire brake system.

In addition, brake fluid contains many anti-corrosive test strips for brake fluidadditives that wear out over time. When that happens, it pulls copper out of the metal components. That can cause substantial damage to the system. Shops can test the condition of your brake fluid using a moisture meter and test strips.

Recommending a brake fluid flush based on fluid color is a scam. Color alone is NOT a sufficient reason to replace brake fluid. Only replace it if it fails the moisture and test strip tests.

Power steering fluid flushes are oversold

I’m not aware of any car maker that recommends a power steering fluid flush on a scheduled basis. But you wouldn’t know that from the way shops routinely recommend this service.

However, power steering fluid DOES break down. Like brake fluid, it contains additives like anti-foaming, anti-corrosive, and friction agents. If your vehicle uses transmission fluid for the power steering, it should be bright red. If it’s not and has taken on a brownish color, it’s time to flush it. Non-transmission power steering fluids are clear when new and take on a grayish appearance after circulating through the system. Grey is ok, but dark black is not. If the fluid appears very dark, flush it.

Generally speaking, a power steering fluid flush once every 100K miles is enough to keep the system working properly. If the shop recommends a power steering flush more often that that, it’s a scam.

Air induction is a good service, but only for gasoline direct injection engines

Air induction service is a valuable service on a vehicle equipped with direct injection (GDI). This usually isn’t listed in the carmaker’s maintenance guide, but that’s only because they didn’t know about the problem when they designed the engine. In a direct injection engine, the fuel is injected directly into the cylinder, as opposed to injecting fuel through the intake valves. Since the intake valves in a direct injection vehicle are no longer washed clean by the fuel, they can develop carbon buildup. If the buildup gets to large, it can cause misfires and no starts. So air induction cleaning is a useful service that should be performed about once a year.

If your vehicle isn’t equipped with GDI and the shop recommends an air induction service, it’s a rip-off.

Fuel system service is often a rip-off

All Top Tier gasoline contains all the cleaners your engine ever needs. Yet many shops recommend a fuel system cleaning service. If your engine has performance issues AND the shop has performed a diagnostic and determined that the fuel injectors are clogged, then a fuel system cleaning is in order. However, if your engine is running fine, it doesn’t need any kind of routine or “preventative” cleaning. In fact, routine cleaning is a complete waste of money and it’s a scam.

Coolant flushes are important, but make sure you’re getting a real flush

Engine coolant has a limited lifespan. Once the anti-corrosive additives wear out, the coolant can allow internal corrosion to set in. So you must follow the carmaker’s recommended schedule for coolant replacement.

A full coolant flush consists of connecting a machine to the cooling system, flushing out all the old coolant and injecting the carmaker’s recommended coolant back into the engine. Unfortunately, many shops advertise a radiator flush, which isn’t really a coolant flush. The radiator only contains about 1/3 of the coolant in the entire system. In other words, a radiator flush is a rip-off because you’re not getting the service your engine really needs. If it’s time for a coolant change, you want a full coolant flush, not a radiator flush.

Then there’s the issue of the coolant. Many shops perform a coolant flush using a universal coolant. That’s so they don’t have to stock all the factory recommended coolants. But not a single carmaker approves of these universal coolants. It’s best to insist the shop use the factory recommended coolant, even if they have to upcharge you to get it.

© 2012 Rick Muscoplat

Posted on by Rick Muscoplat

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