Three Oil Change Up-Sells to Watch For

Do you find yourself bamboozled every time you get a simple oil change? Check out the maintenance work you probably don’t need to know when to say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

How many times has your “standard” 3,000-mile oil change turned into a little something extra: a new hose, an alignment, a transmission flush?

And by the time you drive off, how many times have you thought, “What I really need is a winning lottery ticket”?

If you’re like me, the answer is “a lot.” It seems that during every oil change, a mechanic tells me I also need X, Y, and Z done. And the frustrating part is: I always grudgingly comply. After all, they’re the experts.

Last May, for example, my routine oil change suddenly turned into: “Did you know you need new struts?” And that quickly became: “Since we just replaced those struts, you’ll also have to get an alignment.” I started to wonder if my local mechanics were perhaps preying on my trusting, Midwestern nature. (Noooo, couldn’t be … could it?)

So this got me googling oil change scams and talking to friends who have had similar experiences. Turns out there are many other shady shops pushing oil change up-sells in order to make more money. And that’s not cool.

With my own sob story out of the way, I’m here to help you identify potential shady up-sells.

Red alert #1: “You need a new air filter with every oil change.”

Actually, you may not. You do need to change out your air filter every so often, but not every time you change your oil. It really depends on your car. I drive a 2005 Kia Sorento, and according to my owner’s manual, it’s a good idea to inspect my air filter every 7,000 miles and replace it every 30,000.

Red alert #2: “You’re due for a flush.”

When a quick oil change turns into a flush of some sort (power steering, coolant, transmission, etc.), you might be in Scamville. Check your mechanic’s advice against your owner’s manual. In some cases, you could get a good 100,000 miles in without needing one of these flushes.

You can also check under your oil-filter cap for any weird deposits. If you see a bunch of gunk and you have a ton of miles on your car, then an engine flush might not be such a bad idea — it will prevent that sludge from entering your engine.

Red alert #3: “Your fuel injector is dirty. Allow us to clean it for a mere $200.”

This could also be a scam. As long as your car is running like its usual stellar self and your “Check Engine” light hasn’t come on, you probably don’t need your fuel injectors cleaned.

Check your oil change number

Though your mechanic may tell you that a 3,000-mile oil change is necessary, it actually may be overkill. CalRecycle.org offers this handy tool to help you determine how often your specific car needs new oil.

Your owner’s manual = Your new BFF

At the end of the day, each car is different and, when it comes to routine car maintenance, your best ally is your owner’s manual.

And it’s worth clarifying that there are thousands and thousands of reliable, trustworthy mechanics who really do have your best interests in mind (in fact, we can help you find them).

3 Responses to “Three Oil Change Up-Sells to Watch For”

  1. Pete
    December 10, 2012 #

    Actually, a high mileage vehicle may not be the best candidate for any kind of flush, especially transmission or engine flushes, depending on the vehicles maintenance history. If you've never gotten an engine or transmission flush before, and on a whim decide to spring for this up-sell, you may be in for a huge headache, and soon. While in high school, I worked at a chain/retail oil change shop. In the 6 months or so I worked there, I saw at least 3 vehicles whose engines seized after an engine oil flush, and saw one vehicle that had a transmission failure after a transmission flush. I quit working there because of the whole up-sell scams, I just couldn't work at a place that like that and feel okay about selling people services they didn't need.

    Anyway, getting back on topic, the problem with flushing older engines and transmissions is that over time, saying you have never gotten such services performed, sludge deposits can form. Even if you regularly change your vital fluids, accumulation of gunk is inevitable. After all, engine and transmission parts are made of metal, and even with the best lubricants, metal filings are just a part of the wear and tear on components. Given the fact that engines and transmissions generate heat, coupled with the cooling of said parts and lubricants after you park your vehicle, and the small spaces inside of these components, gunk will eventually accumulate. This doesn't mean however, that the gunk gums up the works, generally lubricants do a very good job at keeping things moving and to a certain extent, clean.

    Deciding to flush out an engine or transmission on an older high mileage vehicle can cause all of those harmless gunk deposits to break free. Freeing with them metal shavings of various sizes that were previously encapsulated by said gunk, and if any of those filings happen to be larger than what is normally flowing around in the lubricating fluid, the suddenly clean metal parts won't react so well to these newly liberated metal bits.

    So what's your best bet? On an older vehicle which you've never had a flush performed on, just keep changing that fluid regularly, and drive for as long as you can! It's that simple. If you're really dead set on cleaning things out internally, without the risk of sudden major component destruction, high detergent oils do an excellent job at slowly cleaning your engine. Rotella T-6 is an excellent example of such oil (it's what I use personally, and I can't say enough good things about it. And before anyone asks, no I'm not a paid spokesman for their product :p)

    Driving a higher mileage vehicle that is properly maintained can mean saving some money that would have otherwise gone to a car payment, plus seeing that odometer tick higher and higher is kind of a rewarding feeling knowing how much money you're saving over paying for a car loan. Just because you might be stuck driving around a vehicle that doesn't have the flash and features of a new one, doesn't mean you can't have fun and save money doing it!

  2. Jordan J. Caron
    December 19, 2012 #

    Kyle,

    We hear people say this all the time. Luckly our shop is one of those you can trust. We only take a look at stuff that needs fixing when we do our safety inspections. But if we're just doing an oil change, we only change the oil.

  3. Charlie Hendricks
    March 3, 2013 #

    Up selling is quite a balance. Done correctly, it can actually be of benefit to the customer. Unfortunately, too many people don't know what they are talking about or understand their service needs. So, both sides get hosed. I can't stand quick lube places and dealers. My husband taught me to change my oil in college and I have been doing ever since. (I make him do the other maintenance.)

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