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. 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).

For your finances


about Kyle

Kyle has a Master of Arts in English with a concentration in creative writing, which came in handy when she wrote (riveting) copy about car insurance for Esurance. Currently living in Boston, she spends her free time watching funny movies, dork dancing, drinking wine, and eating chocolate.