Emily Chung: Mummy Mechanic


Common Scam: Cheap Oil Changes

If it's too good to be true...

October's issue of Consumer Reports features common scams that are out there to get you. Here's one about auto repair:

Mechanics give a good estimate up front but pad the bill with extra work. Some shops make a buiness out of this by advertising a low-priced oil [change] to suck in customers, then “finding” much more expensive problems that need to be fixed.
Here's the truth. Oil changes are an industry loss-leader. It's like Walmart having really low-priced sale items just to get you in the store. The lube shops (Jiffy Lube, Mr. Lube, etc) are all very good at upselling services (replacing filters, other fluid services, etc). They wouldn't be profitable on oil changes alone. If you frequent lube shops, take note of how often they try to upsell you. 
To cut costs, some shops use oil and filters that are very cheap quality (to the extent that it will compromise your engine). Others don't even replace the oil filter, they just drain and fill the engine oil. And the list goes on of how they cut corners on oil changes. 
Wise words: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If the oil change is cheap, the shop has to find other work to be profitable. The overhead of running an auto repair shop is huge! At our shop, we expect to be paid a reasonable amount for our work... that's only fair. A shop that charges a reasonable rate for an oil change will be more likely to inspect your vehicle and find legitimate repairs because they're not under financial stress. Remember, the purpose of a vehicle inspection is to give you an idea about the condition of your vehicle and to help in preventative maintenance. 
When it comes to cheap oil changes, is it worth taking the chance that you'll end up paying more for unnecessary repairs? For me, honesty and integrity are values that are worth their weight in gold.