Maintenance Basics

How To Handle Scheduled Car Maintenance


  • Dealing with a Service Advisor

    Dealing with a Service Advisor

    Service advisors are helpful and knowledgeable, but keep in mind they are paid by commission. | March 18, 2010

3 Photos

Many car owners spend little or no time preparing for a scheduled maintenance visit to the dealership. They merely drive in and agree to the recommendation of the service advisor. This can be a costly error.

This article will tell you how, when and where to have your car serviced. It will also show you how to use the various tools on Edmunds.com to schedule service visits with local dealerships or independent garages.

We'll tell you how to prepare for your encounter with the service advisor, and how to tell if you are being overcharged for scheduled car maintenance.

What Is Needed?
The car's service manual is the best way to learn how to maintain your car. It was written by the factory representatives who designed and built the car. It stands to reason that they should also know how best to keep everything running smoothly.

Now consider the role of the service advisor at your local dealership. This person is certainly knowledgeable about your car. However, the service advisor also gets a commission for all work done on your car. Therefore, if he or she recommends a brake job, for example, a slice of your payment will go into his or her pocket.

In another instance, the car's manual may say that the automatic transmission fluid doesn't have to be changed until 80,000 miles, but the service advisor says it's best to change it at 30,000 miles. Who's right? Consider this: The service advisor gets a commission for all the parts and services he sells. So his opinion isn't exactly unbiased.

New Vehicles Under Warranty
If your car is less than three years old and has fewer than 36,000 miles (or whatever the terms of your warranty are), mechanical problems will be fixed under the bumper-to-bumper warranty for no charge. However, this doesn't cover wear items like brake pads, and your car will still need "routine maintenance" for which you will have to pay. Routine maintenance is most often oil and filter changes, tire rotations and various inspections. After about the length of your warranty, the routine maintenance often becomes more involved and more expensive.

An Overview of Required Service
Car owners usually become aware of the need for routine maintenance at certain mileage intervals. These intervals are described in the owner's manual or in our car maintenance section. Changing your oil every 3,000 miles as "recommended" by the quick oil change chains and car dealerships is typically more than twice as often as necessary. Again, look to the owner's manual for proper scheduled car maintenance intervals.

Some vehicles will even have a reminder display indicating that a service, typically an oil change, is required at a certain mileage point. Still other vehicles will use a "maintenance minder," which will only become illuminated when the work is actually required. A computer in the car's engine makes a calculation based on a number of factors that more accurately determine the time at which oil begins to break down.

Scheduling a Service Visit
You should review your car's manual to find the actual work that is required at the appropriate mileage interval. Print this out along with the estimate of costs in our maintenance section.

Increasingly, dealership Web sites have an e-mail link to the service manager. You can e-mail the service advisor for an appointment and get a quote for the work you want done. This will give you a chance to review the charges and compare the quote with other dealerships or independent garages before you commit to using their services.

Alternately, you might call several dealerships, ask for the service department and get quotes. Make sure you get the advisor's name for future reference. Once you've decided who you're going to take your car to, you can call them back to set a time to bring in your car.

Before you go to the dealership, you should check for recalls and Technical Service Bulletins (TSBs) that have been issued for your car. Print out any information you find and give this to the service advisor. (A good service advisor should automatically clear all recalls and TSBs on your vehicle but this doesn't always happen.)

At the Dealership
When you arrive at the dealership, you will be welcomed by a "greeter." Often, this person will take the vehicle identification number (VIN) and the vehicle's mileage and write this on a form that is given to the service advisor. Your car is about to be driven away so take your wallet, purse, computer and anything else you need. You will then meet with the service advisor. If it is early in the morning, it could be busy in the service department and the service advisor could be rushed and impatient. Don't be pressured. A lot of money is at stake here.

Often, the interaction will begin with the service advisor saying, "How many miles do you have on your car?" You should understand this is their opening gambit for a sales pitch. You can answer, "There are 20,000 miles on my car, but all I want is an oil and filter change and tire rotation." The service advisor might then whip out an official-looking list of "dealer-recommended services" and say, "We recommend this service be done at 20,000 miles." If you look at this list, you'll see that many items on it are not shown in your car's service manual.

At this point, many people will accept the recommendation of the service advisor. After all, the service advisor is an expert who is acting on your behalf. Right? Well, not exactly. It's not uncommon for the difference between the "dealer recommended services" and the maintenance listed in your car's manual to be more than $100. In other cases it has been much more.

Later, while inspecting your vehicle, the technician may sometimes notice additional items that need attention on your car, such as an oil leak or a worn hose. He then makes those recommendations to the advisor. Be aware that not all of these suggestions need to be taken care of that same day. If you agree to additional work, your basic service could turn into an expensive one. Feel free to get a second opinion, or hold off on non-emergency repairs until it fits your budget.

Saving Money on Service
In some cases, the service advisor will offer service packages that include an oil change and other repairs or changes, supposedly at a discount. Often, there really is a savings here. But make sure the package covers only the items in your car's manual and not costly and unnecessary service items.

It's not uncommon for a service advisor to provide a discount or coupon for service. This can knock the price down a lot. But it also complicates this situation and makes it hard to see the real cost. Be prepared for this and take a moment to calculate the bottom line costs. It's all too easy just to agree to the extra costs in the heat of the moment.

You will then be given an estimate of the charges involved. It should approximately match the costs listed in our car maintenance section. If it doesn't, you should ask why the charges are higher. Use the information listed in our maintenance section. If the disparity is high and the service advisor doesn't adequately justify the extra costs, you can leave and shop for a better deal at another dealership.

Important Points To Consider:

  • Don't always assume that more frequent oil changes than indicated in your owner's manual are beneficial for your car.
  • Remember that the service advisor profits from work and parts he or she sells you.
  • Understand the maintenance schedule in your car's manual.
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