Dealer vs Manufacturer Recommended - 2009 Audi A4 Avant Long-Term Road Test

2009 Audi A4 Long Term Road Test

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2009 Audi A4 Avant: Dealer vs Manufacturer Recommended

January 24, 2011

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I took the Audi A4 in for service last week. We are about to sell the car and figured we might as well take care of the maintenance and the broken visor clip that had been hanging around since October. At 34,420 miles, the car was close enough to the 35,000-mile service interval, which is considered a major service. The original price Audi quoted for the service was $509.19. It seemed high, but not unreasonable for a major service at a luxury-brand dealership in upscale Santa Monica.

When I was back in the office, I had a chance to inspect the billing estimate more closely. The dealership gave us a breakdown of the parts and service for the maintenance. Cabin filters, synthetic oil -- everything looked normal until I saw a line item for spark plugs ($64 for the parts, plus labor).

Thirty-five thousand miles seemed a bit premature for spark plugs. I looked at the owner's manual and saw spark plugs listed under the major maintenance section: "Spark Plugs-Replace* (Audi A3 3.2L, TT 3.2L, A8 6.0L only)." Clearly the A4 was not listed in this group. I looked at the next major service, 55,000 miles, and saw that it called for a spark plug replacement on all models except the Audi A3 3.2L, TT 3.2L, A8 6.0L.

I called the service advisor and asked him to remove the spark plugs from this service. He asked why and I told him that we didn't want to spend that much on the car, since we were selling it soon. I didn't confront him about the premature spark-plug replacement because it wouldn't have changed anything. If had said something, I suspect it would have been business as usual for the next car that pulled into the service driveway anyway. But the incident is a good reminder of why you need to pay attention to exactly what service is being performed and make sure the elements match what's called for in your owner's manual.

I worked at two dealerships in my pre-Edmunds days and my theory is this: Service departments have one standardized "major service kit" for all cars and the service team doesn't bother to look at the differences among models. They're erring on the side of caution, but the unsuspecting A4 consumer ends up changing spark plugs 20,000 miles too early and paying more than necessary. This "dealer recommended" service is a common occurrence at nearly every dealership.

After it all, removing the spark plugs brought the service total down by $155. Our final price with tax was $362.03.

Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Associate @ 34,500 miles.

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