Don't Be Too Hasty to Agree When a Car Dealer Service Department Recommends Services

service advisors typically work on nothing but commission, which means they have an economic incentive to get you to buy unneeded services

Don't Be Too Hasty to Agree When a Car Dealer Service Department Recommends Services
January 7, 2019

Dealerships have a bad reputation, which is why many people don’t get routine maintenance performed there unless they need warranty repairs. While the technicians (hopefully) know your car better than the local mechanic, you spend more money for this expertise. But some of this extra money comes from dealer recommended services, most of which you probably don't need.

the money is made in the service department

Many people think that big money is made in vehicle sales, but it’s actually the service department that brings home the big bucks. Many times, the sales department is losing money, not making it, on the sales of new vehicles with the hope that those vehicles will return to that dealership for repairs and maintenance. That’s one of the reason these dealerships try to make their waiting areas very warm and inviting, and also why you get a guided tour of the service area when purchasing a vehicle. Even the introduction to the service manager is gimmick.

Know that The Service Advisor gets paid when you spend

Most people who come into a dealership service department are paid either an hourly wage or a salary, so it can be hard to imagine that the service advisor would push useless services on you. It may surprise you, but the majority of service advisors working for dealerships are paid commission only. In other words, they only make money to pay the bills when you spend money on repairs and other services.

So the service advisor, no matter how nice and friendly, has an economic incentive to get you to pay for as many services as possible, even if you don’t need them.

We Recommend Doing this because of the real world

You’ve heard it before. The dealership knows your car best. But with that mindset, you’re likely to buy into a product or service if recommended by a dealership employee, even if it’s not listed in your vehicle’s manual.

Sadly, the industry practice is to push needed services earlier and earlier in order to get you spending more money. On top of that, you’ll often get additional ‘recommendations’ for everything from transmission and brake fluid flushes to your first oil change after only 500 miles, usually with the explanation that real world driving is different than manufacturer testing. But the truth is that manufacturers test their vehicles in ways that are significantly more extreme than real world conditions. Most of these dealer recommendations have no factual basis and some are only unscrupulous service advisors trying to increase sales for the week. Sadly, some service advisors will say anything to get you to commit to a service, just like some sales staff will say anything for you to buy the car. Sometimes you’ll even get hit with recommended maintenance service before your car gets checked in! That’s a red flag there! Keep all of this information in the back of your mind.

Follow the Vehicle’s Service Schedule

The manufacturer, not your dealer, knows your vehicle best. The manufacturer designed, built and tested it, after all. If your manufacturer suggests an oil change every 8,000 miles, there’s really no need to change it sooner from a maintenance perspective. If your manufacturer says your transmission fluid gets changed every 200,000 miles, wait until then. If the engine coolant is “sealed for life” and doesn’t need to be changed unless it’s contaminated, then there’s no reason to change it, even if ‘recommended’ by the dealership.

There’s also no reason to replace a standard fluid, such as brake fluid, with a high performance variety other than to get you to spend more money. So to keep your vehicle operating at its best and to protect your warranty, have only the items mentioning in your service schedule performed.

‘Recommended’ Fluid Flushes

Dealerships invest money in fluid flush or fluid transfer machines that can push old fluid from a system and replace it with new fluid, usually while using chemicals to clean and remove deposits. These machines can be lucrative for the dealership, and consequently your service advisor. These flushes often run double or triple the cost of a simple drain and refill. Dealerships push this service since it’s quick and easy money, but many manufacturers actively discourage the use of these machines and some have even issued advisories to dealerships warning them against the practice.

The first problem comes from the chemicals used in the cleaning process. These chemicals are harsh enough to dissolve harmless deposits and push them from the system. But they’re also harsh enough, depending upon type and concentration, to damage your vehicle’s delicate sensors and other electronics. This damage often gets passed to the consumer, who returns after a few hundred miles with a concern, or to the manufacturer, who may deny the warranty claim.

In other cases, larger deposits that may not be causing any problem at all may become dislodged and work their way through the system, where they can become lodged inside a valve or electronic device. This is especially problematic in automatic transmissions, which have a lot of fluid passageways and delicate sensors and solenoids. If one of these solenoids gets a deposit inside, it can cause it to become stuck, causing a noticeable drivability problem. This isn’t covered by any warranty.

Fuel Injector Cleanings

Fuel injector cleanings can sometimes be beneficial and some manufacturers permit the dealership to claim it as part of some warranty repairs. But it’s only necessary when the quality of your gasoline has been so poor that deposits built up inside the injectors. The vast majority of vehicles, even older ones, do not require any fuel injector or fuel system cleaning, even as part of normal maintenance. Chemicals added to most gasoline during manufacture prevent buildups and clean your fuel system anyway.

Be Wary of Dirty filter and fluid techniques

Service advisors love to show you how dirty your oil is. But motor oil is supposed to look dirty and can look black in as little as a few hundred miles. Brake fluid changes color over time as it picks up fine rubber particles from the lines. Transmission fluid changes color as the dye breaks down and as fine deposits get mixed in. But this is all normal. Change these items when recommended by your service schedule. Just because the fluid looks ‘dirty’ doesn’t mean that it’s time to change.

Dealership service advisors love to bring out your ‘dirty’ filters and show them next to brand new bright white filters. But it’s just another gimmick. Your filter isn’t going to be bright white anymore, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good. It’s going to be a little dirty because it’s doing its job. Even worse, some service advisors bring an air filter for your inspection that isn’t really yours.

Many air filter changes are extremely easy for the lay person to perform, often with only a screwdriver (if that). It can take you minutes to perform yourself, which can save you a lot of money. An air filter service, for example, can cost you upwards of $90 (or more) at a dealership when the part costs less than $10 and replacement is often a matter of opening a cover. Check our YouTube videos for common filter replacements on your vehicle and do it yourself!

Take Home Message

Not all service advisors are out to take advantage of you. But some will take advantage of your lack of knowledge and any hesitancy, so know what is and is not a required maintenance item is before you go to the dealership for repairs. Don’t be afraid to say “no” and don’t be afraid to insist that your regular mechanic perform maintenance work.

If you are ever in doubt, decline the service and go to a mechanic you trust to give you an honest assessment and, hopefully, a better price. And remember that maintence never has to be performed at a dealership or with original equipment filters in order for you to get manufacturer warranty repairs.