Many dealers’ estimates included extra service items that go beyond what’s listed in the owner’s manuals. Those can include engine and transmission flushes or automatically replacing fluids and filters that the automakers’ maintenance schedules call for just inspecting.
At 60,000 miles, for example, the 2004 Explorer’s owner’s manual calls for rotating tires, changing filters and the engine oil, and performing a number of inspections. Many dealers also would have changed the engine coolant and the transmission fluid and filter, which could add $100 or more to the bill. Some included flushing the fuel-injection system or decarbonizing the throttle body, services that added $110 and $165, respectively, to bills.
When we asked the automakers about the extra services, all three said that you shouldn’t need maintenance beyond what’s listed in the owner’s manual.
We checked back with some of the higher-priced dealers, asking for a price that included only the items in the owner’s manual, and their prices dropped around $100 to $150.
Regular maintenance can also be performed by independent repair shops without voiding the car’s warranty. When we called about two dozen independents, we generally got lower prices than the dealers offered, but they didn’t necessarily include all of the service items printed in the owner’s manual. The shops usually wanted to perform basic service, such as an oil change and tire rotation, and inspect the car for any additional work that might be needed.
That can save you money, but it’s important to make sure the shop knows exactly what’s in the manual. When we did that, an independent shop in Chicago gave us a price that undercut the dealers by $70 to almost $200. As with many dealers, however, some shops wanted to include items that weren’t in the manual.
You’ll get the best price on maintenance by comparison shopping and calling several dealerships and independent shops. Always check what you’re being charged for against the maintenance items in your owner’s manual. If the price includes items that are not in the schedule, ask for a price without them. According to the manufacturers we talked to, you’ll be giving your car everything you should to keep it on the road.
If an inspection reveals that additional service needs to be performed, get a separate quote for each item and then decide what additional work, if any, you want done. If parts, such as brake pads, aren’t worn to the allowable limit, you might be able to put off the job or have it done later at another shop for less money. Or you can perform simple tasks yourself, such as changing an air filter, for a fraction of the dealer’s cost.
It pays to shop around
Below are quotes we got from dealerships in three metro areas for the same maintenance interval on the same models.
|2005 Toyota Camry
|2004 Ford Explorer
|2003 Honda Civic