Dear Tom and Ray:
Today I took my 2005 Prius in for its 55,000-mile routine service. I have been basically faithful in getting service done on schedule since getting it new in May of 2005. In addition to the routine maintenance items, they suggested: (1) MAF (Mass Air Flow?) Sensor, $52; (2) Service Throttle Body, $89.95; (3) Vent Service, $70; (4) Drive Belt Noise, $135 (Replace Belt); (5) Adjust Parking Brake, $89.95; (6) Nitrogen Tire Service, $20; (7) Check Alignment Next Visit, $84.95. I did not elect to have them do any of these things today, deferring to the next service at 60,000 miles. And by the way, I've never heard any noise from the drive belt. What's up with all of this? Are they just trying to raid my wallet? If this stuff is routinely required, why is it not on the scheduled maintenance list?
RAY: Well, the giveaway here is the "nitrogen tire service." They overreached with the nitrogen, which is totally unnecessary. And that does cast suspicion on the other services they recommend.
TOM: If you needed a mass air flow sensor, your "check engine" light would be on. Is it? If not, scratch that one off the list.
RAY: We generally don't recommend throttle body service unless it's either recommended by the manufacturer or we're trying to solve a performance issue. Is the car hesitating, or losing power? If not, cross out that one, too.
TOM: We don't know what "vent service" is on the Prius. We don't know if it's spraying a biocide in the ventilation system, checking the fuel vapor recovery system or cleaning the vent windows -- which the Prius doesn't have. If it's related to treating mold in your ventilation system, that would be done to address a bad smell. Is there a bad smell in your car? Is my brother in the car? If you answered "yes" and "no," respectively, to those questions, then get the vent service. If not, forget about that, too.
RAY: A typical car's drive belt lasts about 80,000-90,000 miles. You have only 55,000 miles on your car. And since it's a Prius, the engine doesn't even run all the time. So I doubt it's time for a new belt.
TOM: The parking brake might need adjustment. We can't tell without testing it. A wheel alignment shouldn't be necessary unless your tires are wearing unevenly or you've had an accident. And you don't need to buy nitrogen unless you plan on farming algae.
RAY: So I'd say you did the right thing by declining these services, Dennis. The problem is, if you don't trust these guys (perhaps with good reason), how are you going to know when there really IS something wrong? Eventually, you WILL need repairs, and unscheduled services.
TOM: So you need to find a mechanic you DO trust. Since you own a technologically advanced car, there are some things you will have to go to the dealer for. But there are plenty of other things, like oil changes, tires and exhaust work, that can be done by any good mechanic.
RAY: So, ask friends for recommendations of mechanics they like, or check the Mechanics Files at www.cartalk.com. That's a database of mechanics who are personally vouched for by other readers of our column and listeners to our radio show.
TOM: When you find someone you like and trust, you can ask him about this list of recommended services. Maybe your drive belt IS faulty? Maybe your parking brake is out of adjustment? Maybe there IS an algae farm in your future?