Does a car with 30k miles really need a 500-dollar premium service?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Sep 01, 2010

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have a mechanics' ethics question for you. I drive a 2009 Nissan Rogue. I love this car. I was getting ready for a road trip, and I realized that there were three minor recalls on the car and that it was time for the 30,000-mile service. So I take the car to the dealership, the guy tells me the service package they offer, and then charges me 500 bucks. I tell my wife, who gets upset that I need 500-dollars worth of service on a relatively new car. I call the guy back, and he tells me that this is the "premium" service package, and that they already started so I can't change it. I ask him why he only offered me the premium service package, and he says that I didn't ask for any other service packages. Did my dealership's mechanic take me for a ride, or does he not need to tell me the options? I now know that I can download all my suggested maintenance requirements, broken down by mileage, from the Nissan website, and I plan to do this from now on. I guess I feel this is partially my fault for not being an informed consumer, but I also think the mechanic should have explained the "premium" service to me in more detail. What do you think? -- Dave


TOM: I think you're exactly right, Dave. Your mechanic was not entirely honest with you AND you should have been a more informed consumer.

RAY: Your wife also is right. A car with 30,000 miles on it should need almost nothing -- certainly not 500 dollars-worth of regular maintenance.

TOM: A lot of dealerships make a lot of money by adding extra services to the scheduled maintenance routines. You have the right to decline these extra flushes, inspections and fuzzy-dice rotations. But in order to do that, you need to know what IS required.

RAY: That information is available not only online, but also in the back of your owner's manual (that's the rectangular thing wrapped in cellophane in the bottom of your glove box, Dave).

TOM: You also have the right to take your car to someplace other than the dealer for its scheduled maintenance, even if it's still under warranty. Simply present any mechanic you like with the list of required maintenance from the back of your owner's manual and ask for an estimate. You can compare that price to what your dealer is charging for the same services, and decide from there.

RAY: We also recommend that customers ask whoever does the service to stamp or sign the spot in the back of the manual that indicates that the scheduled maintenance has been performed. You'll probably never need proof, but if you do have an engine warranty claim someday, it's good to have that.

TOM: And as far as your dealer is concerned, he was sleazy on two counts. First, he absolutely should have explained to you that there are several levels of service. Once he does that, he can take his best shot at persuading you to opt for the more expensive one. But the choice should be yours. The fact that he didn't do that lands him squarely on our fecal roster.

RAY: And second, when you called him and asked him to stop the work, he should have said, "I'll have them switch you to the basic service, and even if they've already done some of the work, we'll only charge you the lower price." That could have earned your loyalty as a customer for years. But instead, he was more interested in taking in a few extra bucks today.

TOM: But you also bear some responsibility, in this case, for being an uninformed consumer, Dave. Now you know better. So next time, you'll not only go somewhere else for your service, but you'll bring with you your Nissan-approved list. And maybe a couple of large friends with baseball bats.

Get the Car Talk Newsletter

Got a question about your car?

Ask Someone Who Owns One