Earlier this year I took my Buick Park Avenue to...

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Sep 01, 1994

Dear Tom and Ray:

Earlier this year, I took my 1989 Buick Park Avenue to the nearby Buick dealer (where the car was purchased new) and left it for a few hours to have the transmission serviced for a cost of $70. A few days later, my husband was washing the car, lifted the hood, and noticed a piece broken off the radiator. We took it back to the dealer, and they had to keep it overnight so that a part could be sent out and rebuilt. So far, so good. They called my husband at the office to tell him the work was done, and said that as an additional service to us, they had performed a free "27 point inspection." One of the items they highlighted under the column "Needs Immediate Attention" was the fact that we needed our transmission fluid changed! We flipped! They had supposedly done it exactly seven days earlier. Either it hadn't been done the previous week, or they just wanted to make another easy $70! They came up with some story about how the fluid may not look perfectly clean even though it had just been changed, but I have a hard time believing that. What do you think? I would love to hear that they were completely honest with us, but I fear that was not the case.

TOM: Well, it's possible that they're NOT dishonest, Kathy. You should really give them the benefit of the doubt. After all, they may just be lazy or stupid.

RAY: Right. They may just fill out these "27 point inspections" on the basis of intuition. Or maybe they come pre-filled-out! They may figure that most older cars need transmission fluid changes, so they just checked it off without even looking at your transmission fluid. That wouldn't make them particularly dishonest. It would just make them lazy.

TOM: If they knew you had been in for a transmission service a week earlier, and they still tried to sell you a fluid change, then they would be dishonest. And also stupid, I might add.

RAY: Which is not the worst combination. Dishonest and smart is much worse.

TOM: The only way your transmission fluid could have been dirty a week after it was changed was if your transmission was disintegrating during that week. A failing transmission produces filthy transmission fluid very quickly. But in a working transmission, the fluid still should have had a pink-ish color to it thousands of miles after it was changed.

RAY: So you're going to have to wait a month or two before drawing your conclusion about these guys, Kathy. If your transmission continues to perform perfectly, I'd say they were either lazy, or dishonest and stupid. But if your transmission gives up the ghost one day in rush-hour traffic, you can rejoice, because your faith in your dealership will have been restored.

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