Today: Who Will Check Rick's Oil?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Mar 18, 2013

Dear Tom and Ray:

I'm an old geezer with fond memories of when you could pull into a gas station and tell the kid to fill it up and check the tires, oil (the kid holding up the dipstick so you could see it: "Sir, you're a quart low") and water. In fact, at one time, I was that kid. Those days are long gone, but that leaves me with a problem. I'm a bit arthritic, and it is difficult for me to bend over and contort myself to check the air pressure in my tires, and much more so to wrestle that air hose that really wants to contract back into its hole. I suppose I could check the oil and water myself, but I'd really rather not.

I'd be willing to pay for this extra service, but I can't find anywhere that offers it in my neighborhood, maybe not even in my city. I wouldn't want to pay a lot -- it shouldn't take someone who's more nimble than I more than five minutes. I suppose I could take my car to my mechanic's shop, but it seems kind of lame to ask him to check the, you know, air, water and oil. Of course, I am kind of lame! Any suggestions?

-- Rick

TOM: You're right, Rick, that these sorts of services are rarely provided anymore. What you may not know is that they're hardly necessary anymore, either.

RAY: In the old days, everything leaked: crankcases, radiators, tires. But cars are much better now, and are much more maintenance-free (on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis) than they've ever been.

TOM: And when you do have a leak, there's often an idiot light now to let you know about it. We had an extra set of idiot lights installed in my brother's car just to give the lights a fighting chance against him.

RAY: Nowadays, if you lose tire pressure, all new cars have tire-pressure-monitoring systems that will alert you on the dashboard.

TOM: Most new cars have coolant-level indicators now to tell you if you've lost coolant. That gives you a heads-up that you're a little low before the idiot light comes on to warn you that your engine is about to melt.

RAY: For oil, more and more cars have oil-level lights, in addition to the old oil-pressure lights. And car batteries are all sealed now and maintenance-free.

TOM: So, you just don't need to check those things with every fill-up, like you did in years past. And if you have a well-maintained, modern car with tire-pressure monitoring, you easily can go three to six months between checking that stuff.

RAY: If you have an older car, a high-mileage car or a car with a known problem, obviously, you'll have to check things more often.

TOM: But whenever it IS time, it's absolutely fine to go to a repair shop and ask them to look at the fluids and tire pressure for you. We have older customers who come in and ask us to do that all the time. We do it for free, as a courtesy, and then we add a hundred bucks to their next repair bill.

RAY: Not true! Usually, the customer will tip the guy who checks everything five or 10 bucks. That makes everybody happy.

TOM: You also can search online (or beg a grandchild to do it for you, Rick!) for "full-service gas stations" in your area. There aren't a lot of them left, these days, but there seem to be at least a few in every city. If you find one of those nearby, take your business there.

RAY: You'll pay for those services there, too, but it'll be in the form of a few extra cents a gallon. And you'll even get your windshield cleaned. Wouldn't that be a treat?

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