Just How Much Are You Getting Ripped Off at the Car Dealership Service Department?

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A car dealership service manager confesses that maintenance bills are routinely inflated with unnecessary fluid flushes and replacements, nickel-and-dime charges for regularly used “shop supplies” like rags and lubricants, and parts that the car owner could buy for 30% less at a store like AutoZone.

It’s fairly common knowledge that it’s more expensive to get a car serviced at a dealership as opposed to with a mom-and-pop mechanic. Now that Popular Mechanics has published a Q&A with the confessions of an anonymous car dealership service manager, we know more about how and why car dealership maintenance is such a rip-off.

Among the little rip-offs that add up to a major rip-off are charges listed on the car owner’s bill for so-called “shop supplies” such as rags and lubricants. The manager flatly calls these fees “the biggest crock of crap I’ve ever seen”:

It’s been going on for years! It is essentially similar to going to a nice restaurant, getting your check and finding you’ve been billed for napkins and silverware, which are necessary costs of the food service business

Dealer service departments also routinely recommend fluid flushes and the replacing of parts that aren’t called for in the vehicle owner’s manual. While such service could be warranted if the vehicle is put to what’s known as “severe use,” the truth is that less than 5% of car owners used their vehicles that way—taxi drivers and off-roaders would probably qualify, but not everyday drivers.

(MORE: Even Jiffy Lube Says You Don’t Need an Oil Change Every 3,000 Miles)

You might think that car dealerships would buy parts at bulk discounted rates, and that these cheaper prices would be passed along to customers. Just the opposite is true. The service departments of domestic automakers are especially likely to charge a premium for parts that can be purchased much more cheaply at auto parts stores:

You can often buy their parts cheaper at the auto parts store than you can at the dealership parts counter. And the dealer knows this, but he can’t do anything about it.

So is there any reason to have your car serviced at the dealership? Essentially, what you’re paying extra for is single-minded expertise. When you bring your Ford into a Ford dealership, you can (should?) be assured that the technicians know what they’re doing because they’ve been trained by Ford and they work on Fords 95% of the time. With other mechanics, you can’t be so sure:

With the other guy, it’s a tossup—he may work on two Fords one week and not see another for a month.

For more insider info on cars, check out an early Popular Mechanics post featuring the confessions of a car salesman. Edmunds has also run enlightening stories on the confessions of an auto claims adjuster, confessions from the auto body shop, and another confessions of a car salesman.

Read them all back to back and you might paranoid enough to never set foot in a car dealership again.

(MORE: Why Does Buying a New Car Still Have to Be So Painful?)

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

1 comments
BD-JSO
BD-JSO

I took my car to Colletti Motorsports in Moraine, OH about 3.5 years ago and it is still not done. I had to have another mechanic fix Colletti Motorsports's mistakes.


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