Have you ever rushed to the dealership with that limited-time $29.95 oil change coupon, only to spend hundreds of dollars on unexpected maintenance costs? Perhaps the extra maintenance was performed sooner than necessary, or maybe it was even unnecessary, but it certainly cost you more than necessary. More on that in a bit.
The same principle applies to free maintenance.
Luxury car manufacturers like BMW and Mercedes have long offered free maintenance programs for their new cars. More recently, volume brands like Toyota have also seen the value in providing free maintenance. In June 2013, General Motors (GM) announced they would be providing free maintenance on many 2014 Chevrolet, Buick, and GMC models, in addition to the already available free maintenance on GM’s Cadillac nameplate.
Even auto dealers without manufacturer-backed free maintenance plans often offer prepaid maintenance plans at their own cost.
Why are all these for-profit organizations giving stuff away for free? Because it’s profitable to do so, of course.
How does free maintenance cost you? Let me count the ways!
- Free dealer visits are usually not free: A study of 48 dealerships by MediaTrac, now Performance Loyalty Group, Inc, a provider of the ULTRACARE PrePaid Maintenance Program, showed that dealers averaged $102 in additional revenue each time a customer came in for “free maintenance.”
- Service at a dealership can be 30 percent more costly than at an independent service center. When dealer service centers perform service that is not covered by the maintenance plan, it is likely to cost you more than necessary.
- Some in the automotive industry believe that customers are 17 times more likely to purchase their next new car from the dealer that performs their service. That figure seems high to me, but the bottom line is that customers who take advantage of free or prepaid dealer maintenance are less likely to shop around for their next new car. Chances are if they buy without competition, they’ll pay more than necessary—an additional cost of using free maintenance.
You can certainly take advantage of the free maintenance covered under the dealer plan: Postpone other recommended service until you can visit your independent service center. However, be prepared for the hard sell. Keep in mind that it’s unlikely your car will fall apart as you drive from the dealership to the service center of your choice!
If you are uneasy about selecting an honest and reliable independent service center, you might take advantage of excellent sources of available information. The Automotive Association of America provides an Approved Auto Repair program and lists more than 8,000 approved service centers—no membership is required. Check with your local auto club for information in your area.
The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certifies automotive repair and service professionals. They also award the Blue Seal of Excellence to repair facilities with a large percentage of ASE-certified professionals and provide a handy locator tool for your use.
Free dealer maintenance can certainly remain free; however, it will take some determination on your part to avoid potential added costs. It might be true that the added convenience of one-stop dealership service is worth the additional cost to you. No matter which way you choose to go, we can all agree that truly free dealer maintenance is a very rare thing indeed.