My mechanic wants me to take my car into his repair shop just for an oil change, but there is a quick lube right near my office that is much more convenient. Looks like the price is about the same. Is there any reason I should go out of my way to let him do it? Sheila
This is a great question, and I’ve got a great answer: Yes! There are a lot of variables to consider when scheduling a routine oil change, and the cost of the basic service is only one of them. And you’re right, most mechanics will discount an oil change to make it competitive with the quick lube places in your area, even if it is a loss leader for the shop. He’s hoping he can sell other services and repairs while you are there…you’re getting a very thorough examination of your car on a regular basis for no extra cost.
Often, you will find advertised oil change specials for as low as $12.95. Tempting hun? Just know ahead of time that there’s practically no way you are going to get out of there for $12.95. Running those ads is very expensive for the quick lube business, and they can’t even make a profit performing an oil change for $25 much less $13. It is very important to their business that they find something else to sell you while you are there. I’d rather not gamble a possible savings of $10-$20 for the risk of last minute repairs along with possible neglect and oversight.
Monitor the mileage on your car and take it in for an oil change every 3,000 miles or every 3-4 months. Modern cars can run safely with today’s oil for 5,000 to 6,000 miles with no problems, but you also want your car inspected by a qualified mechanic every four months or so. Also, if you can leave the car there for a couple of hours, your mechanic will have time for a test drive as well as the general inspection. So if you need to get your oil changed on a work day, have a coworker meet you there when you drop off your car, take advantage of the mechanic’s shuttle, or see if he has a loaner car you can take to work. It’s worth the small hassle now to prevent a really big hassle of an unexpected broken car.
Regular oil changes are part of your car’s preventative maintenance (PM). Along with changing the oil and oil filter, PM also consists of tire rotation, inspection and replacement of belts, hoses, battery and brakes, undercarriage lubrication, and testing antifreeze protection. Quick lube shops will check your oil filter, air filter, and fluids. They aren’t qualified to inspect and repair anything further, and you don’t want them working on your car where they aren’t qualified. In addition to being under-qualified to perform adequate PM, they usually work too fast to provide accurate diagnostics even in the areas where they are qualified.
Checking and adding fluids is usually included in a quick lube oil change. It gives them the opportunity of showing you any “dirty” or “bad” fluids that they can change for a nice profit. Changing fluids is a fast, cheap, and easy, so as long as they don’t make a mistake while changing them, you should be good to go with this narrow section of the real PM list that should be performed.
It has been my experience that quick lube shops work too fast to be thorough on the PM items they do check, and there are too many things that aren’t on their lists. For example, one of the most common reasons wreckers are called to tow vehicles into a mechanic shop is because they won’t start. And the main cause is usually dirty or loose battery terminals. (Make sure you know what a corroded battery cable looks like.)Your battery water level and terminals should be checked with every oil change, but this service is rarely included on a quick lube PM checklist since they don’t sell batteries and there is no opportunity for an up-sell. And again, you don’t want their level of employee handling mechanic items that they aren’t qualified and trained to perform correctly.
Would you want the dental hygienist drilling in your teeth? Don’t think that every guy in a greasy, blue work shirt is a mechanic. A mechanic is only as good as his training and capability will allow him to be. Quick lube businesses are known to have high turn-over and the employees there simply don’t have the training and expertise that you need. I know it is just an oil change, but if maintenance items are overlooked or potential problems aren’t identified, it could be a much bigger problem down the road.
So once again, yes, take your car to your mechanic for regular oil changes. Listen to his recommendations and utilize the expertise you are paying for. And if the shop that you trust tells you to replace a tire, don’t wait! Have them replace it and be done with it.