Quickie Lube Shops: 8 Rip-offs of and How to Avoid Them

Rapid in-and-out lube shops are a godsend for those of us unwilling or not interested in crawling around under our cars. It's a vital part of maintaining a vehicle, but it's so much easier to have someone else perform this disgusting chore.

Coupons and ads for many quickie oil-change spots offer what appear to be great deals. But once some service centers get their dirty paws on your car, that base rate begins to climb. You soon learn the advertised price doesn't include an arm-long list of extras. Before you know it, these upsells have boosted a simple oil change to well above $100.

The reason behind this strategy is that the oil change itself is not a very profitable endeavor. Once your car is safely stowed in their service bay, it's easier for a shop to boost their bottom line with an expensive laundry list of service. 

Please note: Not all lube shops perpetrate these hoaxes, but forewarned is forearmed.

Here are eight tricks to help you avoid being ripped off.

1. Know Before You Go
Before wasting time driving to an oil-change center, call and ask what is included in the basic service. Research upgrade prices and check your car's manual to make sure they're necessary.

2. Oil Upgrades

Your car's manual recommends 10W30 oil but the discount shop recommends an upgrade to a more expensive version. Some lube spots don't even ask if you want an upgrade. Ask to watch them add the oil and check to see whether it's either being pumped from the right tank or poured from the proper bottle.

3. Oil  and Air Filters
Who checks to make sure a shop has really changed the oil and air filters? It's much easier and cheaper for a technician to simply check the boxes on a form. Here's a trick to avoid this rip off: Place a small "X" on each filter in chalk or with a Sharpie before you bring it in for an oil change. After service has been completed, look to see if the X is still in place or has disappeared.

4. Cabin Filters
Many newer cars have a cabin filter, usually recommended for replacement at 20,000 to 30,000. The occasional technician will show you a cabin filter that looks like it's been soaked in liquid coal and indicate this is the stuff you've been breathing. Ask to see where the filter is located in your car so you can make sure it's your actual filter and not a prop. You also can buy a filter at a mass merchandiser like Walmart for roughly half the price. Replacement is fairly easy and should take about five minutes. Check your owner's manual or the Internet for directions. 

5. Wipers
Wiper blades should be replaced about every four months, perhaps earlier in winter. Quickie shop blades -- which they always recommend -- tend to run nearly double in price to blades from an auto parts retailer. While it's handy to have a technician install them for you, some retail shops will provide the same service at no charge. 

6. Extras
Most oil changes these days come with a list of additional services, including topping off your windshield washer fluid and vacuuming your carpet; services you could easily perform yourself at very little expense.

7. Add Ons
Air filter service, total vacuuming, intensive radiator rehab, frosty cool A/C upgrade, sludge knockout fuel injector cleaning solution... Some shops will add on until that $19.99 basic service now costs $150 or more, and that money-saving coupon deal is but a distant memory. Don't be forced into expensive charges that are unnecessary and expensive. 

8. 3,000 Mile Myth
Oil-change centers like to slap a little sticker on windshields with a date or mileage point for your next visit, but are they truly hitting your car's sweet spot? Lube shops like to push the myth you should change your oil every 3,000 miles, but this doesn't really apply to modern vehicles. Depending on your car or truck, you might be able to drive 7,500 or even 10,000 miles between oil changes without putting your vehicle's life expectancy at risk. As always, check your manual.

Ultimately, the key to not spending money on unnecessary services is to know the maintenance needs of your vehicle before rolling into the service center. Knowledge and a bit of resolve can prevent the upsell from taking hold.

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