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Why does it cost so much to service my car?

Published on February 27, 2012 under Humble Mechanic

This is a question that I get all the time. Whether a customer asks me, I see it posted, or I just over hear the conversation, it comes up all the time. Remember, I work for VW, I think overall German cars cost more to maintain than American, or Japanese cars.

Since there are so many factors that play into the cost of maintaining your car, lets just take one and really focus on that. The one that I am really thinking about today is the psychology of the statement, “It costs too much”. Just a heads up, I am not belittling the cost to properly maintain a car. I know that it cost a lot to keep your car running great!

When we buy a car, we put lots of time into researching the vehicle. Whether it is looking at which model we want, making sure we get the color we like, and finally making sure the price is fair. One thing most folks do not do, is take maintenance into account. We get caught up in the hype of buying a TDI (diesel), or getting the upgraded wheel and tire package. Not giving a thought that tires will cost more,or a TDI needs more maintenance. Once of my early posts talked about some things to consider when getting a TDI.

So I think that from day 1 of owning a car, most people have no idea what it will cost to own their car. Does that explain why we have a skewed view of proper maintenance costs? Well, not totally. Think about how many Jiffy Change commercials you have seen. They advertise a $29.99 oil change. Or that Pep Boys ad that shows you can buy 4 tires for $100. Whether we actually believe that we can get our cars serviced at that price, doesn’t really matter. It has been embedded into our brains. Think about how long places have been telling people they can “service” cars at that price. I remember being a very little kid and seeing those signs. Of course they probably said $19.99 way back then. 😉

Basically, we have been “marketed” into a false reality of maintenance costs. Sure, someone can pay

$29.95 for an oil change, but does that mean you can pay that much? You know that really tiny print

at the bottom of ads, here is what they are telling you

Is it REALLY possible to get a proper oil change for this price?

  • Not all cars qualify
  • Limit of 5qt of oil
  • Filter might cost extra
  • No trucks
  • Diesels not included
  • Non Synthetic oil
  • lots of other BS restrictions that will wind up costing you

Ok, those ads usually don’t come right out and say that last one, but we know its true!

Lets look at the other side too. How often do you hear that the dealership is a rip off? I hear all the time that “We charge too much”. The truth is, we are cheaper than Jiffy for an oil change. Try convincing customers of that. Even if we were a few dollars more, the valve is unquestionable!

Lets also consider the maintenance needs of our cars have changed. When I was a kid, oil changes were common at 3,000 miles. Now VWs are due for an oil change every 10,000 miles. Does it really matter if an oil change costs double what it did 20 years ago, if you can go 3x longer between oil changes? Sounds like even though the oil itself costs more, the per year service is cheaper.

Non of that really even touches on the actual COST of a service. Crude oil prices are up, that will make EVERYTHING cost more. It adds cost to each leg of the process. When oil prices go up, it costs more to ship and make things. Plus at an est. 73% inflation since 1990, that $19.99 oil change will cost you about $35, just based on inflation. (if you want to be sick, check out Inflation Calculator)

So how can we as customers see through the crap that we are fed? Try these ideas

  • Shop around, you might be able to save a few bucks
  • Be sure to COMPARE apples to apples. Synthetic and Non-synthetic oil are NOT the same
  • Find a mechanic you trust. Even if it cost a couple of bucks more, it will be worth it in the long run
  • Learn to do some of your own maintenance. (I hope I can help you with some of that)

Don’t fall into the $29.99 oil change trap. I unless you drive a 1995 Chevy Cavalier, it will cost you more. Even if you can get the $29.99 oil change, it will cost you more in the long run.

One more thought, be sure to consider how much your car cost when it was new(not USED). Our VW Touareg was a ~$50,000 vehicle when it was new. Now the 2004 are dirt cheap, I mean $12,000 cheap. That doesn’t mean that you are trying to maintain a $12,000 car. The car will still cost what other $50,000 vehicles cost to maintain.

What do you guys think? Have we been “marketed” into believing something SHOULD cost x, but really costs y?

Oh, 1 more thing,again. Be sure to check out the forum. There is still some room left in the “First 50“. Lets try and get there this week. I do need you guys to help me spread the word on that. Also, if you have signed up, and have not been approved, please Contact Me. Some people have weird email addresses that might look like spam. I want to be sure to keep the forum free of crap.

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5 Comments

  1. Marshall

    Cost…Cost…Cost and yes I believe that the cost of maintaining your vehicle at a Dealership is more. But the thing is, I trust the techs that work on my vehicle. I don’t know anything about a Honda Ridgeline, so I trust the techs that work on it. Every time I need a oil change or scheduled maintenance I take the truck to my favorite Honda dealership. I know them and they know me and my truck so there, its a good feeling. When I get my “12” Beetle I will probably do the same. Take it back to the dealer for any or all maintenance work. Also being a member of AAA will help with discounts on cost of maintaining the car and for sure I know I’ll get the Extended Warranty.

  2. Peyton

    Sure it cost money to keep up your car. I admit I buy my tires elsewhere but everything else is done by the same person at the same dealership. That way if shi*t goes wrong I know exactly who to blame. Just kidding. The other night after a hockey game we stopped in a bad neighborhood at the Harris Teeter and this woman had 2 men push her car to start it. I guess she had a bad starter or something. My husband and I started talking about why didnt she bring her car in to have it fixed and he said depending on where she would bring it she would pay 200-600 and she probably didnt have the money in this economy so she just got people to push her when she needed to start her car. That does sort of make me feel bad about the money I spend on my car because I swear I bring mine in a whole lot more then 10000 miles to have its oil change.

  3. Mustang

    Great post Charles.
    Really excellent point about buying an expensive vehicle after it has depreciated. The replacement parts don’t depreciate.
    A Touareg has massive Brembo brakes. Probably the best brakes on a production car. Unlike the pads on my old truck that never wore out. I didn’t need to replace them, which was inexpensive, but they were HORRIBLE!! So which ones are better?

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