So you’ve learned all about oil change intervals, and what kind of oil you should use, but what about everything else that goes on during a typical oil change? This time around, we’ll take a look at the other services you’re going to want to have done—and those you’ll want to avoid—during your next oil change.
The up-sell is a classic oil change shop move. Sometimes, it’s motivated by legitimate mechanical needs; sometimes it’s not. On the one hand, up-selling additional services as legitimate a business practice as your server asking you if you want appetizers, dessert, or anything from the bar. On the other, it can often be a scam, making you pay for parts, fluids, and services you don’t really need. Here’s how to tell the difference.
First up, your air filter. While this is a consumable part, and does need regular checking and changing, it doesn’t need to be changed as often as your oil, unless you regularly drive in extremely dusty conditions. Most air filters can go 20,000 or 30,000 miles between changes, so if you know your air filter is relatively new, don’t fall for this up-sell. If you can’t remember when it was changed last, however, you should probably take up the offer of a new air filter—they’re usually inexpensive, and a dirty or damaged air filter can cause premature engine wear and hurt your gas mileage.
Next, your transmission fluid. The transmission fluid in most new cars is designed to last at least 100,000 miles. If you drive a manual transmission car, it’s probably intended to last the life of the vehicle. Chances are good you don’t need that transmission flush, especially if your car is still relatively new. If you regularly drive your car in severe conditions and it has been several years since you changed the transmission fluid, if your car has more than 100,000 miles, or if it has been shifting poorly, however, you may need to have your transmission flushed and refilled with new fluid. The thing is, you’ll know if any of these conditions applies—and if your car is having issues, you should be sure to have the work done by a certified mechanic, as the fluid may not be the root of the problem (in fact, it probably isn’t).
But what about coolant? Your engine’s coolant should be changed on a regular schedule, but that schedule is usually on the order of once every two years or so. If your car has over 100,000 miles and you can’t remember the last time the coolant was flushed and changed (or if you bought it without maintenance records) you may want to go ahead with this one. Coolant is generally inexpensive, and the labor involved shouldn’t take long or add much to the bill.
Windshield wiper replacement will also be a common up-sell. This is one you can inspect for yourself, so take a look—if they seem dry, cracked, torn, stiff, or you’ve noticed they haven’t been doing a great job lately, go ahead and tick the box. Good vision in inclement weather is essential to safe driving. If, on the other hand, you’ve replaced them recently, or they’re still working just fine, go ahead and skip it.
Finally, there’s the tire rotation. If you drive an all-wheel drive or 4x4 vehicle, you should be having your tires rotated regularly—as often as every oil change isn’t a bad idea, especially if you’re on a 7,500-mile or greater oil change interval. This will help ensure the longevity of your car’s driveline, and tire rotations are generally very inexpensive. For rear-drive or front-drive cars, tire rotation isn’t as essential to your car’s health, so consider having it done every second or third oil change, or every 10,000 miles or so.
These are five of the most common up-sells you’ll be presented with, and each has a valid maintenance reason backing them up—just be sure you actually need them before opening your wallet. But what about the less common up-sells? They’re usually just grabs for more money by the oil change shop or service station, so be especially on guard if they’re suggested. In fact, if any of the following services are suggested, you should probably just say no and take your car for a thorough inspection with an ASE Certified mechanic.
So what are the services to avoid at your next oil change? Differential fluid flushes/replacements, fuel filter replacement, fuel system cleanings, and fuel injector cleanings—these are all systems that are typically designed to last the life of the car barring abuse. Likewise, any more extensive or major mechanical work is probably best performed by your trusted, certified mechanic; if that’s where you’ve taken the car for its oil change, take their advice seriously. If you’ve just stopped off at the local oil change place, however, you’ll be better served just getting out of there with the oil change and having your trusted mechanic do the rest of the work—if it’s needed at all.
automotive freelance journalist