Putting Themselves Out of Business

Auto mechanic as a business
Auto Mechanics At Work

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

The term “Sticker Shock” typically means the shock at seeing just how much something new, usually an automobile, costs as determined by the price tag or sticker. After my recent experience with an auto dealership service department, I’m now extending the term “Sticker Shock” to auto maintenance. Honestly, with pricing that can only be described as obscene, auto dealers are putting themselves out of business.

Getting an Oil Change

So, the other day I determined my 2015 Jeep Cherokee was due for an oil change. I haven’t been driving it much these past few years, so the car is aging without putting on a lot of miles. I decided I’d take it to my local auto dealer service center instead of a drive-thru “Quick Lube” place, so the service center could also do an inspection. I’ve been going to this dealership, Ourisman CDJR of Woodbridge, since purchasing the Jeep.

A big plus is that this dealership is literally walking distance from where Winnie and I now live. So, early one morning I dropped my Jeep off at the service area. I left my instructions and key in the drop box and came home in time to start my telecommuting workday. About 10:00AM I received a text from them with an embedded link to “Inspection Results and Recommendations.” The inspection results listed the following:

Service NamePrice
Oil and Oil Filter Change$28.50
Needs Immediate Attention
Brake Job – Front (Replace Pads and Rotors): Brakes are at 2/32 rotors cannot be machined, high miles, hotspots and rust build up.$784.90
Brake Job – Rear (Replace Pads and Rotors): Brakes are at 2/32 rotors cannot be machined, high miles, hotspots and rust build up.$749.90
Brake Flush: Discolored$189.95
Engine Air Filter Replacement$88.99
Cabin Air Filter Replacement$100.99
Spark Plug Replacement 6 Cylinder: Vehicle reaching 80k, would recommend replacing spark plugs.$665.85
Fuel Induction Service: Helps clean carbon build up.$219.95
Total$2829.03

In truth, these recommended maintenance actions seemed reasonable given my Jeep does have 72,000 miles. What wasn’t reasonable was what they wanted to charge me, other than the oil change.

Brake Replacement Concerns

I haven’t done my own mechanic work since owning my 1988 Isuzu SpaceCab. But, I still know enough about auto mechanics to speak the language and usually know when I’m being bullshitted. In this case, I was immediately concerned about the condition of the brakes (a car may not necessarily start, but it has to stop). Then Winnie reminded me we’d just had an annual safety inspection this past December and the Jeep passed with no issues. Now I was pissed.

I responded to the text message declining all recommended services except oil change. Then I called, just to make it clear they were Not to do any servicing other than oil change. The Jeep was ready for pickup within the hour.

I was still concerned about the brakes and wanted a second opinion. I also thought that $1,724.75 for replacing brakes and a hydraulic flush was an outrageously high price. A Google search revealed that a brake job for my year/model Jeep should be about $300 per axle. Add in the brake system flush and the price should still be about $780.00, maybe a bit more for this high cost of living area.

Winnie suggested we take the Jeep to a mechanic we did business with when I owned my 2004 Isuzu Rodeo, for a second opinion. He was honest and always gave us fair pricing.

Spark Plug Bonanza

I also checked pricing on replacing spark plugs. Mopar-quality spark plugs cost about $17.50 apiece. Times six brings us to $105. So, for $105 in parts, this dealer service center wants to charge $665.85 – a labor charge of $93.48 per plug. Each plug should take an experienced mechanic about ten minutes to remove and replace.

I guess it’s nice work if you can get it. Anyone thinking the dealer service mechanics are earning in excess of $100 per hour?

Second Opinion

Winnie picked-up the Jeep and drove it over to our former mechanic. He put it up on the rack, inspected, and explained the brakes were at 45 percent wear but could probably go another six months before needing replacement. His quote was $1,011.30 for a full brake job and hydraulic system flush. After a quick phone consult, I told Winnie to have the brakes done now just to be safe. Our mechanic had the work completed in two hours while Winnie waited.

While doing the brake job, our mechanic also noticed something on the drive shaft was “loose.” Winnie wasn’t sure what, exactly, but the mechanic also fixed that issue for no extra charge.

Seeing A Pattern

Last year our local Nissan service center tried to defraud Winnie on unnecessary repairs in the amount of $1,111.00. The service manager claimed her car needed immediate critical repairs. He even tried to prevent Winnie from driving her car away on basis that it was “not road-worthy.” Once she got her car out of there, two different independent service centers (including the one that repaired my Jeep) found nothing wrong with her car.

That was a dealer we had bought two cars from and done business with for over ten years. So, this current incident makes two bad experiences with different auto dealer service centers in the past eighteen months.

Commentary

I’m very disappointed in my dealer service department. I get that car sales are down and costs are going up. But, charging rates like this is shamelessly abusive. Then there’s the issue of claiming brakes needed “Immediate Attention” when they didn’t. That pretty-closely borders on fraud.

This type of “service” is not a long-term sustainable business model. I make decisions on where I buy a car based on quality of the dealer service centers. Our local Nissan dealer has already lost all future business from us. Now, I need to reevaluate doing future business with my Jeep dealer. How many other people are feeling ripped off and angry at these dealerships? How many future auto sales are these dealerships going to lose due to exploitive service center pricing?

Meanwhile, our local independent mechanic charges fair prices and does honest, good-quality work. He has earned our trust and our future business. Maybe there’s a theme that aspiring business consultants can identify?

Edited: March 10, 2023, for format

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