How To Avoid Oil Change Ripoffs and Upsells

oil change
Know your oil change facts, avoid ripoffs. photo by Matt Wright

Before you take your car to the neighborhood Quik-Lube you should know what to expect. There are oil change ripoffs out there you need to know about. There are also a lot of unnecessary upsells that can be thrown at you during what you thought would be a basic oil change. If you want to save money and avoid being ripped off at the lube spot, knowledge is power. 

Basic vs. Signature Service

Not so long ago, oil change centers offered various levels of service.

Some still do, but most have dropped their less expensive "basic oil change" and only offer some sort of signature service that includes a lot of other stuff. This is a shame because the extra $10 or so is a throwaway for most people. But like they say in New Jersey, it is what it is. If your oil change location does offer the basic, I recommend going that route. That said, if you aren't interested in checking your own washer fluid level, you might spring for the lower of the signature services.

Ripoffs

  • The Oil Switcheroo: Your car may take a standard grade oil, but many cars and trucks these days call for an upgraded oil such as full synthetic. Higher mileage vehicles might benefit from special high mileage oil blends. These will cost you a little extra, but there's nothing you can do about that. Unfortunately, oil change centers have been caught using basic grade oil even when customers have paid for the good stuff. Ask to watch them add the oil and check for yourself that it is either being pumped from the right tank or being poured form the right bottle. Shops on the up and up won't mind at all.
  • No Oil Filter: The most often perpetrated oil change crime is in the filter -- it doesn't get replaced. An oil change is only half done if you don't replace the filter. Here's a trick: Take a Sharpie and put a small "X" or other mark on your oil filter before you bring it in for an oil change. When they're done, if you can still see your little "X" you know they didn't give you a new filter.

    The Extras

    Most oil changes these days come with a list of additional services that are included in the price. These include things like topping off your windshield washer fluid and vacuuming your carpet. Be sure you know that they performed all of these services. You're paying for them! I never knew Jiffy Lube includes exterior window washing with oil changes, and they haven't done it to anybody I've talked to.

    Upsells

    It's impossible to get an oil change without being hit with the sales pitch for added services. These aren't ripoff attempts, they are technically offering real services that will benefit your engine. The problem is your car or truck may not need these services. Always check your owner's manual to see if there are any major services your vehicle is due for. If they tell you that you need a transmission service, but you know it's not time, you'll know to turn it down.

    Being prepared for your oil change will guarantee you won't be taken advantage of at the shop. It's always important to remember (and I realize I'm pounding this point into the earth) that the majority of repair shops -- even the quickie oil change places -- are doing honest work and only trying to help people keep their vehicles in top condition and avoid costly repair bills in the future.

    This doesn't mean there isn't some money to be saved while you're there. Knowledge goes a long way when it comes to having your car or truck worked on. Of course you could avoid the whole thing by doing your own oil change!