When it’s time to give your car for its routine service, be aware, be very aware!
On the face of it, a routine service may not seem like much other than the usual oil and filter changes, but very often cars owners are in for a nasty surprise when they see the bill and the hidden charges that are suddenly served up. And that’s not all, there are other ways in which many an unscrupulous car service center will look to make money off you. After all, authorized service centers are one of the biggest money spinners for car brands.
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It’s even more likely that you will be hoodwinked by a service station if you don’t keep an eye on what’s going on with your car, as sometimes service centers will include charges in your bill, which were not performed on the vehicle at all.
Here’s a list of some common ways in which car service centers look to make money off unsuspecting customers.
Unnecessary labor charges
Many service stations will include labor charges in the final bill given to the customer for tasks that were not performed, especially if there was no complaint raised by a customer when giving the vehicle for service. For instance, you may find a charge that says “Brake service labour: Rs. 600”. This is a valid charge if you have seen mechanics actual open up the brake pads, inspect, clean and re-install them. However, there have been instances where this task was not performed, but added to the bill simply because the customer was not around to double-check. It saves the service station time, allowing them to accommodate more vehicles in a single bay by not performing this task that takes around 30 minutes. And it gives them that extra profit.
Flushing and additives
Engine and radiator flushing and adding oil or fuel additives are other ploys employed by service stations to make an extra buck. Many a time, car owners would notice a service advisor asking a customer to perform a radiator flush or add some brand of additive to the engine oil to “improve life-span” or “improve mileage”. These additives, though useful at times, are not always needed at each service. Many service stations will try and sell you a fuel additive that’s not needed or is very expensive compared to other popular brands available in the aftermarket, saying that this additive has been “authorized by the car manufacturer”. The profit margin that service stations make on these additives is huge, and hence this is a great way of mooching some more money off an unsuspecting customer.
Car dry cleaning and wax coating
Dry-cleaning the car’s interiors is another way in which service stations make a few extra bucks. Some cars with dirty seats and roof lining genuinely need a dry clean during service, but some service stations will nevertheless try to get customers to opt for this at every service – something that’s not needed especially for well-maintained cars. A charge of Rs. 1,500 just for dry-cleaning is quite steep, when this often involves just a rubdown of the seats and roof-lining with an old cloth brush and a little solvent. Some service stations just use foam and a blow dry.
Wax polishing also is a useful item if your cars finish is old and dull, but the labor charges associated with the task are not worth it. Service stations can charge up to Rs. 1,000 for a wax polish job, while you could do the same at home on a Sunday morning, and spend money on some good polish that would last you at least a year.
Engine decarbonizing and dressing
Engine decarbonizing is another charge many service stations will try and dump on a customer every 15,000 or 20,000 kms. In reality, engine decarbonizing is not needed on cars for a minimum of 50,000 km, especially with modern cars and better fuel quality these days. Service stations charge around Rs. 1,800 for “engine decarbonizing”, which involves running a chemical solvent mixed with fuel through the engine for about 15 minutes to remove carbon build up. In any case, this is not the best way to decarbonize an engine, as proper decarbonizing involves opening the cylinder head and physically cleaning the valves and ports. One can avoid this task by just using a good fuel additive or injector cleaner from time to time, to keep the engine clean.
In addition, some service stations also bill separately for “engine dressing”. This is nothing but a silicone or oil spray that’s sprayed on to the engine to give it a shine. Charges can be as high as Rs. 800 for this task, but the effects don’t last long enough.
Billed, but not replaced
One thing to be very wary of at service stations is that all parts that have been billed for have been replaced. Always ask to see or collect the old parts from the service station, as sometimes parts can be billed to you but not replaced. This also fuels the grey market for genuine spares. For instance, a service station may bill you Rs. 800 for a new AC filter, whereas in reality an unscrupulous mechanic can just clean and replace the old filter and palm the new filter off to the grey market, if you don’t bother to cross check. Always make sure you collect old parts to be certain that tasks were carried out.
The easiest way to avoid being fooled by a service station is to actually be present when service is being carried out on your car. Always make sure you check from time to time on work being carried out. Most service stations now have a customer lounge that overlooks the shop floor, allowing you to monitor progress. Some stations may even allow you on to the shop floor once in a way to keep track of progress.
Have you got some more instances of service stations cheating customers to share? Do tell us.