Did I just get taken advantage of?

alisandeJuly 2, 2011

I neglected to get my SUV inspected in June as required, and asked a popular chain service center to squeeze the vehicle in this afternoon. They did so, and everyone was very nice, but told me several things had to be done before it would pass.

I needed two new tires, but the vehicle requires that all four be changed at once. Also, a tie rod was loose and had to be replaced, and a realignment was needed. They asked if I wanted the oil and transmission fluid changed as long as I was there, and I said yes.

Three-and-a-half hours later, I paid them $1,100, which included a senior citizen discount. I looked at the itemized bill when I got home. The oil change was $30, which seemed reasonable, but the transmission fluid exchange was $130. There were two charges of $80 each for differential fluid exchange, which I don't recall being mentioned, and a $60 for transfer case service, which I never heard of. Also, I was charged $44.00 for a tire protection plan. Isn't that supposed to be optional? No one asked me if I wanted it.

I get the feeling a woman alone is a sitting duck in these places. What does this sound like to you?

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$130 for the transmission fluid change is on the high side, but not exceptionally high depending on what was done. This charge is about right if the bottom cover was removed dumping quite a bit of the fluid and the internal filter(s) changed. The last time I had that done on a Jeep, it was 12 years ago. It cost $75 with special cupon; regular price was $100.

You may not have needed to change the transmission fluid. There's a lots of "it depends on" conditions that controls this. A common check is to pull the dipstick, look at the fluid level, the color of the fluid, and smell it. If the fluid has the color of pink-dark rose, to pink-brown color, it is probably OK. A burnt odor indicates burned and slipping cluthces.

However, if you got a speedy oil change type of service, most likely the bottom plate was not removed nor the filters changed. Typically, this is a flush. A machine sucks out fluid, then admits clean fluid and then repeats the process until the fluid cleans up. In some cases, the old fluid is filtered and reused. This is not a complete replacement with clean fluid. This type of service costs about 1/2 hour of shop time, a charge for the machine, and some replacement fluid. It should cost half or less than a full service job.

Tire protection plan:

If you did not sign for the tire protection plan, you should not have to get it or pay for it. A fast talking service manager may have slipped that one in and you did not understand what he was selling, and getting you to verbally agree.

You did not state what model SUV you have nor which drive line. Since two differentials and a transfer case were mentioned, I am guessing that you have a 4 wheel drive machine. You did not state how many miles were on the vehicle and if these were "easy" street and highway miles or was there a significant amount of rough and tumble off-roading included. These factors affect how soon the fluid in differentials need changing. Under normal use, a differential can go for a long time before it needs a lubricant change. Consult your owner's manual or a repair manual for a recommended change-out period. However, differentials should be checked periodically for fluid level and topped off if needed. Normally, these do not loose fluid until a seal leaks, and when that happens, the seal needs replacing.

Tie Rod End:

A worn tie rod end definitely should be replaced. Installing a replacement disturbs the steering linkage, therefore, an alignemnt should be included.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2011 at 3:33AM
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Thanks, Jem. Nope, nobody mentioned the tire protection plan in any context. I was prepared to be asked about it. I'm not a big fan of "extra protection" plans in general--although maybe this one isn't such a bad idea; I'm not sure.

I have a 2003 4Runner with 78,000 miles on it. Mostly "easy" miles, but I live on a dirt road that's often poorly maintained. It can also be exceedingly dusty.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2011 at 4:57AM
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all you can do is complain to the business about doing work you did not agree to. they might give you a little refund. a diff/transfer service is usually a good idea but not if you were surprised they did it.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2011 at 10:02AM
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By now you may have realized no-one outside of the transaction knows exactly what took place here. Many vehicle owners fail to follow the manufacturers service schedule and suffer otherwise preveantable breakdowns. The chains have been keying on this type of maintanence for a few years now because they can do it with a lower waged (read less experience and training) technician. This approach results in significant profits with a relatively low expense (cost of doing business) and risk of anything going wrong that an otherwise experienced technician could avoid. It's commmon for these places to sell the road hazzard tire warranty, it lets them put out a price for the tire thats too cheap for an independent to match, and then puts the real profit right back into the sale. At the same time, you never know who is going to win that gamble, just like any other insurance, you have to bet that something will go wrong with the tire(s), they are betting nothing will go wrong before you replace the car. Not recalling if you actually OK'ed this or not isn't all that uncommon. Had you have gotten the estimate in writing and gone over it both with the consultant, and then a second time on your own before the repair was completed, this would not be a question right now. Questions like yours can arrise when a consumer gets momentarily distracted by the price of the tires for instance during the moment one of the smaller details is discussed. The chains know this and they actually try to avoid allowing that to happen. They know that if you miss any details of the conversation the first question you will ask is did I get ripped off? I don't recall saying to do that. That doesn't do them any good at all as a business when they may have done everything exactly right.

You have e-mail, in the future if your not waiting for your car, have them e-mail the estimate to you, that would avoid this situation, which is one neither you nor the shop want to be involved in.

Now if there is one possible question as to whether this was done correctly or not, what transmission fluid was used when the service was performed? What fluid was used in the transfer case, and what was used in the differentials? Look at your invoice and be very specific on the names and part numbers listed. Some of the chains use universal fluids because the manufacturer of the fluid claims it's good for everything. This is actually not true and the technicians are powerless to do anything about the corporate policy. In the corporates defense, they offer a significant warranty should your transmission ever fail "as a result of using this universal fluid" however that is IMO a weak defense because how would someone prove that the fluid was really to blame, reliably?

    Bookmark   July 8, 2011 at 8:19AM
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