I am typing up this post on a beautiful morning while waiting in National Tire and Battery’s (NTB) customer waiting room as they change my vehicle’s oil and filter. I took my laptop this time around since I had waited over an hour the last time I brought in my wife’s Honda. I can tell you that they are definitely not about getting you in and out in a jiffy. Rather, make sure you have plenty of time when visiting them for a routine oil change (although I am sure this varies by branch).
To address the title of this blog post, you can save money on oil change and routine vehicle maintenance by searching for coupons on the internet that not only offer a discount on what you need done, but also bundles it with other promotional offers. For example, NTB has been running a promotion for the last few months that can get you an oil and filter change for $18.99 + tax.
This was initially $14.99 but they increased it after the first month’s promotion. You can print the coupons from the NTB website. However, if you’re friendly enough to the shop manager they will usually give it to you anyway. The good thing about the promotion is that comes with a free tire rotation, and I have been taking advantage of this offer for the last 8 months or so.
Going to a place like NTB for service comes with a full vehicle inspection, or so they say. After all, they do make you wait for a ridiculous amount of time. An oil change at a neighborhood car shop usually gets me in and out within half an hour (providing they have the capacity to take my car when I show up). I never understood why a full inspection takes so much time with all the technology they have in place. If you’ve been to places like NTB and the likes and have seen their garage bays, you can relate to what I mean.
Either they are really diligent in conducting inspections, or they want to give you that impression so they can up-sell you their services while you are on site. Heck, sometimes I think some of these shops purposely mess something up and then show you what’s wrong with your car. I mean, what the fish are they really doing in that hour and a half back there? The garage bays are mostly blocked from your view while you are in the waiting room so you can’t really see what’s going on either – not everything at least.
Oil changes are really not a profitable service for car shops. They don’t make money on it. It is a courtesy they provide to keep customers coming back. Actually more than a courtesy, it is a marketing ploy to get you to step inside the door. That’s why you will see oil change deals offered on promotion all the time. Shop managers know that oil changes are needed regularly, and by discounting such service they will get people to come in. Once you are in the shop, they will “diagnose” your car and offer you all kinds of recommendations. They often make the recommendations sound like problems, as if your car will breakdown if you don’t listen to them.
To them, they already have your car in anyway, lifted up and ready to be repaired on. The incremental time and labor cost to their staff is not that much if you were to agree to have them work on a recommendation they made. Because the economics work in favor of the shop, Managers often have a lot of wiggle room to bargain on the price since your car is already being worked on for the oil change.
For example, when I took my wife’s car in for an oil change and tire rotation, they recommended changing the brakes. When I said that I will wait, the Manager instantly offered $49 off. They don’t want you to shop around and risk losing your business. Of course I did not get it done and ended up saving much more after shopping around and getting more maintenance work done in bulk.
This can work in your favor if you know what you really need done to your vehicle and the prices other competitors are offering. But even then, do not feel pressured. Have the Manager write the price quote on your receipt and tell them you will come back another time because you need to leave for now. This will give you a chance to shop around at your own pace. For example, even when I was offered $79 off a fluid flush package when I was in for an oil change, I was able to save more than $200 on a full vehicle fluid change by shopping around. It took me 20 minutes max to shop around over the phone.
Vehicles and the human body are often compared a lot. There are things that go bad and need attention as both age. Both need regular maintenance such as eating, bathing, oil changes and tire rotations. Getting maintenance done in bulk will help you save on the cost. Like I said above, when your vehicle is in the garage bay and the shop works on your oil change as well as tire rotation, it doesn’t cost them much more in time and labor if they were to balance your wheels as well. When your tires are rotated, the car has to be lifted and your tires taken off. The same is needed when balancing your tires. Instead of making two trips, make one trip and get both done. Postponing either task for a couple months won’t kill your car.
For example, I did not get my fluids flushed and replaced immediately when it was recommended. I waited until the next oil change few months later and got everything done at once. By doing so, I saved more than $200 on the entire package as it gave the car shop additional bargaining power. This is where knowing exactly what you need, as well as what is critical vs. what can wait helps. That is why I am a big believer in knowing the basics of everything that applies to you, kinda like being the jack of all traits. But because not everyone is like that, I suggest you speak to your mechanic and learn more about the recommendation or problem as well as the repercussions if you were to wait before addressing it.
Knowing and understanding what situation you are in helps you make the right decision. For example, if you know your car is in top shape and all you need is an oil change, then avoid wasting one and a half hours and take it to the neighbor muffler shop. On the other hand, if you feel that you need an inspection and diagnosis done (if it has been a while since the last one), then invest the time and visit a shop like NTB.
Do not make a special trip unless you feel your car is going to collapse immediately. Wait until you need an oil change, and don’t forget printing your coupons online. Once you have your diagnosis report, you can shop around for the best price. Before you go in however, do some due diligence and read reviews on the place of your choice. Saving a few bucks is not worth taking your vehicle (most people’s second largest purchase after a house) to a not so reputable shop.
For example, I previously had the oil change done at a mom and pop which cost me $24 with tax. I knew that all I needed was a routine oil change. I took my new car in today with less than 8,000 miles knowing that I wanted a tire rotation done, and because I knew from my previous research online that NTB offered rotations free with their oil change, I decided to choose them.
I did not print out a coupon but I mentioned knowing about it to the Manager. As I npw complete this post at home, I have the receipt right next to me. Today’s job cost me $18.99 + $3.00 Hazardous material disposal + tax = $23.81. So for less than what I had paid for the last oil change, I got a new oil change plus free tire rotation and a list of recommendations from NTB today.
Because I knew what I wanted, I was able to make the best decision for me, which likely saved me another trip as well as some money.
Vehicles today are engineered much better, and many go far beyond the conventional wisdom that recommends 3,000 miles in between oil changes. The traditional rule of thumb has always been 3 months or 3,000 miles whichever comes first. A mechanic would love to tell you that is the case. Truth is, many cars go up to 10,000 miles (and more in some cases) today without needing an oil change. Now your driving habits and outside conditions make a difference as well, but the bottom line is that 3,000 miles or 3months is just absurd unless you are driving a 1990 Ford Escort. You can stick to that schedule if you’d like, but I think it’s more money spent than necessary.
If you have a new GM vehicle, the OnStar system they have has an inbuilt oil life monitor that will tell you when your vehicle is ready for an oil change. I am sure other brands today have similar technology built in. Otherwise, read your vehicles owner’s manual or research the various discussion forums online. When in doubt, the best way is to just pop your hood open and visually inspect the oil. Anyone can do this as the oil stick is easily accessible and visible. It either has a black, yellow or orange tip. Simply pull this out and check the oil when the engine is warm. If the oil is low (there is an indicator on the stick) or the color looks off (not the brown color it looks when new), then it might be time to change it.
Detailed instructions on how to check oil using the measuring stick is in your manual as well. Most manuals are also available online today for free. That said, don’t solely rely on this method. Use it in conjunction with other measures such as miles driven since your last oil change. This is because even if the color of your oil looks like it is new, the oil composition may still be breaking down over time. Basically, though visual inspection is a very good indicator, it is not always the most accurate and really should be used in conjunction with other measures.
While everything may sound hunky dory and straightforward, there are other factors to consider when going in for vehicle maintenance.
Time – how valuable is your time and what else do you have going on? If you have a job like most people do, chances are you are too busy during the week to visit a car shop before they shut their doors. Weekends are all you have to clean your house, yard, shop, feed your dog, spend time with your spouse and family, visit folks and do the 99 other things on your TO DO list. Time is a critical factor in most people’s decision making. It is often said that in America, we have everything except time.
Dealership Packages – many vehicle purchases today come with promotional dealership packages that take care of your first X amount of oil changes and routine vehicle maintenance. Many times this can be purchased. If you have a vehicle on lease, chances are that you are already going in to the dealership for your regular maintenance. When you have the package option, always go that route. The quality of service and integrity is likely better, but as you know there are just no guarantees in life.
Trust – who do you trust? I know my driving habits are excellent. I truly believe that a vehicle can last forever the way I drive and care for it. In fact I proved that with my previous truck. So while the shop takes 1.5 hours to “inspect” your vehicle, are they really inspecting it? Are they toying around?
For example, NTB told me today that my car needs tire balancing which will cost me $39.99. They said if I don’t get it balanced, I will feel vibration in my steering wheel and will cause faster wear and tear to the tires. My car is relatively new with less than 8,000 miles. Now I am not a car expert, but can their recommendation be accurate? Maybe or maybe not.
Maybe it’s just my professional skepticism, but some things are just hard for me to take in without a grain of salt such as this one. So I told them I feel fine while driving, to which the Manager responded, “well you will feel it now after the rotation”. All this was a result of the free tire rotation offer that I took advantage of. Of course I didn’t get it done and told them I’d like to observe it for a while before making any decisions. I’m telling ya – everyone needs a good friend these days who is a mechanic to guide them. You just don’t know.
Readers: What about you. What is your experience with vehicle maintenance like tire rotations, balancing and oil changes? What do you drive and how often does your car need it on average? Any cool tips on how to save money on vehicle maintenance?
Keepin’ It Real