Why Your $50 Oil Change Just Cost $500

Whitney Vandiver

You were there for an oil change. You left with an itemized bill as long as your arm.

Costly services are a reality for many car owners, especially those who have late maintenance. According to insurance marketplace SmartFinancial, the cost of auto parts has skyrocketed since early 2021.

Many people don’t trust their mechanics to do only what is necessary. You shouldn’t haphazardly agree to every repair – but you shouldn’t flatly reject it either. Instead, learn to ask the right questions, asking yourself how you’re driving and how well you’ve kept up with the service.

Quality of parts and driving habits affect the timing of maintenance

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Some maintenance work is recommended at regular intervals, e.g. B. an oil change every 6,000 miles, while other maintenance work is carried out at irregular intervals. When variable maintenance is required depends on the wear and tear of your car and the lifespan of the parts.

Items like batteries “usually have a lifespan, and the more you spend, the longer the lifespan,” says Nicole Miskelley, manager of PMR Auto & Diesel Repair in Marion, Illinois.

Driving habits also affect how quickly you need service. Two people driving identical vehicles might need the same type of maintenance at different intervals, says Miskelley.

Show me the money – and the alimony

Most car owners can probably spot bald tires, but the problem arises when mechanics recommend servicing for problems that the driver cannot see.

Miskelley estimates that about 60% of her customers who come in for regular maintenance are told their cars still need work. In some cases, it is based on a car’s mileage; In other cases, it’s something a technician noticed when doing a quick inspection of the car.

But not being able to verify that a recommendation is legitimate, rather than trying to take advantage of a car owner, makes some drivers skeptical of mechanics.

According to the AAA, 63% of Americans don’t trust mechanics’ recommendations. The main reasons were experiences with unnecessary referrals and excessive fees for services. However, distrust of the mechanics can later lead to delayed maintenance and higher costs.

Pay now or pay later

A 2022 AAA study estimates that the average car owner pays 9.68 cents per mile for maintenance and repairs over five years — about $1,300 per year.

And those costs only increase as cars age: Consumer Reports’ 2021 annual car surveys showed that the 12-month maintenance and repair costs for a 10-year-old car were nearly double that for a 5-year-old car.

So it’s not surprising that IMR Inc., an automotive industry research firm, found that 24.1% of drivers delayed maintenance or repairs in the third quarter of 2022. And a recent United Tires survey found that 52.2% of drivers who delayed servicing cited price as the reason.

But small problems can “go from zero to 60,” says Miskelley, which can lead to more problems and higher bills later. And according to the same United Tires survey, regularly delaying maintenance increases maintenance costs by an average of $1,193 over the course of a car’s lifetime.

5 tips to offset unexpected car maintenance costs

1. Create an emergency car account

In addition to a general emergency account, an unplanned auto expense savings account will help you with financial preparation, says Peter Locke, a certified financial planner and head of financial planning at InSight, a financial planning firm. Preparing for these expenses is part of car ownership, just like planning for home maintenance.

2. Find out about the recommended maintenance

It can be expensive to agree to all recommended maintenance routines. Investigate mechanic recommendations to learn what they include, how they affect your car’s performance, and when to perform them.

3. Ask questions

Don’t be afraid to ask a mechanic for more information on what maintenance entails and why it needs to be performed. This will help you make an informed decision based on your car’s condition.

“Anytime you talk to a mechanic, they should be able to explain pretty clearly why they’re doing it,” says Miskelley. “And what the long-term effects will be of avoiding it.”

4. Research maintenance offers

Compare quotes for servicing your car just like you compare prices for hotels or flights, says Locke.

Dropping off your car at the nearest dealership might be the quickest option, but that doesn’t mean it’s the cheapest. Ask around to see if you can get a better deal.

5. Time your services

Some maintenance may not be as urgent as other services. Take a look at your budget and recommended services to create a plan to meet the needs first.

Your mechanic should be able to help you prioritize maintenance, says Miskelley. Safety issues should be “fixed immediately to keep your car alive, rather than ‘this is what we recommend just because it’s time’.”