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How a new offer from one auto maker could save you thousands

General Motors and other brands such as Toyota are now offering free scheduled maintenance for a couple years to new car buyers. Here is why that could be a big deal to any driver, of any car.


The newest enticement by automakers to get you to buy their vehicle instead of the competitor’s is free maintenance. Today General Motors announced that from now on, all their vehicles will come with 2 years of scheduled maintenance free. Toyota similarly is now offering “Toyota Care” at no cost to buyers of the new RAV4. Both of these are typical of what most luxury car makes already come with. For the first two years you can take your car to the dealer (usually four times) and they will service the vehicle at no added cost to you. This will typically save drivers who follow just the manufacturer’s service schedule about $ 300.00. Well, that is nice, but how does that help you? In two key ways. This trend may have the effect of saving us all thousands of dollars regardless of which brand we choose and regardless of whether your car has a plan like this.

Customers who have been lured into dealerships for maintenance with a coupon for a $19.99 oil change are often surprised to find out that they need more than just an oil change. Sure, we can all sometimes forget that rotating tires is needed, and it is only fair we pay for that, but what are all these expensive “checks” and added recommendations like alignment and cabin air filter changes? Many customers fall victim to dealerships’ own maintenance suggestions which go far beyond the manufacturer’s. Dealers add work like alignment, increase the frequency of filter changes, and they then also suggest unnecessary work such as filling tires with nitrogen. This increases a customer’s cost of ownership significantly and does nothing to extend the vehicle’s warranty or fuel economy. Many customers sell their cars before the standard warranty is up, or they buy extended warranties and also do the added maintenance. A waste of their money since any problems with the car would be the responsibility of the manufacturer anyway. This leads us to the first way that these new plans will save us all big money.

Since the dealerships will now be forced to provide the customer the service they already paid for, they will have to start out on the manufacturer’s basic maintenance schedule. That will help us all because instead of being sold snake oil, or having things changed we don’t need changed, we will start out doing only what we need to do. Hopefully the shock of the tab for the 5th service required will lead customers to question why it is so high and they will discover that the dealer is adding on stuff the owner's manual does not list as required. One key step will simply be the oil change frequency. No new car requires a 3,000 mile oil change anymore. Most only need the oil changed every 10,000 miles according to the manufacturer. Using Lexus as an example, this increased duration between oil services alone saves drivers between $650 and $1,150 over the first 100,000 miles of ownership.

That brings up another way that dealerships are able to convince customers that they need more work than they actually do. Most owner’s manuals have different maintenance schedules depending on the severity of service the vehicle is used in. I think we can all reasonably agree that a car like a Taxi might need more maintenance per mile than a family car. We might also agree that a vehicle that is used to tow on a regular basis might require more maintenance than one that does not. Beyond that, we are simply being robbed. Here is an example of some of the ways that manufacturers cloud the maintenance required to help their dealers perform more work than needed. We looked at the Mazda maintenance booklet. The booklet has multiple tiers of maintenance. Take a look and see if you can imagine any place in the US that does not meet at least one of these clauses:

Follow Schedule 1 if the vehicle is operated mainly where NONE of the following conditions
- Repeated short-distance driving
- Driving in dusty conditions
- Driving with extended use of brakes
- Driving in areas where salt or other corrosive materials are being used
- Driving on rough or muddy roads
- Extended periods of idling or low-speed operation
- Driving for long periods in cold temperatures or extremely humid climates
- Driving in extremely hot conditions
- Driving in mountainous conditions continually
If any do apply, follow Schedule 2 (Canada and Puerto Rico residents follow Schedule 2).

Have you ever driven on a “rough road?” How about where “salt was used?” That would be all the states above the Mason Dixon line. Maybe you live south of that line. If so have you ever driven in “dusty conditions?” How about long periods where it was humid, or where it is mountainous? That pretty much defines every area of the US in one way or another does it not? So why have this schedule at all? We picked on Mazda, but my Toyota has a manual with the same words, as did two other brands I recently owned. This is where the second piece of good news is for all drivers. With these new two-year free maintenance plans we will get to see which schedule the dealer and manufacturer decide to follow. Would you like to place a wager that they will be doing the maintenance required by the most basic level? So I guess then we should trust their judgment going forward and stick to that? Right? Here is where the big money is. By simply doing just the actual required maintenance instead of the higher severe duty tiers drivers will save many thousands over the life of the vehicle.

Competition has driven car makers to start offering us a couple years of maintenance as part of the cost of the car. Let’s all make the most of it and pay close attention to what they are doing during those two years so that when it ends we can keep paying sane amounts for basic service.