Change is good, but ...

Change is good, but ...

It pays to pay extra money and attention when changing the oil

By Jennifer Hadley 03/19/2009

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Since I decided to keep my car indefinitely, I am trying to do a better job of keeping up with regular maintenance. But I’m also pinching my pennies. Since the last time I took the Xterra in for an oil change, I spent more than $400 on services, which seemed to make absolutely no difference in the way it drives. This time, I decided I would not be taken for a chump.  
I was especially excited about this oil change. I’d recently gotten a tip from a colleague who felt she’d been coerced into an unnecessary and potentially harmful engine flush when she took her SUV in for an oil change at an EZ Lube in Glendale. This all happened around the same time that NBC-4 News released the findings of its undercover investigation, showing chains like EZ Lube and Jiffy Lube were misleading customers into believing manufacturers recommend such services (which, for the record, they don’t). But I know that I’ve got sucker written all over me, so I was certain I’d be offered the flush.
Imagine my disappointment when I showed up at that same EZ Lube, only to find that I wasn’t even offered, let alone pressured into the bogus service. Instead, what I received was, frankly, decent, expedient service. Danny, the technician who greeted me, offered me the choice of synthetic or regular oil for my car. Synthetic oil, at $52.99, was better, he explained, and would allow me to go 5,000 miles or five months without needing another oil change. By comparison, regular oil, at $34.99, would last three months or 3,000 miles. Since I’ve never taken the Xterra in on time for its oil changes, the time and mileage didn’t make any difference to me – I’d just drive it 5,000 miles on 3,000-mile oil anyway. So the decision came down to money. I opted for the cheap change.
Danny next suggested a tire rotation. OK, so I went for it, but in my defense, my tires hadn’t been rotated since June, and he said they should be rotated every 6,000 miles. I have no idea if that is true, but even if he was grossly exaggerating, I had gone almost 10,000 miles without rotating them, so he up-sold me there by $24.99. Still, he was nice and accommodating, even when I flat out refused to divulge my address for their customer records.  
Feeling like a real hard-nose for not falling for the pricey oil, I went to sit in the waiting room, bored with the fact that my “investigation” was such a snore. 
Aha! Upon examination of my estimate, I saw that it stated that I was the driver of a 2005 Toyota 4Runner. I marched right outside and pointed out the error. Nothing was getting past me. I would not be taken for a ride! The manager said he’d change it immediately in the computer, and that it was an accident.  
Twenty minutes passed as I sat desperately trying to find fault with anything that was happening at the lube shop. Nada. Thanks for taking the wind out of my sails, Channel 4. Then the manager called me out to my car. Here he showed me the oil level. He also showed me my air filter, which he said was moderately dirty, but didn’t need to be changed just yet. 
Wow! Maybe I don’t look like such a sucker after all.  Or maybe all the negative publicity has lube and oil shops cleaning up their acts.
Unfortunately, he did try to sell me on changing the rear differential fluid, as it was a “recommended service.” I pointed out to him that this was a “recommended service” for a Toyota 4Runner, not a Nissan Xterra. With seeming sincerity, he apologized, told me that I was correct, and made one final offer: some fuel injection thing. I asked him if that was a manufacturer recommendation, or an EZ Lube recommendation, and he responded immediately and honestly that it was an EZ Lube recommendation. I declined the service, and he didn’t push it. All the same, if I hadn’t been media-primed to pay close attention to details, I might have elected the service.
But instead, less than an hour later, I was on my way, with fresh oil and rotated tires for a reasonable $62.67.
Although my big break into investigative journalism went up in smoke that day, I felt proud that my hard-earned money hadn’t. Nor did my faith in the humanity of oil and lube technicians. Sometimes, I decided, you just get fair, honest service — particularly if you’re paying attention. 

Contact Jennifer Hadley at


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