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Oil Change Scams and How to Avoid Them

Picture this: you have been waiting for your oil to be changed for over an hour. You are called into the shop and shown your oil filter. It’s dirty: covered in gunk, obviously in need of a replacement. The mechanic tells you that they can replace it, but it’s going to cost you an extra twenty dollars. Not wanting to drive around with an inefficient oil filter, you pay for the replacement filter.

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So, where’s the scam? That filter the mechanic showed you wasn’t your oil filter. Your oil filter was perfectly fine, but you end up paying the extra money because they showed you a really nasty-looking filter from another car. This is one of the most common oil change scams that take place, especially in quick oil change shops. Luckily, being aware of these scams is often the best way to combat them. Here are some of the most common oil change scams and what you can do to avoid them:

1. Not your filter

It happens in shops all over the world, just like in the story above, every day. It’s a quick and easy way for garages that do oil changes to make a few extra bucks off of the unsuspecting. How can you make sure that they are showing you your oil filter? The best way is to know what your oil filter looks like. Your owner’s manual should have simple instructions for checking your own filter—do it before you take your car in for an oil change. If they show you a filter that obviously isn’t yours, you know you’re being scammed. You can also take a permanent marker and make a mark on your filter. That way, you’ll always be sure you are being shown your filter.

2. Charging you for a replacement, but not replacing your filter

Not only will unscrupulous shops sometimes show you the wrong filter and tell you it’s yours in order to get you to pay for an unnecessary replacement, sometimes they will also simply tell you that they replaced your filter, charge you for it, and leave the old filter in the car. How can you avoid this scam? Making a mark on your filter is also a great way to avoid this scam. Make the mark and check to see whether or not it is still there after your oil change. If it is, but you paid for a new filter, you know that you’ve been scammed.

3. Cheaper oil

High performance vehicles require a higher grade of synthetic oil. This type of oil is more expensive, but it also can be better for your car. However, always check your owner’s manual to determine whether or not your car would benefit from higher quality oil. Assuming you’ve checked your manual ahead of time and your car would benefit from higher-grade oil, this scam happens when a shop advises you to purchase more expensive oil, but they actually put in the cheaper, lower-grade oil anyway. How can you make sure that you aren’t duped into paying for expensive oil, while being given cheaper oil? The best way is to ask to watch while the mechanic physically pours the oil into your car. Shops that aren’t switching cheaper oil out for their more expensive kind won’t mind.

4. Premature services

Many shops will insist that it is time for a full coolant system flush. There are a variety of “flush” services that oil change garages can offer, and some of them are worthwhile, but some garages will attempt to pressure people into paying for a service that their vehicle really doesn’t need. How can you make sure that you only pay for services that your car actually is due for? The best way is to consult your owner’s manual. It will tell you how often you need your engine or coolant flushed. Chances are, if you aren’t seeing a light on your dashboard, your car probably doesn’t need one of those expensive extra services.

5. Saying they top off your fluids, but they don’t

Another of the very common scams, mechanics will tell you that they topped off your coolant, windshield wiper fluid, etc., but in a couple of weeks, you’re low on both. What’s the best way to avoid this scam? As with many of the scams on this list, asking to watch them top off your fluids and inspect your filter is the best way to make sure that the mechanic is actually doing what they say they are. Again, shops that aren’t scamming people won’t mind letting you watch them work on your vehicle.

6. Not doing the job

Finally, there is the rare scam in which you pay to have your oil changed and they simply don’t change it at all. If this happens, not only are you paying good money for nothing, but your dirty oil will start inflicting unnecessary wear and tear on your your engine until your next oil change. Again, watching them change your oil will stop this from happening. If you forget to watch them, you can also check your “dip stick” to make sure the “new” oil sticking to it looks clear and clean.

Even if you do not really know very much about cars, being aware of these scams and taking the right steps to avoid them can prevent you paying extra for services you don’t need or won’t actually receive.

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video source: CBC News – “Oil change scams: Hidden camera investigation on what really happens to your car (CBC Marketplace)”