My deal with the car dealership service center

I know that car dealerships always get a bad rap — pushy salespeople! dealer markup! confusing terms! — but I’ve always believed that the right research can prepare you for most of the sales process.  Edmunds.com helped me out a ton when I bought my Altima — all three of them, in fact.

Just when I start to think I might have an unnatural affection for that particular car, something happens to make me decide that it is, in fact, totally warranted. Today, for example, the manager of the place where I got my oil changed came in to ask me all about it: “We’re thinking about buying a new car, and yours has everything we want. It’s even the right color.”

Funny thing about the car: When I bought it, I signed up for the plan that includes free basic maintenance (like oil changes) at the dealership for three years. So why was I paying to have it done at Jiffy Lube instead?

Because of what happened when I tried to book an appointment with the service department at my closest dealership, ABC Nissan.

My dad, a truck driver, taught me enough about automobiles that I can perform basic maintenance — who would’ve thought that I would hold on to a spark-plug gapper this long? I might not be able to rebuild an engine, but I know enough to keep a car running (and when to turn it over to the professionals).

When I called the ABC Nissan service department today to schedule a 15,000-mile service, I told them that I’d already changed my air filter and in-cabin microfilter, so those steps wouldn’t be needed. The adviser said my car still needed an additional $249 worth of work, rattling off “of course you’ll need” procedures as if they were mandatory. Without even looking at the car in person. The whole thing would take about 2 hours.

Here’s what Nissan — the company who made the car — recommends for the 15,000-mile mark, for “severe driving” conditions.

Replace oil and filter. Rotate tires. The manual for my make and model doesn’t even include the brake fluid. Check up on those other bits. (True car people would not call them “bits,” but you know what I mean.)

Not many people feel comfortable telling auto mechanics “no thanks” when it comes to our cars. They’re the professionals; they know what’s right … right?

Let’s say I was ravenous and went to McDonald’s, where the employee behind the counter said, “We recommend you get this $14 Wagyu beef burger and $13 truffle fries.” Really, all that I need to stop the growling in my stomach is a $1 McDouble. And the employee isn’t saying I absolutely must order $27 worth of food, but that they recommend it. The Wagyu burger wouldn’t be bad for me — but it’s not essential. (And, hey, $13 more for the restaurant!)

I told the service adviser that we should stick to only the services on the manufacturer-recommended schedule. None too thrilled, he said that if I dropped the car off by 1 p.m., I could pick it up sometime around 6.* Rather than be without a car that long, I asked if I could schedule an appointment in the next few days where I could get a more definite start/stop time. Nope, not for “just an oil change.”

* Smarmy Bastard’s check-in on Foursquare now made perfect sense: “ABC Nissan: home of the five-hour oil change.”

So, a recap: If I agreed to tack on $249 of unnecessary service, I could have my car in two hours. If I stuck to just what Nissan recommended, it could take up to five hours. For an oil change, a tire rotation and new brake fluid.

As part of the maintenance agreement, the oil change and tire rotation would be free, so really I’d only be paying for the brake fluid (and various “disposal fees,” etc.). But: FIVE HOURS.

When I had a big pile of shirts waiting to be ironed, I figured that working nonstop I could finish six, maybe seven an hour, if that included super-starching them the way I like. I knew that the dry cleaner down the street could launder and press them for $2 each, which worked out to $14 an hour. Would I be willing to pay $14/hour to not be trapped behind an iron, soldiering through these shirts? (Answer: yes.)

In theory, that dealership oil change and tire rotation were going to be performed at no cost. But for me, there would be different costs associated: going to a service department that I can’t trust has a customer’s best interest in mind, for starters, and also being without a car for a half-day.

Again to the math: Jiffy Lube would do the oil/filter change and tire rotation for about $60 — in less than 15 minutes. I decided it was worth $12 an hour to never have to set foot in the ABC Nissan service center, and get my car back in minutes instead of hours.

WHAT SAM WORE: 5-25-12
The shirt: Ouija-board print T-shirt, from Urban Outfitters.
The shorts: Knee-length cotton jersey shorts, from Uniqlo.
The shoes: “Samba” sneakers by Adidas, from Sports Authority.
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