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What about those discount advertisers?

October 16, 2013
By Larry DeHays , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Readers often ask why some shops charge so much more than other shops do, for certain services, like oil changes and brake jobs. Can there really be that much difference in quality of the repairs?

For instance, they see oil changes advertised for $19.95, and brake jobs for $39.95, but their usual repair facility quotes them at least twice that much for those services. Here's the scoop. The cheaper shops are using a marketing tactic known as a "loss-leader." That means if they did the job at the advertised price, they would actually lose money. There has to be a catch. There is.

For an oil change, they may be offering only their generic brand of oil, which they have bought in bulk and have in one viscosity only, like 10w30 for instance. Their fine print might also limit it to four quarts, and include their generic brand of filter, and exclude cars requiring different filters. There is nothing wrong with bulk oil, (bought and stored in tanks rather than in individual quart bottles). It's like draft beer compared to bottled beer. It might have additional preservatives in it, but that's to help you live longer, according to some bartenders. The beer, not the oil. Your vehicle may require oil of a specific viscosity. If it is not what they offer, it will cost extra. If your vehicle requires a different filter, and many do, it will cost extra. If it takes more than four quarts, (some take seven), it will cost extra. You will be amazed at the worn out parts they discover on your car. Your wiper blades are worn out, your belts and hoses may not make it through the day. You have oil leaks in places you didn't know existed, your engine air filter is clogged, and your cabin air filter is causing lung diseases, and hey, that battery is looking really old. Good luck on that $19.95 oil change.

On brakes, it is definitely about quality. For any car, there are brake pads available for $20, and pads available for $95. Yes, for the same car. The quality of the lining material is that different. The cheap ones are harder and more brittle, so they crack, rattle, groan, squeak, squeal and wear out more quickly. The better pads are quieter, stop the car much more quickly if necessary, and wear longer. Also, changing the pads without attending to the rotors is foolish. Worn pads always leave grooves in the rotors. New pads are flat, so they only rub on the tops of the grooves in the rotors, giving much less contact for braking effort. The rotors should always be resurfaced or replaced. Those $39.95 brake jobs give you what you pay for. Cheap pads and out the door, unless you agree to the extra charges to do it right, and by the way your shocks are leaking oil, your muffler is rusty and those tires may not even get you home today. It's amazing you make it this long without getting those fuel injectors cleaned and man does that battery look old.

It's not really "bait and switch," because that would be illegal. It's more like "bait and then fish some more." Hey, it's just people trying to make a living, because those loss-leaders actually cost them money and they need to make up for that somehow. Caveat emptor, my friends.

About the 86-year-old widow I wrote about a few weeks ago, when the dealership found out about the attempted scam, both of the guys were fired. Restores my faith in new car dealerships. The lady is my mother. She says the dealership called and apologized to her, and offered her a free oil change. I hope it's not a super loss-leader.



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