The Service Advisor…

Selling you a car is just a prelude to selling you service. Not that there’s anything wrong with selling service — assuming you need it. But if you don’t, the mark-up is 100 percent.

That beats the hell out of the 2-3 percent profit dealers make on the typical new car sale.

It’s why there’s often a salesman in the service department — the service advisor.

Many people have no idea that the guy writing up their repair ticket often works on commission — which he makes money selling you the service he advises. It’s not just a conflict of interest — it’s usually an undisclosed one. You know the salesman — the guy who sold you your car — is there to make a buck off the deal.

It’s an above-board adversarial relationship. You are on your guard.

When it comes to service, you let it down.

Because the interest in selling you service isn’t disclosed. “Service advisor” has a different ring to it than service salesman. It is disingenuous lingo, designed to put you at ease by conflating one thing with another thing. It’s almost as much an affront to honest lingo as — and I am not making this up — the practice (apparently spreading) of referring to prison inmates as guests and clients.

Yes, really. And why not? We “contribute” to Social Security, too.

At any rate the first thing to know is that the service advisor may have a financial interest in selling you service. The second thing to find out is whether the service he’s recommending is actually necessary.

This is both hard — and easy.

Hard, because the service advisor working on commission is a trained expert at selling — and most of us are easy meat for his Dark Arts. Which consist, primarily, in selling fear. That the car has some major problem — or will, if it’s not . . . serviced. Soon.

That you are treading on thin ice, running all kind of risk.

So glad you came in today!

Women are the stereotypical marks — but also men, who in general have become just as in the dark about how cars work and may be even more vulnerable to the Fear Sell since they feel pressured to at least pretend to understand how cars work:

Well, Mr. Smith it looks like your Duntov cam is wearing out; I wouldn’t drive the car if I were you . . . we can get you in this afternoon; shouldn’t cost more than about $400 (the car hip will get the joke).

Mr. Smith nods — and signs the work order.

One of the common ruses in play today is to offer a “free” inspection when a car is brought in for some very basic thing such as a tire rotation or oil change. It is usually marketed (just the right word) as a “10 point” or “20 point” or something similarly impressive-sounding inspection — and the inevitable demerit points your car receives are invariably couched in terms of it being a safety issue.

That word has a hypnotic effect on most people today. It suspends rational judgment, silences questioning.

The service advisor then advises various services — which are not free.

Often these are necessary services, just not right now. For example, the brake pads are worn, but aren’t worn out — or even close. They have 30 percent of their wear material left, which for most drivers means another year or even two of driving before it becomes necessary to replace the pads. But the service advisor will advise changing them now.


For safety reasons!

Lots of people are suckers for this.

Here’s another:

All cars need their oil and other fluids/filters changed every so often. But how often, exactly? The service advisor may advise having them changed much sooner than is actually necessary. This is very easily done because many people do not grok that fluid/filter change out intervals today are often twice or even three times what they were in the past. For example, it is common to go 5,000 or even 10,000 miles in between oil changes vs. the 3,000 miles that was typical back in the ’80s.

Given the cost of some of the oil/fluids in use today (many synthetics, which are required by more and more new cars, cost $10 or more per quart and most cars need at least 4-5 quarts) changing before it’s necessary can add up to a lot of money literally poured down the drain.

Premature tune-ups are another classic upsell. Most modern cars don’t need anything in the way of a tune-up (including spark plugs) for 100,000 miles or more.

Another one is the bogus “70,000 mile service” — sometimes recommended by the dealer but not specified by the manufacturer.

And that’s how we get to the easy part. The way you dodge the bullet.

First, never trust. Always verify. If the service advisor advises a brake job that you don’t think you need — the car seemed to be braking just fine when you brought it in for the tire rotation — ask to see the supposedly worn out brake pads and if you have any doubt about anything you’re being told, just say no — and get a second opinion.

If the car was running and driving (and braking) just fine when you brought it in for the tire rotation, it probably is fine.

Second, your car — every car — came with an owner’s manual which contains a factory recommended service schedule; it lists everything your car needs to have done in terms of routine and major service, according to specific mileage and time intervals. This is what you go by. Not the “recommendations” of the service advisor/salesman when they run counter to what the factory says. Whatever he advises you do, check it against what the manual tells you to do.

Then do that.

And skip those “free” inspections. They tend to cost too much.


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