Dear in the Dealership Headlights
May 16, 2012 8:07 AM   Subscribe

YANMM(mechanic) - so I have a 2007 Equinox with around 120,000 km and it is time for a regular oil change. I have it done at the dealership when the car tells me to (some usage meter thing on dash). This time the dealer tells me I have lots of other recommended services. It seems excessive but I have zero car knowledge. Can you smart folks give me some guidance?

The SUV is FWD. I had new tires put on 11 months ago and it is still on the original breaks so I have been expecting to replace those for the last 3 oil changes but they were still good.

All "flushes" sound fishy to me, but see above comment about zero car knowledge.

Here's the dealer's list (in order of importance):
Oil Change (getting for sure)
Semi annual inspection            $59.99 alone or $49.99 when done with oil change (tire rotation included)
Front & Rear Brake service    $135.00 for both (not doing cause I will need new brakes soon regardless)
Coolant flush                            $136.00 parts & labour
Spark plug replacement           $200.00 Parts & labour (sounds important, but why is it so low on list?)
Throttle body cleaning             $39.99 (wtf)
Injector flush                            $149.99
Engine flush                              $69.99 (must be done with oil change)
Alignment inspection                $39.99 (skipping as I hit a curb last year, stupid emergency U turn, and alignment check was good)

So what services should I get?

PS I tried car forums to get this info but the signal to noise ratio was too low to help me.
posted by saradarlin to Travel & Transportation (25 answers total)
All of those are standard maintenance. Changing the fluids on most cars I've owned is scheduled for every 15-20k miles, fwiw.
posted by fshgrl at 8:16 AM on May 16, 2012

Best answer: What maintenance does your owner's manual suggest for this mileage? That is where you should start from.
posted by davejay at 8:17 AM on May 16, 2012

My car is 7 years old with 70,000 miles on it. I just sunk $3800 into it because stuff needed to be flushed and replaced.

One thing I did was ask, "If I get it all done now, can you give me a deal?" They gave me a $500 break.

I think that it's important to stay on top of all your maintenance. In your owner's manual, there should be a guide telling you what needs to be replaced and when.

I'm rather surprised that timing chain and water pump aren't on your list. When that stuff goes, it's ugly, and you want to get out ahead of it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:17 AM on May 16, 2012

Best answer: All makers have recommended service intervals. There should be a table in your owner's manual with them charted-out.

You could easily take the car down to a shop and get your brakes inspected for nearly free. Your mileage (kilometerage?) seems early for many of the items, like coolant flush, new plugs.

Engine Flush sounds like a scam to me, as does injector flush. Personally, if your car is out of warranty, I'd find myself a trusted independent mechanic and skip the dealership from now on. Of course, I'd do my own oil changes, too.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:18 AM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

And yes, the flushing is not something I would expect to see in he manual, and I wouldn't consider doing them if they aren't.
posted by davejay at 8:19 AM on May 16, 2012

The coolant flush is valid, but when to do it depends on your owner's manual. What does it say the interval is? That goes for the spark plugs, too. The rest is bunk.
posted by narcoleptic at 8:19 AM on May 16, 2012

Modern engines recycle exhaust gases in an effort to improve emissions. Because of this, sooty & oily deposits can form on parts in the intake stream, impairing their proper function. That's why the throttle body and fuel injector cleaning items are on the list. (Though "injector flush" sounds like they're running something through the fuel system, rather than removing and cleaning the injectors, which is much less likely to be worth $150.)

"Brake service" probably means "replacing the brake pads" - you should clarify that.

Inspection is a good idea because it can catch leaks or unsafe conditions before they become big problems. (As an urban cyclist, it's shocking how often I find car parts in the street that have simply become loose and fallen off.) And, as others have noted, coolant flush and spark plug replacement are routine maintenance items.

I have no idea what an "engine flush" is, though. There's a lot of snake oil sold in the name of protecting engines, and they tend to be high-margin items. I suspect this is something from that family of products.

Honestly, dealerships are frightfully expensive places to have your car maintained, and they will often sell you things you don't really need at prices that are just outrageous. On the other hand, preventative maintenance is key to keeping your car safe and efficient, and it will save you money in the long run because it's vastly cheaper to prevent a major problem than to deal with its aftermath. As long as you're not getting gouged on the preventative maintenance, that is.

You might want to find a reputable independent auto shop to rely on at this point, and let them guide you about proper service intervals.
posted by richyoung at 8:35 AM on May 16, 2012

This is a dealership? Fuel injection flushing and engine flushing are aftermarket services that I'd always assumed were pure profit centers for independent service places like Jiffy Lube. Most carmakers advise against them unless you've had a specific failure. Your coolant might need replacing, but what does the flushing machine do other than save some labor cost?
posted by IanMorr at 8:48 AM on May 16, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice so far. I understand the standard suggestion to get a trusted mechanic but that is not likely to happen. We haven't lived in the area for long, nor have our friends so we don't have anyone to give a recommendation and with the baby I rely on the dealer shuttle or loaner car (I understand that I pay more for this perk).

@Thorzdad, the one oil change I had to complete in high school shop class will be the only one I do in this life. :)

So I am looking at the OM and at my kms there is nothing noted other than to do what the dealership calls the semi annual inspection. The spark plugs are due at 160,000 km. There is nothing anywhere about flushes, brake services or throtle body cleaning. Which brings me back to my original question, are any of these worth doing?
posted by saradarlin at 8:51 AM on May 16, 2012

I understand the standard suggestion to get a trusted mechanic but that is not likely to happen. We haven't lived in the area for long, nor have our friends so we don't have anyone to give a recommendation and with the baby I rely on the dealer shuttle or loaner car (I understand that I pay more for this perk).

I was in a similar spot and had pretty good luck finding a good independent shop through the Mechanics Files at

Not totally relevant to your question, but might be useful for the future.
posted by goggie at 8:57 AM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Most shops will do the periodic safety inspection for free. Most dealerships do it for free these days in the US. Maybe things are different where you are though.

The brakes either need to be replaced, or they don't, and they should tell you that for free. If that service is replacing all 4 pads, it's not a bad deal. Just be prepared for them to come back and tell you that the rotors are also shot, which will double the cost.

If you are on your original coolant than it probably is time to flush it. I can also believe the spark plugs are also due for replacement, but $200 seems about 2X what it should cost.

I wouldn't do any of the other stuff unless you have a specific related symptom. The throttle body can get dirty and you'll usually know that because the car stalls.

I strongly suggest that you pick up a copy of Auto Repair for Dummies, or something similar, and read it. You may never want to do any work yourself, but owning an expensive, complicated machine like a vehicle without the faintest clue how it works is not a wise choice.
posted by COD at 8:59 AM on May 16, 2012

So I am looking at the OM and at my kms there is nothing noted other than to do what the dealership calls the semi annual inspection.

Then skip it all. I'm not even sure you need the "inspection" since it's probably just a visual inspection to make sure nothing's obviously broken, leaking, or hanging-off the car. Any of which will definitely be seen and noted by the mechanic when they have the car on the lift for the oil change.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:06 AM on May 16, 2012

At that mileage, most of that, yes, should be done. $200 for spark plugs, though? Well, if they are replacing the cords and everything.. but still excessive. Most any monkey can change the plugs and wires. I'd do what COD says, see what you feel like tackling yourself and then have them do the rest.
posted by rich at 9:35 AM on May 16, 2012

Best answer: I can also believe the spark plugs are also due for replacement, but $200 seems about 2X what it should cost.

How? That's one hours labour and a set of plugs. $100 for a set of plugs that lasts 160,000km is a reasonable price from the dealer. I have no idea at all how you think you should be able to get plugs changed for $100 including parts.

I'd get the following done:

Oil Change
Semi annual inspection mainly because (tire rotation included) means this will likely save you on tyre life.
Coolant flush $136.00 parts & labour (Coolant doesn't last for ever and it is a corrosion inhibitor more than anything else in terms of importance)
Spark plug replacement $200.00 Parts & labour

The following will help efficiency and economy, but frankly you can do them yourself.

Throttle body cleaning $39.99 (wtf)
Injector flush $149.99

Some aftermarket fuel injector cleaner can go in your tank, and you can spray throttle body cleaner into your intake (just remove the air filter). I'd not pay $200 for that.

Engine flush - I'm not entirely convinced by this if you have been timely with your oil changes. If you haven't, it is worth considering once in the life of a car that old. There is a lot of gunge and sludge in oil past its change date, and simply draining it out doesn't always remove it.
posted by Brockles at 9:59 AM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

As usual, Brockles beat me to saying it. I would try to find a an independent mechanic that can be trusted. It takes some time but the best way I have found (works for all kinds of contractors actually)is get some independent estimates from several different shops. The ones that all say the same things for about the same money and can easily, briefly and coherently explain why those services are needed are the honest ones. They almost certainly won't be the cheapest (although probably cheaper than the dealership)but they will probably be between the high and low. I have found wikipedia to be a good source for a basic understanding of what is going on.

BTW an arrangement I have had in the past with some people (got me through college) was to trade my car know how for things like haircuts, sewing, furniture, etc-so if you know any poor kids with some know how it might pay off.
posted by bartonlong at 10:41 AM on May 16, 2012

Response by poster: All services have been done on time, by the dealer (except one quick lube during the move) but only 4 times by this dealer (see comment re: move) and I bought the car new in Sept 2007, if that's relevant. I am in medium-town Ontario, so sadly the find a mechanic link suggested was of no help up here.

At this point I am leaning to just doing the oil change and inspection as the spark plugs and coolant are not due for 30,000 km more.
posted by saradarlin at 10:45 AM on May 16, 2012

You have to watch out for dealership "recommended services". My local Honda dealership told me I needed a "70,000 mile service" for $500. The manual for my Honda said that the only items needing maintenance at 70,000 miles were replacing the cabin and engine air filters and an oil change. I ordered the air filters from the internet, replaced them myself, and took the car to the dealership and got the oil changed for $25, but only because I don't want to deal with the oil myself.
posted by Fleebnork at 10:45 AM on May 16, 2012

Along the lines of what Fleebnork mentions:

Many years ago, my Honda van was due for some standard service, which the dealer wanted $400 for. I took the owner's manual to the little garage where I got my oil changed, and asked what he'd charge for that list of stuff. His answer: "I do all those checks every time you get your oil changed...oh, except this. Let's go have a look." He took me out under the car, which was still up on the lift, and walked me through the dozen items on the XXX mile checklist. He then charged me for the oil change.
posted by chazlarson at 11:40 AM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Quick note on the spark plug thing: most cars, it is a straightforward job. Some cars (certain Fords and Mazdas with the Ford 6-cylinder, for instance, and the Porsche Boxster) have insane labor costs because reaching some or all of the spark plugs requires dropping the engine out of the car (partially or fully.)

So the advice to stick with your owner's manual recommendations (given by many folks) is good for choosing what to fix, but for how much, call around and get some quotes for your specific car. Any dealer will charge more -- often much more -- than an independent, due to higher operating costs and the fact that being a dealer carries more credibility with most folks than being an independent (that is, they charge more because they can.)
posted by davejay at 11:44 AM on May 16, 2012

Nthing owner's manual, owner's manual, owner's manual... and I've had more than a couple cars over 300k km just fine w/o engine flush, throttle body cleaning and injector flush.
posted by ambient2 at 11:49 AM on May 16, 2012

Semi annual inspection - Not required unless your warranty needs it

Front & Rear Brake service - Required if the brakes are actually worn out. $135 is a really good price, but find out if they are actually replacing any parts or if they are just taking a look. If they're just looking, run away.

Coolant flush - If it's not been done, you have less than 1 year left on long-life coolant, so yes, but you can get any monkey to do this, even do it at home yourself for much cheaper ($30 in coolant and flush).

Spark plug replacement - You probably don't have a "complicated" engine to do this on if it's that price. You can do it yourself in 2 hours or so with $30 of tools in that case. Parts will be $30 - $60, depending on if you need copper or iridium plugs (probably iridium, $60). Iridium plugs will be good to about 100,000 km, copper to about 30,000 km. Their price on this isn't too bad, I suppose...

Throttle body cleaning - Do this yourself, and no, not necessary unless it is actually gunky, and chances are at that point you'd know (weird acceleration problems and such). That $40 will buy you a tech spraying throttle body cleaning into the air intake with the engine running, that's all.

Injector flush - No, not required, unless you have a sticky injector. If you don't, but you want a light cleaning, buy a bottle of snake oil... ...oops... injector cleaner ($3) and put it in a full tank of gas.

Engine flush - LOL no unless you're failing emissions and even then, LOL no. Unless the engine is sludged, this is the sort of service that can make it start to leak.

Alignment inspection - LOL no, especially in your case, and a real alignment (not just a check) at an alignment shop should cost you $60 so paying $40 for someone to look at it is a waste of money.

You have 4 likely unnecessary services out of 6 here. That's a bad sign for the type of garage you're going to.
posted by shepd at 1:11 PM on May 16, 2012

Go to Canadian Tire rather than a dealer. They're licensed to do routine maintenance for the major automakers, and are cheaper than going to a dealer.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:45 PM on May 16, 2012

Response by poster: Ok, checked out a well respected and reviewed independent garage today... Guy was really into prevention and uses "NAPA" auto parts (whatever that means) he seems to charge even more than the dealer and had a pretty positive view on flushes :( He gave me the bit that the OM is just intended to get the car through the warrenty period. Which I thought was mentioned already in this thread but now I can't find it.

Ugh. Given that I am not gonna do any of the car work myself I might just stay with the dealership but only go with the services in the manual. I don't know. I hate being on the receiving end of a sales pitch :(
Thanks for some help and more to think about.

BTW: The brake service is a take everything apart, clean and lube it and put it back together thing. No new pads. That is $270 + rotors (must be some choices there) at the dealer or around $400 per axle for the indy but he was all ceramic break pads blah, blah, blah.
posted by saradarlin at 9:55 PM on May 17, 2012

NAPA is an auto parts brand name.
posted by chazlarson at 7:19 AM on May 18, 2012

I know it's late, but if the brake service doesn't include any new parts, it's a pretty lame brake service. New pads are cheap as all get out and not bothering to swap them when you're paying for labour is a raw deal for you.

The only things you typically grease on calipers are the slide pins. If the caliper isn't sticking (you'd know) this typically is only done when you service the brakes, not for maintenance purposes.

$400 an axle for just labour is $200 a wheel. A decent technician, if he's replacing nothing, can take a caliper off, grease the slides, and have it back in on 45 minutes or less, including the time it takes to get the car up on the hoist, remove the tire, and put the tire back on. So, you're paying $133 an hour for labour.

Napa parts are just fine, but Napa just sells parts. It's like saying I'm going to furnish my house with Walmart. Not all that helpful. Although, he could mean Napa generic/house-brand parts, in which case... uhhh... yeah... generic parts... yay... why would you advertise it? If he said "Raybestos" or some other well known brake parts brand, it would make more sense, although most customers don't know and don't care, so I've never had a mechanic ask me more than "You want it cheap or good?"

The owner's manual is what you follow to keep your car running properly. If you follow that, you are following the manufacturer's instructions. Sure, some of them don't list for particularly high mileages, but you can work out how often the services come and figure it out based on that (or you can get a factory service manual, which might have more details). The manufacturer who wrote that manual WANTS you to maintain your car properly because that's how their car will last without issues and then they won't have to fix it for free. While the owner's manual can be excessive (or sometimes lack detail) I would be amazed at any mechanic who seriously would suggest not following it (except in perhaps some special circumstance where it has a mistake).

Sucks you can't find people who will treat you right in your area.
posted by shepd at 3:07 PM on June 8, 2012

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