How Oil-Change Coupons Can Cost You Money

Photo (cc) by dharder9475

Every week, I find a coupon for an oil change in my mailbox. It seems like mechanics all over town want my business – badly enough that I’ve seen coupons for $9.99 oil changes.

I never bite. I’ve always been leery of those quickie oil-change shops. I’ve heard rumors about customers being sold products they didn’t need, or being told their car had problems they didn’t have.

As it turns out, I may have been right to avoid using those coupons. In the video below, Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson meets one woman who walked into a mechanic’s shop with a coupon for a free oil change and walked out with a hefty bill. Watch what went wrong and then read on for tips to keep it from happening to you…

In the video, Stacy interviews a woman who got a free birthday oil-change coupon from her dealer, but the mechanic said she needed a new oil pan and drain plug. So instead of a free oil change, she spent $269. When she asked for the old parts back, she took them to her regular mechanic – who found nothing wrong with them.

It’s a shady practice, but some mechanics are more than happy to charge you for parts you don’t need. And that isn’t the only scam. Here are a few other pitfalls to avoid when you bring in your oil-change coupon:

  1. The up-sell – If you’ve ever bought a sofa and had a salesman try to sell you “leather protection,” you’ve experienced an up-sell. Mechanics are no different. Some will use a cheap oil-change coupon to lure you into the shop and then try to top off your fluids, replace your air filters, or drain out sludge from your radiator hose – all for an added charge.
  2. The oil change that wasn’t – Many years ago, I took my car to a small shop for an oil change. A few weeks later, my dad checked the dipstick and asked me why I was so low on oil. To this day, I’m convinced that the shop never actually changed my oil. They just charged me for it.
  3. Not replacing the filter – Some mechanics may try to make up for the cost of the coupon in other ways, like not replacing your oil filter. At best, reusing an old oil filter will keep your car from performing at its peak. At worst, you could end up with some major car problems – and big repair bills.
  4. Using low-grade oil – Some coupons say they’re only good for a certain type of oil (usually of lower quality) or only good for so many quarts. Other mechanics will simply give you the cheapest stuff anyway. And while some cars can do fine on low-quality oil, others may under-perform.

Make sure you’re getting a fair deal

Not every mechanic is trying to take advantage of you, but it doesn’t hurt to protect yourself from financial shock just in case. Take these steps the next time you use an oil-change coupon:

  1. Read the fine print – Read the coupon before you go in to make sure you’re really getting a good deal. For example, the big print may read “Free oil change,” but the small print may say, “with an $89.99 brake inspection.”
  2. Compare costs – A coupon may not always be the best deal. For example, bulk stores like Sam’s Club have an in-house auto shop. You may get a better deal there without a coupon. Check prices at other nearby places before you head in.
  3. Read your owner’s manual – Your car probably doesn’t need an oil change every 3,000 miles – most newer models don’t – and you may not need the more expensive synthetic oil. Check your owner’s manual for the specifications and then ask the mechanic to follow them. Your car won’t perform any better by changing the oil more frequently than you need to, or by buying a higher-quality oil than you need.
  4. Watch the mechanic – If you have the time, ask to watch the mechanic. If you’re standing there, odds are you’ll get the oil brand you asked for – and you’ll get to make sure all the work is done.
  5. Mark your oil filter – Put a slash or “X” on your oil filter with a marker before you leave the house. After you get an oil change, look under the car and see if the mark is still there. It’s an easy way to tell if the oil filter was replaced.
  6. Check your oil – Check the oil in your car right before you get an oil change. It will probably look dark – nearly black. After the change, the color should be more of a honey color.
  7. Pop the hood – After your oil change, pop the hood and make sure all the caps are in place. Sometimes mechanics forget to replace the fluid caps, and you may have to pay to replace one if you drive off without it.
  8. Just say no – You don’t have to accept any additional repairs the mechanic suggests. If the shop tells you that you need maintenance or repairs, ask for an estimate, then take your car somewhere else for a second opinion. You may find out that you don’t need the work done at all, or that you can get a better deal.
  9. Ask for parts – If you do decide to have work done while you’re getting an oil change, ask for the old parts. At least then you can take them somewhere else and see if they needed replacing at all.

Bottom line? Coupons exist because they work. The business gets a shot at a new customer, and you save a buck or two. But most coupons don’t put you in the position of being faced with a potentially expensive up-sell you’re ill-prepared to evaluate. So when you get a coupon for an oil change, take advantage, but don’t get taken advantage of.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
This Cellphone Carrier Has the Worst Network Quality, Customers Say
This Cellphone Carrier Has the Worst Network Quality, Customers Say

One major wireless provider stands out for the least reliable call, messaging and data services.

5 Monthly Bills You Can Easily Negotiate Down
5 Monthly Bills You Can Easily Negotiate Down

Here’s how to bring down recurring expenses and save hundreds — or even thousands — of dollars each year.

Beware These 3 Tax Penalties on Retirement Accounts
Beware These 3 Tax Penalties on Retirement Accounts

Protecting a nest egg is tough — but you can make the situation far worse with some boneheaded mistakes.

5 States Where Drivers Pay the Most for Car Insurance
5 States Where Drivers Pay the Most for Car Insurance

Auto insurance will cost you more than three times as much in one state compared with another. Here’s how to lower your rates no matter where you live.

7 Things You Should Buy at Estate Sales
7 Things You Should Buy at Estate Sales

Here’s what an experienced estate sale shopper considers a great find.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco

Even if it seems you save a bundle buying Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand products, they may not be the bargain they appear to be.

8 Tips for Retiring Comfortably on Social Security Alone
8 Tips for Retiring Comfortably on Social Security Alone

It’s never too early to start learning how to live well while living on less.

Am I Eligible for My Mother’s Social Security Benefit?
Am I Eligible for My Mother’s Social Security Benefit?

Can an adult daughter tap into her late mother’s benefit?

The Next 5 Groups Who Will Get the COVID-19 Vaccine
The Next 5 Groups Who Will Get the COVID-19 Vaccine

The CDC has unveiled a schedule that likely will determine who gets the next doses.

11 Generic Products You Should Buy at Costco
11 Generic Products You Should Buy at Costco

Not all generics are worthwhile, but these are among the best from Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand.

9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again

The warehouse store offers an enormous selection, but these products aren’t coming back.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

This Surprise Factor Can Raise Your Risk of Dementia
This Surprise Factor Can Raise Your Risk of Dementia

Nearly half of U.S. residents may face this threat.

Organize Your Home With These 10 Thrift Store Finds
Organize Your Home With These 10 Thrift Store Finds

Resolve to be clutter-free in 2021 with these secondhand purchases.

This Gas Station Scam Is Victimizing More Drivers
This Gas Station Scam Is Victimizing More Drivers

For the second straight year, a growing number of Americans believe they’ve fallen prey to this scam.

11 Laws You Could Be Breaking Without Knowing It
11 Laws You Could Be Breaking Without Knowing It

Seriously? Fibbing about the weather is a crime? This and other little-known legal traps await the unwary.

These Are the 3 Best Used Cars You Can Buy
These Are the 3 Best Used Cars You Can Buy

These vehicles boast reliability, safety and long-lasting value.

6 Legal Documents Retirees Need — but Don’t Have
6 Legal Documents Retirees Need — but Don’t Have

Few retirees have all of these documents that are crucial to their golden years — especially during a pandemic.

13 Things Seniors Can Get for Free — or Almost Free
13 Things Seniors Can Get for Free — or Almost Free

There are many ways to get cheap or free services and goods after reaching a certain age.

Internet Providers Can’t Charge You for This Anymore
Internet Providers Can’t Charge You for This Anymore

Starting this month, your ISP no longer can bill you for this fee.

Can a Divorced Widow Claim Her First Husband’s Social Security Benefits?
Can a Divorced Widow Claim Her First Husband’s Social Security Benefits?

The rules are complicated when it comes to eligibility for survivors benefits.

9 Small Expenses That Are Bleeding Your Budget Dry
9 Small Expenses That Are Bleeding Your Budget Dry

Keep more of future paychecks by eliminating these budget-busting unnecessary expenses.

15 Painless Ways You Can Cut Costs in 2021
15 Painless Ways You Can Cut Costs in 2021

Follow these tips to save, so you’ll have money for things that really matter.

11 Huge Retirement Costs That Are Often Overlooked
11 Huge Retirement Costs That Are Often Overlooked

Does your retirement budget account for all of these costs?

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.