Q: I recently bought a new car from a dealer in Appleton, and it came with a free maintenance plan. But when I called to schedule my first "free" appointment, I was told that my oil change might not be covered because "it's too soon." The car uses synthetic oil and has 5,200 miles on it. Shouldn't it be time for an oil change?
A: It’s often said “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.” And this might be a case where there's no such thing as free maintenance, at least not the way you thought of it when you drove the car off the lot in Appleton.
For the last several years, car makers have been sweetening the deal for new car buyers by including "free maintenance" for the first few years of the car's life. And while we all like the word "free," doing only the free maintenance—and nothing more—may cost you more in the long run.
Here's our advice for getting the most out of these new car programs in Appleton while not getting taken for a ride:
- Understand what your free maintenance plan includes and excludes. The plans vary dramatically by automaker. Some carmakers, such as Audi, cover only the car's first service visit, and with only 3,000-5,000 miles on the odometer, this amounts to a glorified oil change. Others, such as Hyundai, are more comprehensive and last for 5 years/60,000 miles. Some plans cover oil changes, wiper blades and brake pads, but exclude tire rotations. Here's a guide from Edmunds.com on Free Car Maintenance Programs and what they include. As Edmunds.com points out in its article on free maintenance, "Don't get hung up on the savings figures. It's more important to look at the actual services that are covered by the free maintenance program."
- Take note that a free maintenance program isn’t the same as a car care schedule. While this may seem counterintuitive, don't assume that what's covered in the free program is the same as the recommended maintenance schedule...or that it's the best maintenance plan for your car. For example, MINI’s 36,000-mile/3-year free program covers only one oil change per 10,000-15,000 miles or 12 months. While we're happy to debate whether its best to change the oil at 3,000 miles or 5,000 miles, none of the expert auto technicians at Auto Select is comfortable recommending an oil change every 10,000+ miles, even if it's synthetic oil. That’s when “free” isn’t so, well, free. If you plan to keep your vehicle for many years and 100,000 miles or more, extending your oil change interval out now to save $30-$60 on an oil change could have costlier, long-term consequences.
- Do the math. For many of us, time is a valuable and scarce commodity. One question to ask yourself with regard to free maintenance is: How close and how convenient is it to get your new car into the dealer for your free oil change and wiper blades? Can you drive up, get in and out within an hour? Or do you need to schedule a week in advance only to spend 2 hours pacing in the waiting room while they change the oil? Sometimes, the real savings is in the time savings, and at Auto Select, we can change your oil and your wiper blades while you wait 6 days a week at any of our nine locations in Appleton, Green Bay, Stevens Point and Weston (Wausau). No appointment necessary, and we'll have you back on the road in no time. We'll save you money, too: With our oil changes, you buy 5, get one free, or you can buy pre-paid oil changes for $19.95 each.
It boils down to: Do your research. Understand the limitations of a particular automaker’s maintenance program. Read the owner’s manual, and learn what is recommended vs. what is covered under your maintenance plan. Ask yourself what's most important to you. Of course, at Auto Select, we're happy to offer truly free advice about your maintenance needs. Then you can make an educated decision on whether a “free maintenance” program is truly free.