CarTalk.com Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

2003 Subaru Outback 60K Maintenance Rip-off

Nearly 3 months ago, I took my well-maintained 2003 4-cylinder Outback to a neighboring town for a 60K maintenance because my local dealer went out of business. A few hours later, I was informed that I needed rear brake pads, battery and re-packed CV joint. I authorized the work. When I picked my car up 6 hours later, I was presented with a bill for $2204.59. The 60K maintenance alone was $1353.08 (oil change, filter, plugs, fluids flush on brakes, fuel injection, power steering, transmission, and a differential service) The extra authorized work was $706.72. The rest of the bill was tax and Miscellaneous charge. I paid reluctantly, but then carefully reviewed the bill. The hourly labor rate I was charged $234.26, but the dealer said their rate was $115/hour. Then I started researching on the net and calling Subaru dealers around my state and neighboring state and found their estimates MUCH lower by at least $600.

After calling the service manager several times to discuss the matter, he admitted that they overcharged me $300, but even after getting Subaru of America involved, I still haven’t seen my refund after nearly two months of haggling. I think $300 is too little a refund, but at this point, I will take that and be done with it. What else can I do? Do any of you out there think this if a fair price? I will never buy another Subaru as long as I live because of this experience. I think I was ripped off! Do you, or am I unreasonable?

Dealers love to rack up big bills on 30K, 60K, and 90K services. Your mistake is basically taking your 10 year old car to a Subaru dealer for service. Can’t you find a good independant mechanic that is Subaru familiar in your area? You can haggle over this bill, but the charges are outrageous. Find an alternate services provider and forget going back to a dealer unless you like these kinds of charges.

I think that’s an insane charge. Contact Subaru with all your documentation and concerns.

I have had Subaru of America involved for 2 months. They agree that the charge is high, but say they can’t control the prices the dealer sets. They have contacted this dealer several time and have called me back to say my refund is “being processed”. This has been a 2 month ordeal since the corporate organization became involved. I have always taken my car to a dealer because I though naively that it was best to have dealer documentation on the vehicle.

I will never take this vehicle to a dealer again and know of a great mechanic in town. My mistake in the first place.

That’s why I don’t go to the dealer, except to buy parts.
You’ll find that most of us here and other similar forums are not mechanics by trade. I suspect their stories are like mine: we like tinkering with cars and found we can maintain a vehicle better and cheaper than a dealer ever could.
If you have a basic understanding, thumbs on the correct side of your hands and have a decent grasp of procedures described in a service manual, you can afford to screw it up four times for the money they charge.
Subarus are actually not horribly hard to maintain properly. I’m not suggesting you dive right in but get a cheap service manual on CD* and see if you can follow along when someone services your car.
If anything, it may help you determine whether you’re getting ripped off. Maybe you’ll eventually do certain jobs yourself.

(*ebay is a good source for factory service manuals. Often times you can get one for sub $10, shipped)

I admit that I was not endowed with mechanical skills, nor do I aspire to maintaining my own car. I am a 61 year old female with arthritis and few tools! I am also not adverse to paying someone a fair wage to do this for me, but I am adverse to being totally ripped off. My biggest frustration is being told that I was overcharged and waiting for two months, and counting, for my measly check. I’m angry at the dealer, Subaru of America and myself for being such a chump.

FWIW, I’m angry at your dealer - and it wasn’t my money.

Some mechanics are just unscrupulous. Most are decent people, I suspect.
Now that you’ve found a good mechanic, stick to him.

Thank you for your empathy. Last week, I called and talked to the General Manager of the dealership and he is looking into the matter. I should have called him months ago, but I stupidly didn’t want to get anyone into trouble. The sad thing is that my father was General Manager for this dealership from before I was born in 1951 until 1966 when he opened his own dealership in another town in our state. When I mentioned his name to the current general manager, I was told that my dad was “a legend” in the dealership. I don’t want any special treatment, I just want to be treated fairly. I’m beginning to think they looked at me and thought I wouldn’t question their unscrupulous practices. BTW, they replaced my windshield wipers and that line item alone was $60.85. They charged me $23 in labor to do this! I’m getting myself all worked up again, but thank you for your kind words.

I think this bill is high but I would add that you were not ripped off for the most part. Every one of those services is likely needed at the 60k miles mark on an aged car unless they were done in recent memory and apparently all were approved by you.
Spark plugs, brake fluid change, transmission and differential service are all due.
As a matter of fact, there is an additional service that should be done assuming the norm is that it is often overlooked and that is inspection of the valve lash which should be done at 30k miles intervals.

Regarding the 23 dollar charge I can explain why this is so. The shop rate is 115 an hour and replacement of wiper blades (along with a mulititude of other nitpicky jobs) will pay .2 hours flat rate time. That means 1/5 of an hour so that is where the 23 comes from; 1/5 of 115. On the surface that 23 sounds high but that 23 dollar pie gets sliced into many pieces so one cannot look at that price and compare it to DIY or some facility like Wal Mart. Completely different business model.

If there is an overcharge of 300 dollars on the labor then by all means take this matter to the General Manager or dealership owner.
Corporate Subaru is correct because in actuality they can’t really force the dealer to do anything. If the dealer is really a low-life and creating problems on a daily basis then it’s possible they could exert some severe pressure but normally they have little power over them. I’ve only known one Subaru dealer to get their franchise yanked and that was only due to steering customers away from a Subaru into a much higher end make of car and after being warned previously. In a nutshell, the lower end Subarus were the enticement to get people onto the lot.

I would agree that basic services can be done by an independent shop and one should always get a second opinion or estimate.
Hopefully this adds a bit of clarity to this situation. :slight_smile:

I am sorry to hear about your experience. I too think you got taken for a ride. How can they justify that high of labor rate? Did you call them on that? I think you need to go back to the place and not leave until you have received your refund. Subarus are great cars and I hope you change your mind about them but I would have no more dealings with that dealership.

If you fail to get any where with the GM, then take them to small claims court. This will get the owner involved, and nothing ticks an owner off more then a small issue not being taken care of by his mgr team prior to reaching him.

Personally, I would file a complaint with the local Office of Consumer Affairs, on either the county or state government level. These folks can frequently get recalcitrant businesses to do the right thing, before the consumer affairs people refer the matter to the government prosecutors with whom they work closely.

Whatever she does, the OP should not waste any time with the Better Business Bureau, as the likelihood of getting any help from that private business club is…very slim. For reasons that I cannot fathom, many people seem to think that the BBB is a governmental agency, when–in fact–it is an organization to which businesses pay dues. The BBB’s regulation of the companies that fund them is…anemic at best, and non-existent in most cases.

A 115 dollar an hour labor flat rate may not be out of line at all depending on the area may not be out of line at all. Some areas are higher than that and especially on the east and west coasts.
That rate is not randomly selected and the fact that it’s high and someone does not like it does not mean a rip off.

Maybe the OP could let everyone know exactly what city is involved in this discussion and it could then be determined if someone is gouging or not.

The OP could also lay out the exact charges, parts and labor, for each and every one of the services performed and those could be examined too.

OK, everybody,

I put together a detailed accounting of my bill. The dealer hourly rate is $115 which is not excessive in my opinion. Because they had my car for 6 hours, assuming the technician(s) did not go to lunch or it would be 5 hours, the labor calculates out to $234.26. I realize that each task has a dealer-assigned time, but this just doesn’t add up IMHO. Here it is:

                                  Parts	Labor	       Totals

60 K Maintenance $98.09 $445.95
Brake flush $23.17 $83.78
Fuel Inj. Flush $62.59 $75.67
Power steering flush $50.60 $79.95
Transmission flush $79.34 $98.50
Differential service $41.25 $214.19
Total for 60K Service $355.04 $998.04 $1,353.08

Wipers $37.85 $23.00
Battery $124.62 $34.50
CV boot $51.80 $150.00
Brake Pads Rear $84.95 $200.00
Total for Other $299.22 $407.50 $706.72

Misc $20.00
Tax $124.79
Total for Tax and Misc $144.79

Grand Total $654.26 $1,405.54 $2,204.59

Thank you for your review and further comments.

I had the above formatted on my screen, but apparently it was not retained when I posted. For each line, the first number is for parts, the second for labor and if there is a third, it is a total.

At the flat rate you paid for 12 and 1/4 hours of labor. The job took 5-6 hours. My question is; how many mechanics worked on the car? If one guy, then you are being robbed. If they had several techs, ie one doing the brake job while another pulled the plugs, while another drained the fluids then the charges might be more legit.

If this is a computerized bill, it should list all the techs either by name or number that worked on the car. If only one tech name and or number I’d raise a strong objection to the labor charges. Mostly mechanics have a bay with their own tools and work solo on routine stuff, which all of this basic routine servicing. On big jobs sometimes mechanics work as a team, motor removals and transmission replacements for example.

Your service looks like a one man job to me. The tech simply worked faster by combining and performing multiple functions, while the billing office separates them and creates a “line itemized” bill. In the end the dealer wins, by overcharging for labor based on the “book” instead of the actual time it took to do the work.

In addition to finding a good local Subie mechanic (they are particular in their needs, I want one that knows Subarus to work on our Forester), you should put together your own list of what’s needed at the 60k service, based on the owners manual. Dealers and mechanics both like to add on extra work, like fuel injection system flushes, that are normally unneeded.

Also, the ‘CV joint repack’ is often a waste of money. If the CV boot is ripped, then the damage is done, dirt’s already gotten in there. I just drive it until I notice some noise, then replace (not repair) the affected axle.

Finally, the battery is a bit odd - any problems with starting, etc? Or did they give you a reason?

Got to put my two cents in. You were simply sold unneeded services and overcharged for them. None of those flushes were needed. The $300 refund is only a ploy to make you go away. Spark plugs at 60k miles? That’s crazy. The dealer will argue that they are performing preventative maintenance. I would tell everyone about your dissatisfaction with that dealer and hopefully it keeps someone else from getting ripped off. Providing all those services were actually performed, (another mechanic can verify spark plugs, wiper blades and battery).I’m not sure how you’ll fair in small claims court. The flushes are hard to disprove, and are a great revenue generator for the dealer. When I worked in the business, it was all about how much we thought we could get away with selling to the customer before they complained; that is what the service writer is trained to do. (that’s why
I’m no longer in the business). If they charged you for services not actually performed, that is fraud, but if they performed the services and they were not needed, that is poor ethical behavior by the dealer. It happens to thousands of customers every day across the country. The more money the dealership brings in, the more the service writer puts in his pocket.

Good luck with working to get more than a pittance 300 bucks back. I would also involve your state AG, they might be able to put some pressure on the dealer to get more of a refund. But again, if they don’t think fraud has occurred, their hands are tied. Unfortunately there is no law preventing unethical sales practices.

I agree with gsragtop. Small claims court is the way to go. Every shop posts labor rates. Go in and take a picture of the sign and take it with you. Also, sue for the full $600.

It 's not easy making money as a dealer but people things they don’t need is pretty much what drives the economy. I can empathize with you and would consider going elsewhere too. That’s too bad but service on cars is buyer beware and why we pay them more than doctors shows us the strangle hold cars in general have on the consumer. People actually " love" their cars and we trust people to do things we can’t do ourselves. The real equalizer, is education and a good dose of scepticism.