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Are these repairs critical? what about these costs?

I have been getting my 2004 Toyota Matrix 4WD (56,600 miles) serviced at the same dealership for the past five years probably due to convenience and habit mostly but the list of needed repairs and the costs for each I was given on the phone this morning may put the kibosh on that for good. I know dealerships are notoriously expensive but does anyone have any opinion on the repairs and these costs I was quoted? (the dealership is in Chicago)

–Battery terminals need cleaning, no repair or parts needed - $49.95
–Replace cabin air filter - $85.00 (I declined this)
–All spark plugs need to be replaced (never been replaced before) 4 iridium plugs + labor = $187.24 (I declined this, shouldn’t this cost around $125?)
–Transfer case seal is leaking differential fluid -need to be repaired (parts + labor) $267.12 (was so unfamiliar with this I didn’t know where to begin researching so I had them do this - oweee)
–Flush power steering - $159.95 (they said the fluid was black - I did not see it but the info I was pulling up indicated it’s probably not needed - what about that? if it is indeed black, should it be drained and replaced?)
(I declined this because does this need to be done and if so shouldn’t it be more like $120?)

Thanks for any input you can provide.

The prices are really high. You have an owners manual that lists the required maintenance intervals. For example, the spark plugs are good for 120k miles, and they don’t freeze in the head as some people will try to tell you. I pulled a set on an 03 with 113k miles and they came out like they were put in yesterday. The plugs run about $16 each plus labor.

The cabin air filter cost about $20 at walmart and if you can open your glove box, you can replace this yourself, super easy.

Transfer case seals tend to weep a little oil over time, but that does not mean it needs to be replaced, you should have asked about this here earlier.

Battery terminals is something I’d have to look at. They probably could use a cleaning but $49.95 is high, unless nothing else is done. It should be done in conjunction with other work and should not add more than a few bucks in labor.

You can check the power steering fluid yourself. Open the hood, find the PS pump, remove the cap from the reservoir on top of the pump and look for yourself. The owners manual should show the location of the PS pump, as well as the location of all the fluids.

Check your owner’s manual for spark plug replacement interval.

Cabin air filter: see if owner’s manual has instructions. Usually you go through the dash glove box and unlatch a door to get to it. If you value relatively clean air, I would DIY this. I have seen some really nasty neglected cabin air filters. Your cost at an auto parts store like Advance should be $10-$15 or so if you do it yourself.

Power steering fluid replacement can be done with a turkey baster and the correct PS fluid by taking out amounts of old in the reservoir and replaceing a few times over a time period. The effect is about as good as the expensive flush. I have never done an PS fluid flush unless a PS parts replacement was indicated and I had to do it.

On four cylinder engines, spark plug replacement is not a real big deal. Check and see if you can DIY it. I did my own when I owned Corollas but don’t know if the Matrix engine set up is different enough to be difficult or not.

I’ll keep it simple. Yes, those quoted prices are particularly high. To the credit of the dealer, however, he is not piling on those blatantly unnecessary services that usually accompany a routine service visit.

All of the items you listed are indeed routine and can easily be performed by anyone. There is nothing to prevent you from visiting other independent shops and asking each for a quote. Check with your friends and neighbors to find out which repair shops they favor.

The only thing I see out of line there is the 50 bucks for cleaning the battery cable ends but that could be a matter of perspective.
Shop labor rates are in the 70-80 dollar per flat rate hour here in OK. In Chicago I think it’s more like 125 per hour.

If the labor time on battery cable ends is in the .3 or .4 range (meaning 3/10ths or 4/10ths of an hour) that could work out to 50 bucks, give or take.

Those spark plugs may, or may not, come out without a fight and additional damage. Some luck out, some don’t.
Those services you mention are all basics for the most part so I’d just have them done at an independent shop. The indie shop will have a lower labor rate because they do not have to jump through all of the financial hoops that a dealer does.

Look for a good independent mechanic here:

Hey blanched, you’re on car talk so you are probably more capable than many to do most of this yourself. Kudos to you for having the guts to decline the work until you got more input. Are you actually having any problem starting the car? Sure, it’d be nice to clean the terminals but may not even be necessary.

However, if you do decide to try this, it will boost your confidence and get you regularly saving money on maintenance, one step at at time. Have a guy look over your shoulder; most guys would love to help you learn this. But ask first to see if they know which terminal comes off first and goes on last for safety’s sake; if they don’t answer “black” or “negative”, don’t have them help you. (You must remove the negative side first to prevent a dangerous electrical accident, and you must make sure that the wrench or any other tool does not contact both battery terminals at the same time.) If you observe this safety procedure, you’ll have no problems and you’ll learn a little bit too.


You probably do need new sparkplugs if those are the original. But I don’t think your car calls for iridium…Maybe…but I doubt it. But the rate for the plugs doesn’t seem too unreasonable.

Replacing the cabin air filter…I have no idea why anything thinks that $85 is a fair price!!! That’s outrageous. They can be replaced in less then 5 minutes and cost no more then $30…

The battery terminal cleaning…Might be reasonable…depends on how accessible the battery is.

on the cabin filter, it depends on the design. In my car, you have to remove the glove box, remove the glove box backer, remove another panel, and then remove the filter. It takes longer than a simple drop and go. (or at least it did until I cut a hole in the glove box backer and left the panel off, so all I have to do is open the glove box :wink: )

According to this YouTube vid…it’s the same procedure as my 4runner…Takes me less then 5 minutes…

I’ll toss my comments in, too…I’ve done most of those repairs on my 4Runner:

Battery terminals - That price seems a tad high. You can do it yourself, though with a 10mm wrench and some cleaner, available at most auto parts stores. Just don’t leave the battery disconnected very long if you do disconnect it at all, or get one of those memory saver devices.

Replace cabin air filter - Only a bit high, but as others have stated, it’s an easy DIY task.

Spark Plugs - I’m unfamiliar with this motor, so I’m not sure how much you have to take off to get access to all four coils/plugs. You can do it yourself if you have some general mechanical knowledge. I would only use the NGK’s in your Toyota - just my opinion - and they run about $7 each.

Power Steering Fllush - Check the fluid. If it’s black, and you’re not sure how to change it, then get someone to do it for you. It’s a regular maintenance item. Shop costs and the time required to do this job, that price isn’t really too much too high. I did mine a couple months ago, and it’s fairly time consuming. I’m sure the dealer has a bette method than I do, but don’t forget it includes getting the old fluid out of the rack.

None of these require a dealer. Find an independent shop if you’re not comfortable doing it yourself. At the very least, you can save some dosh on the cabin air filter and battery terminals.


The battery terminal cleaning, cabin air filter and spark plugs are all items that you could likely do yourself in a couple hours time, but if you’re going to have someone else do it I’d recommend an independent garage instead of a dealer. When the plugs are put in whether you do it or someone else be sure the threads have anti seize put on them to prevent them from seizing in the head making removal next time easier without the likelihood of damage to the threads in the head.

The costs quoted are typical dealer costs. A reputable independent shop can do the work for less. And, as suggested, if you’re handy with a wrench and can follow a repair manual you can save tons.

By the way, I too recommend NGKs. I’ve have problems with some others in Toyotas.

@keith: yes, I should’ve asked earlier but was pressed for time and truly didn’t realize how quickly I would receive all this helpful feedback! Thanks –also didn’t realize how accessible and easy it was to view the power steering fluid was and was able to see the color today for myself – it’s a dark brown -

@ok4450: Your estimate of $125 per hour for labor (especially @ a dealership) is pretty accurate for Chicago – again why am I living here? with a car?

@SteveF and circuitsmith:
Thanks got a couple good references which I cross checked on car talk database.

@ccar: thanks –the dealership service guy became snarky when I declined the few repairs that I did which to me signaled I was doing the right thing. No, I am not having any problems starting the car this was a check up.

@MikeInNH: Yep I think it’s the least I could do to give the matrix new plugs for it’s 9th birthday – the manual said 8 yrs or 120k miles whichever is first –it also indicated iridium tipped plugs. The youtube video for accessing cabin air filter was very helpful! This is within my grasp of DIY thankyou.


Definitely can manage the DIY cabin air filter replacement however the spark plug replacement I will leave in the hands of the independent mechanic

the power steering fluid replacement –depends on how much time I have!


@the same mountain bike
What are NGKs? and why do you think better than the iridium plug?

NGK is a brand of spark plugs made in Japan, and is frequently the brand specified in the Owner’s Manual.

Believe it or not, using a different brand of spark plugs–even if they are the correct specification–can lead to performance issues. Always use the exact spec/part number/brand of spark plugs specified by the car’s manufacturer, and you can be assured of optimum performance.

And, whatever you do, don’t use those multiple-electrode plugs made by Bosch.
I have seen several instances of poor engine performance that were attributable to those Bosch plugs.

NGK makes an iridium plug. What does the owners manual say about plugs. I’ll bet it has the plug type and even a NGK plug number in the owners manual.

Iridium or Platinum will last a lot longer then standard plugs. And many people here have stated that there could be some major problems trying to extract a plug that’s been in the engine for 100k miles.

My 2006 Matrix takes iridium plugs. I think all the Corolla/Matrix use them back to 2003.
The manual claims 120k but I plan to change mine at 60k. Currently at 27k.

I did a V6 Sienna at 130K on Saturday. New iridium’s. I was impressed with the condition of the old ones, but the owner says the vehicle is driving much better.

I can’t necessarily put that only to the plugs, as since I was there also did throttle body, filters, belts, and a few other minor repairs.

Don’t replace your plugs yet unless the car starts or runs rough. What does your maintenance manual tell you about poser steering fluid check or replacement?