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Scheduled Maintenance -- Saturn SL2

I have a 2002 Saturn SL2. Despite the fact that the car is 6 years old, I haven’t driven it much – it has just over 30,000 miles on it.

I tend to be a bad car owner, I guess. My manual says that I should get an oil change every 6000 miles or 6 months, whichever comes first… I tend to get one once a year (about 5,000 miles).

Anyway, like I said, my car is right around 30,000 miles. (Actually, 32,000… because I’ve been putting this stuff off for way too long.) So I called the dealership to ask about the 30,000 mile scheduled maintenance. (Listed in the owners manual is: tire rotation, inspect brakes, inspect exhaust system, lubricate door hinges, check links and hood, replace engine air cleaner filter, inspect vacuum lines/hoses, replace spark plugs.) They quoted me a price of $720 for all the stuff they do at that point. EEEK.

Then I went onto the Car Talk website, and looked to see if there were any recommended mechanics in my area (I’m relatively new to this area). There was one service place that had 8 positive reviews (every other place had only one review). So I called them up, and listed the things that Saturn claims I should get done on my car, and asked how much it would cost. They told me it would be about $200. That’s an incredibly significant difference, much more than I expect even accounting for the dealer charging higher labor costs.

So I called the dealer back again, and asked what else they’d be doing to my car. And the guy in the dealership said that since my car is so old (they expect 30,000 miles to come in after 2 years, not 6) there’s a whole bunch of other stuff that I should get done: a coolant flush, changing the brake fluid, a power steering flush, and an “induction service” (to improve gas mileage). All these things would total about $1000, but the guy I spoke to gave me his name and direct extension, and told me that if I asked for him when I brought my car in, he’d make sure I got a 10% discount.

Then I called the other mechanic back, and relayed the things the dealer had said to me. He quoted me a price for each of them (totaling about $500, plus the $200 for the other stuff). He also said that he wouldn’t necessarily recommend getting them all done at once, and he’d be able to look over my car and let me know which things were priorities, which could be put off, and if there was anything else he would recommend I do. He agreed that changing the brake fluid and coolant were probably priorities, given the age of my car.

So, the dilemma: Do I suck it up and go to the dealer, trusting that they know my car and know what needs to be done? Do I go to the other mechanic and trust that he’ll be honest in his assessment of what my car needs (and that he’ll know my car well enough to recognize what it needs)?

I know that dealerships tend to charge more in general, but they should know my car better too. The only real recommendations I have for this particular mechanic are from this website… but for all I know, they could be from the mechanic himself.

Please advise me!!!

FORGET the dealer. The guy you talked to on the phone is a “Service Writer”, a commission salesman. His only skill is getting repair orders into 4 figures. The independent shop you talked to sounds like an honest mechanic.

You can forget the “induction service”, that’s BS, and changing the brake fluid and flushing the power steering might not be part or any service needed by your car, but if you are going to keep the car forever, there might be a benefit to having it done…You could be approaching a brake job at 30K miles, so be prepared for that.

The dealer is trying to sell you stuff you don’t need. Everything that should be done (other than transmission fluid changes in most automatic equipped cars) is listed in your owner’s manual. Go with what is there and forget the dealer, there is no reason to see them.

In part the prices you are seeing now is because you should have paid most of them a long time ago.  You should feel glad that you are not paying a lot more because of the delaying maintenance.  Doing it now will reduce the chance that you may have an expensive repair later due to your negligence.

The dealer is trying to make as much profit as possible from necessary, AND UNNECESSARY, maintenance. That’s what dealers do. If you allow them to, they will take your money for things you, and your car, don’t need.

Whoever your independent Saturn mechanic in your area is, I suggest you go to him/her and begin to establish a relationship. Everything he/she has told you is correct, and this is the kind of shop you hope to find and want to continue to deal with.

This independent shop will save you money, because they won’t charge you for things you don’t need.

You can check this. A maintenance schedule came with your owner’s manual. You can read it and see what’s required, versus what the dealer “recommends.” You will find many differences, I’m sure.

Follow the manual. Forget what anyone else tells you.