Should my service have been comped after I discovered technician dishonesty?

I brought my Rav4 into my Toyota dealership for its 30,000 mile maintenance today, got handed a bill for $390 and asked the service rep to explain the charges to me so I could understand what I was paying for. It revealed that the tech replaced both my cabin and engine air filters when I had those changed during my last maintenance when they informed me they needed replacing. I informed him I had just replaced those and asked why they had been replaced again? Long story short the tech replaced them even though he could clearly see they were clean, just checking off the boxes on the form, never checked my vehicle history, and on the paperwork both filters are listed as needing immediate attention. To me trust when it comes to car service is extremely important because I don’t have any expertise on the subject at all and this was a serious breach of trust for me. They took off the parts of course and gave me 10% off, and only after calling and speaking with a manager about how the whole situation was upsetting did he offer me a complementary oil change. Going along with my theme of non-expertise when it comes to cars, I was wondering if the situation was taken care of in a fair manner to me as a customer?


I’m not surprised this happened, and not surprised that’s how they compensated you for it. From now on you know to go through your records and make a list of what specifically needs to be done. Give them the list.

Me, I’d find a good independent shop for this kind of work (click on ‘mechanics files’, above). But you’ll still need to give them the list of work.

Lots of dealers and shops make lots of money on unneeded work, unfortunately.

Probably not at first, but in the end they did. You did the correct thing. You handled this as a business transaction, which is exactly what it is. This should put the dealership on notice that you are a good business person. Keep up the good work.

Before each service is due, you should review the maintenance schedule in your owners manual, that way you know ahead of time what is to be done. Anything not listed in the maintenance schedule requires prior approval before being performed. If the service writer hands you a print out of services to be performed that does not match the maintenance schedule and you sign it, that is prior approval so watch for that.

BTW, did you replace those filters yourself?

Nope the same dealership had done it. This is my first car on my own post college/parental support and its very important to me to be an informed consumer with everything I spend my hard earned dollars on and so I am uncomfortable when I don’t understand everything thats going on. You are totally right that I need to go into these appointments armed with the knowledge I do have access to so that way I can make confident and informed decisions when it comes to my car and money. Thanks!

There are alternatives to always going to the dealer. You could check with friends and coworkers for recommendations of good independent mechanics in your area and look into the possibility of establishing a business relationship with one of them. Usually an independent is less expensive than the dealerships, but compare to be sure.

If you do go to an independent that is constantly finding things that are about to go wrong, then be suspicious and move on to someone else. Some people actually believe they have a super mechanic just because they are always finding thing that need fixing, when in fact they are just getting ripped off. BTW, dealerships are not immune to this practice either.

Now does not mean to go into full defense mode if a mechanic does discover something that needs attention, that does happen, it just shouldn’t happen on every visit.

There are a few basic things that every vehicle owner should know for themselves, like how to check the various fluids. The owners manual will have a section devoted to this usually with good pictures. For example, when filling up with gas, instead of just sitting in the vehicle, walk around it and look at the tires. If one looks lower than the others, or several of them look lower than you remember in the past, then you should get the pressure checked. This can really lengthen the life of your tires if you do this. Also check the tread for any unusual wear pattern and if you see one, get it addressed right away.

You should also be able to check your own oil and do that periodically, such as when filling the gas tank. While the hood is up, learn to check the brake fluid in the master cylinder reservoir. The reservoir is made of translucent plastic so you can see the level through the side. There is a min and max line on the side. When the fluid gets down to the min level, have your brake pads checked, they will probably be close to replacing. So if you take it to your mechanic for an oil change and he says that you need new brake pads, it won’t be unexpected.

The owners manual contains just about all the information that you will need for making smart decisions. You don’t have to be a mechanic to recognize good maintenance and not so good. Just remember, its a business transaction.

It seems you are off to a good start in dealing with people over getting your money’s worth, @MSimmer. If more people tactfully confronted shops about unnecessary parts and labor shops would become less prone to that practice. But until you are fully refunded the total for parts and labor for the unnecessary parts that were replaced you should continue to voice your dissatisfaction.

I would second the recommendation to find a good independent shop where you feel comfortable building a working relationship with the owner.

Im sure they are mostly used to dealing with either totally uninformed or overly irate customers and very few non-confrontational, critical customers which I was going for. I really appreciate you all taking your time to give me your thoughtful input on the situation, thank you!


As was previously aluded to, a car owner who does not want to be cheated, and who also wants to have his/her car serviced appropriately, needs to take control of the situation before going to the service facility, and the way to do this is to refer to both the mfr’s maintenance schedule and to your records of previous services. This way, you know what is due to be done, as well as what has already been done.

I construct a maintenance record chart for each car, shortly after I buy it, just so that I don’t have to rifle through many receipts each time I want to verify what services have already been performed on my car. Then, each time that it is serviced, I take out my chart, and I check off the procedures that were done, as well as the odometer mileage and date of that service. Thus, I have one 8.5 x 14 inch piece of paper with all of the vital info condensed onto it for easy reference.

I like to replace the cabin air filter and the engine air filter myself, in order to save lots of money. Naturally, at an appropriate mileage, the service writer is going to tell me that these filters need to be replaced by them. But, since I have already verified when I last performed these tasks myself, I can confidently state, “I have already done that myself, so I DO NOT want those filters replaced at this time”. I have never had a problem with this methodology, although at the next service interval, the service writer will remind me that, “You still haven’t had us replace those filters!”, at which time I repeat my spiel about already having done it myself.

Even if you don’t want to do any maintenance procedures yourself, you should at least know what has already been done by the mechanics at previous visits, so that you can tell the service writer that you don’t need that type of service to be performed.

In summary, I think that the situation was resolved appropriately at the dealership, but I really think that you need to take control of the situation, in a way similar to what I have described above. Otherwise, you will likely be subject to these same situations in the future.

I think if the OP expects to have the full service comped when someone makes a mistake (honest or dishonest) or due to sheer incompetence he or she is going to be disappointed with the auto service industry. The lesson is you have to read all the items on your bill. You have to keep good records on previous service, and you have to point out mistakes. Taking the parts and labor charges off the bill for the duplicate items is appropriate.

Many service techs just yank and toss the parts without really caring if they look clean or not. If the service order says replace parts, they do it. In this case the service writer messed up, and the OP should have pointed out recently replaced parts when writing the service order and before any work was done. When you request 30K service you get the whole package and the service writer doesn’t take the time to check old invoices.

I would not go as far as to suggest that you change the engines air filter unless you are planning to get into DIY maintenance, but the cabin air filter is designed to be replaced by the owner. In most cases, you simply open the glove box, then pull up on it to remove it. The cabin air filter is just behind the glove box and its a simple thing to slide it out and slide in a new one.

The procedure should be spelled out clearly in your owners manual. A new filter is available at car parts stores as well as Walmarts. They cost about $17 retail (way overpriced IMO) but dealers often charge upwards of $75 to replace them. It only takes about a minute to change one.

If this had happened to me, I’d probably just have left the new filters in, and asked them to give me the old ones back and call it even. They should have listened to you of course, but anyone can make a mistake. And it’s a pretty minor thing. If the old ones were thrown away however, then I’d ask them to give me new OEM filters (uninstalled) to replace the almost new ones of mine that they threw away, at their expense.

On the surface you may have a point but you did not state how many miles are on those filters or the type of environment where you live.
In places where there is a lot of dust, crop harvesting, and depending upon plant life it’s quite possible for filters to become filthy inside of 15k miles. An eyeball test of the filter is not always a sure thing.

The 30k miles service you asked for recommends replacement of those filters and going back to the possibly non-indicative eyeball test, the mechanic may have no idea when or if those filters were ever replaced.

Regarding service conditions, here’s a cut and paste from Toyota and it’s applicable to any car on the road.

Driving conditions: The type and frequency of maintenance your Toyota requires depends on how you drive, as well as the environmental conditions in which you drive. Check with your Toyota dealer to schedule the appropriate level of service for your vehicle.

I’m not defending the dealer here; only pointing out that I’m not bashing the dealer without having details which may or may not influence an opinion.

I have to agree with @ok4450 on this one.

Scheduled services often include wipers, air filters, cabin filters, etc. It is included in the package price.

Mechanics are ALWAYS in a hurry at the dealer. It is a fact of life, because they are paid flat rate.

If he hasn’t been told to NOT replace the filters, he’s going to install new filters and throw the old ones in the trash without bothering to look at them.

No car gets special consideration, unless he has been made aware of some situation ahead of time.

. . . which is sometimes the case.

There are trucks in our fleet that have EXTREMLY dirty air filters at EVERY 6 month scheduled service, regardless of if they were changed last time or not.

I’ve mentioned this before due to it being a recent event in my neck of the woods. Granted this is extreme, but not all that rare and a couple of the pics are from a time long past. It does illustrate the airborne dust problem and one can imagine what the filters in the non-crashed vehicles are going through.

If this happened, whether deliberate dishonesty or a simple mistake, I’d evaluate whether to continue using this dealer. This is the kind of behavior I’d expect more from an instant oil change place and not guys that are supposed to be pros.

I’d consider finding a good independent mechanic and only use a dealer at all for warranty service and the occasional job that requires tools and resources that only a dealer has.