PSA: Double Check Wal-Mart Oil Changes

Regular oil changes, as defined by your owner’s manual, is one of the best ways to lengthen the life of your car and the efficiency of its engine. Don’t skip oil changes to save a few dollars, the thousands of miles you’ll add to the engine’s life will dwarf the cost. That being said, there really isn’t much difference in the product and service offered at a discount oil change place and your dealership, despite what your dealership may say! This PSA is anyone who uses discount oil change services like Wal-Mart or Jiffy Lube. After you get your $15-$20 oil change, double check their work before you leave or you might be in for a nasty surprise.

Wal-Mart Whoops!

A while back my wife took her 2004 Honda Civic to the local Wal-Mart for their famously economical oil change. With a price under twenty bucks for conventional oil, you couldn’t beat it. After the oil change, she drove home and it wasn’t until she left for work the next day did we see an oil stain in her parking spot. When we popped opened the hood, we saw the oil cap sitting on the engine. I should’ve taken a picture because my wife’s daily commute is about 40 minutes and it’s a miracle the cap was still sitting on top of the engine (it may have been wedged by the hood, we didn’t check but there wasn’t a dent).

Everything under the hood was covered in oil spray and she lost about a quart of oil. We couldn’t believe they forgot to put the oil cap back on (then we realized the technicians are probably pressured to do things as quickly as possible, so it’s not that surprising that they miss something once and a while).

Check Their Work…

So, the next time you get an oil change at those discount places, do a perfunctory check that everything is in order. Check that the oil cap is on (I know it sounds ridiculous but it happened to us), check the ground when you pull out for signs of oil leaks, check your oil level via the dipstick, and check the service work report for inconsistencies. You won’t be able to detect detect outright fraud but you can ensure there isn’t any carelessness.

… Or Do It Yourself

I change the oil in my own car because I prefer to use synthetic oil (mostly because you change it less frequently, but there are other benefits). You can get synthetic oil changes at the discount places but the price magically jumps up to $50-60 for the base oil change, a price point that makes it more economical to change it yourself. I also drive a car that offers very easy access to the filter (the filter was impossible to reach in my last car, an Acura Integra) so changing the oil is straightforward. The only downside is the mess, but you do get the satisfaction of doing it yourself.

But, if I forget to put on the oil cap or tighten the oil filter… I have no one to blame. 🙂


Consumerist Kit – Becoming A More Savvy Customer

The Consumerist is a great site. I’m not saying that because they’ve linked to me a few (I think) times, I’m saying it because if you want to hear the miserable experiences of consumers like you… go there first. I read about the west coast Jiffy Lube scam there first. I read about the AOL Retention nightmare at the Consumerist first too. And that Comcast CSR who fell asleep and then started asking the customer out multiple times? Yeah, saw that at the Consumerist first too.

But, the Consumerist isn’t about enjoying the misery of others because if you look in their aptly titled Consumerist Kid category then you’ll see great articles like a HOWTO: Complain, HOWTO: Return Everything, and HOWTO: Become a Rebate Whore. These are useful tidbits that will make you a more savvy customer. Those companies collect “best practices” (if AOL doesn’t actually cancel an account when they say they will cancel you then you can’t actually cancel, see how great that strategy works? How are they losing customers?) so think of them as a best practices for the good guys. 🙂


Jiffy Lube’s Scam

It’s easy to promise to have an oil change done in 15 minutes if you don’t actually change the oil, isn’t it? NBC4 in LA put cameras in cars and then sent them over to Jiffy Lube to get some service done, turns out 6 of the 9 didn’t actually perform the work promised but charged customers anyway. In response to the expose, Jiffy Lube fired all the mechanics and installed their own cameras in 31 LA stores. Interesting is the fact that this is the third time in three years they’ve been told to “clean up their act.”

My advice to anyone who gets any sort of work done, always watch them if you can and always ask for the old parts. Getting something swapped out? Ask for the busted or worn out part. Then check the part that’s in its place, it better look new. If the mechanic isn’t pouring oil into your car, then he’s not changing your oil. If you have no idea what that even looks like, do research on the Internet. Don’t be a sucker.

Thanks to The Consumerist for picking this up.

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