Amber-colored oil pours iridescently from a grey bottle.

Do quick service oil change places commonly rip people off?

There’s a certain strange anxiety unique to the experience of having to get work done on your car when you don’t really know much about automobiles yourself. You’re having to put your faith into another human. Not only that, but you’re putting your faith in someone who pop culture since the dawn of the automobile has warned you about: the mechanic.

When you need an oil change, it’s tempting to go to a quick-service location. But when they quote you on the price, how do you know it’s fair? Is it just an urban legend, or is it truly common for auto mechanics to overcharge customers?

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Two mechanics scheme about the best way to rip-off the owner of a car who's oil they're "changing."Oil Change Overcharge

Unfortunately, while not every mechanic is dishonest, it is still fairly common for mechanics to at least slightly fudge the facts so that they end up making a bit more on a transaction than necessary. There are a few ways to determine whether or not they’re probably cheating you.

One main factor at an oil change shop is the amount of time it takes them to change your oil. If they do it in only five to ten minutes, they’re not giving your engine oil adequate time to drain; that is, some of the old oil is still left inside when they put in the new. Therefore, they won’t be using as much fresh oil as they’re likely charging you for.

Another common trick is to charge you for a multitude of inspections that were supposedly performed. Again, the thing to look for here is the timespan; is it likely they were able to do everything they said, and do it well, in the time the process took? They also might recommend replacing certain parts, like the air filter, when it’s not really necessary.

Finally, such shops like to have customers come back more than is actually necessary. Most modern vehicles only need to have the oil changed every 7,500 miles or more (for exact figures, check your owner’s manual). Repair shops like to tell customers to come back after 3,000 miles.

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What can you do to prevent being ripped off by oil change shops?

Getting ripped off by a service center is hard to prevent, which is why it’s such a common part of the business. Your options are basically to get educated on automotive maintenance yourself, or just accept that you’re going to be paying a bit more than absolutely necessary.

As long as you can afford it, try to have some compassion for the mechanic. It’s not like auto mechanics are the richest members of society, nor are they causing the most harm. Just like most of us, they’re doing what they can to get by.

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