On high alert for hidden costs of over-serviced cars 

On high alert for hidden costs of over-serviced cars 


IN MY carefree and single days I drove a sporty little number, one that the lid came off (sometimes even when I wanted it to). It made a hell of a racket, in a good way, and required enthusiastic and dedicated peddling to keep moving at a decent pace. In summer it was a glorious ride and in winter it was a test of character. I loved that little car then like I love Boërl & Kroff now. 

It was my preferred mode of transport around the time I met The Companion and some of his more boorish mates at the rowing club bar. It was an immense amount of fun, and it brought me years of joy. 

But it could be temperamental, and like many thoroughbreds it needed frequent and particular servicing. I recall, now with a chuckle but at the time with cold fury, a conversation with the manufacturer’s service department. I dropped the car in for its regular check-up first thing, and the phone call came just after lunch.

“Tyres are good, and we’ve rotated them; brakes are good,” the caller said. “We’ve changed the oil filter and the engine oil, replaced the power-steering fluid …”

'And I’m telling you - I said - there’s no need to replace the power steering fluid – this car does not have power steering.'

Hold on a moment. Power-steering fluid? Why did you replace the power-steering fluid? And that’s when his tone changed. Suddenly, I was the know-nothing customer, the helpless little car owner. Also, judging from how he now addressed me, my IQ had apparently dropped 25 or 30 points. Part of the scheduled service, he said. Important. Power steering, he explained as if I were a 5 year old, is what makes the car easier to park for drivers like you. I knew what he meant, and I did not like it. Also, he added, it’s listed on the job sheet you signed when you dropped the car in. 

I suggested he might have been indulging in a spot of over-servicing. But again, he insisted the procedure was required - and not only that, they’d already done it, and it would be included in the cost of the service. So I asked to speak to the manager. 

After a minute or two he came on the line. I explained the situation.

“It’s part of the scheduled service, it’s been done, so it will be included in the cost,” the manager reiterated. And I’m telling you, I said, there’s no need to replace the power steering fluid – this car does not have power steering. 

There was a moment of silence that I interpreted as him being stunned. He asked me to hold for a moment. When he came back on the line he sounded somewhat less sure of himself and certainly less condescending. I was right, he admitted. No power steering. Their mistake, and they’d deduct the cost of the fluid and the labour from he bill.

‘I thought about how many people pay for things that do not need to be done or – worse – have not actually even been done, simply because they don’t know any better.’

That’s not all you’ll be deducting, I told him. You mentioned you rotated the tyres. I hope you noticed that not only are they uni-directional, but they’re staggered sizes. You cannot rotate them.

More silence. He asked me to hold for a moment. When he came back on the line he sounded beaten. You’re right again, he said. No charge.

I explained that now there were two things he was planning to charge me for that I knew he had not done – that he actually, physically, could not have done. I explained that I had no confidence he had the remotest idea what he was doing, and I was concerned about all the other things he said he’d done but hadn’t. 

I explained that I’d be picking up the car in an hour, and that there would be no charge, full stop. I also explained that I would not, under any circumstances, be availing myself of his services ever again.

I thought about how many people pay for things that do not need to be done or – worse – have not actually even been done, simply because they don’t know any better. Caveat emptor? Perhaps. But over-servicing in the medical profession is illegal and it should be the car-servicing business too. That’s something I’d be happy to blow the lid off.

Have you had your own experience with bullying, condescending service centres? Let me know!