I Will Gladly Pay You Today For a Hamburger I Can Eat Tomorrow - Prepaid Service Contracts Can Be a Ripoff

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03 August 2011

Most car dealers are honest, but some just plain aren't.

We just saw a consumer's sales paperwork from a Cincinnati dealership where the dealer packed into the deal an oil change package at a cost of $624. The oil change package promises free oil changes for as long as the buyer owns the car.

It reminds me of Wimpy's refrain, "I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today" but in reverse. The dealer has got the consumer paying up front a big chunk of money for oil changes that will probably never happen - and of course there's no refund either. It's like free money to the car dealer and a ripoff you need to watch out for.

First of all, the vehicle is a 2011 Chevrolet Cruze and according to the factory manual, it will only need an oil change when the car's computer says so. I've got the same kind of thing in our car and it usually says we need an oil change about every 7 to 9 thousand miles. Of course, many folks have grown up hearing the oil manufacturers and car dealers beating the drum that you have to "change your oil every 3,000 miles" but there's at least one long-time industry expert that says it ought to last at least 5,000 miles and even longer if you use the best oil out there. Let's assume the computer is broke and you just change the oil every 4,000 miles. That seems pretty reasonable (although you ought to get that computer fixed anyway).

Okay, what's the average miles driven per year in the U.S.? The federal government says 12,000 but a lot of (mostly car industry) others say it's 15,000. Let's take the middle and call it 13,500 miles.

So, how long does the average person keep their car? One mechanic expert said online that the answer was 4.7 years.

Okay, let's multiple 4.7 years by 13,500 miles ... hummm, let me get out my calculator. Okay, that means the average person drives their car 63,450 miles before they get rid of it, trade it in, or whatever.

If you wait for the computer to tell you when to change your oil, and you are like most of us and just use your car for normal city and highway driving, you'll probably have that computer tell you to change the oil just 9 or ten times. And if you just go ahead and change it every 4,000 miles, then you'll have a total of about 16 times. So the range is going to be 9 to 16 oil changes during your ownership of the car. So what's that cost you if you pay for it when you have it done, instead of up front?

Well, one Cincinnati car dealers says it's $20 to $25 (with a "free" car wash thrown in) - and it's not the Chevy dealer who ripped off the client whose paperwork we're looking at here - and there's lots of other places where the cost will run from $18 on up.

If you get your oil changed just 9 times, that's gonna cost you $225. If you get it changed 16 times, that'll cost you $400. And that "lifetime oil change" deal? Well, that car dealer charged $624.

So, you see, it's kind of like the car dealer saying "I'll gladly let you pay me today for a hamburger I'll give you next Tuesday" or - actually - in about 3 months. It's like free money to the car dealer.

When you go car shopping, just remember. Buying the car is the easy part. Getting out of the finance office financially alive, though, that's the hard part. Don't put up with getting ripped off. Read everything carefully before you sign anything. Scratch out or cross out anything you don't like. Don't buy stuff you don't need and stuff that is of no real value. And think real hard before you buy any of it.

Burdge Law Office
Helping consumers protect themselves, everyday.