It’s often said “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.” But what about “free maintenance” for automobiles?
One of the more recent car-world trends is manufacturers offering customers so-called “free maintenance” packages. Sounds like a great deal, right? Well, maybe. Debate exists among experts as to whether these programs save consumers money or are just a new-fangled Barnumesque ploy to push cars off dealer lots.
The plans vary by automaker. For example, Audi’s plan offers free maintenance for the first 5,000 miles. Cadillac’s plan is considerable more ambitious, with the freebie treatment extending to 50,000 miles. Scion’s plan covers 25,000 miles or 2 years, whichever comes first. At least 11 other carmakers offer their own version of the “free maintenance” concept.
Still, longevity is only one factor to be considered. The plans vary widely in terms of what services are covered and what’s excluded.
It’s important to realize that a free maintenance program isn’t the same as a car care schedule. That is, it’s not always a clever idea to rely on what the free program covers as a guide to how to map out your vehicle’s maintenance.
For example, MINI’s 36,000-mile/3-year free program seems generous enough, but its coverage raises concerns among auto experts. For example, MINI only covers oil changes every 15,000 miles or once per year. While debate exists over whether its best to change the oil at 3,000 miles or 5,000 miles, few, if any, automotive technicians are comfortable recommending an oil change every 15,000 miles.
That’s when “free” isn’t so, well, free. Case in point: One automotive technician we know who owns a MINI pays for oil changes every 5,000 to 6,000 miles and returns to the dealer once a year for the free oil change provided under the “free” maintenance plan. Not exactly free or terribly efficient.
This MINI plan also doesn’t cover tire rotations—essential for safety and obtaining the full life out of a set of tires. Again, if a driver were to rely on the “free maintenance” plan to guide maintenance decisions, that motorist would eventually be driving on a lumpy set of tires.
In fairness, the plan does include free brake pads, rotors and wiper blades. That’s not a bad deal for those drivers who will need new brakes in the first 36,000 miles.
It boils down to: Do your research. Understand the limitations of a particular automaker’s maintenance program. Read the owner’s manual, and learn what is recommended vs. what is covered under your maintenance plan. Of course, at Star Auto Authority, we’re happy to offer truly free advice about your maintenance needs. Then you can make an educated decision on whether a “free maintenance” program is truly a free ride or merely a ploy to take you for a ride.
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