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Save hundreds on auto maintenance Watch for rip-offs that make you pay extra for auto service
Illustration of mechanics with wrenches and different sized dollar signs
Illustration by Dan Page

When budgets get tight, many people are tempted to cut back on regular car maintenance. But that can lead to serious repair problems and even larger bills down the road. We've found that you can save a lot of money on maintenance simply by shopping around.

We called dozens of dealers and repair shops throughout the country to get quotes for regular maintenance service on three popular models. Here's what we found:

  • Think all dealers charge the same price? Think again. When we asked for the cost of a 60,000-mile checkup for a 2004 Ford Explorer, for example, prices varied by as much as $252, even among Ford dealers in the same general area.
  • Dealers often wanted to charge for extra work that the automaker doesn't require. We discovered that when we compared the service items included in quotes with the maintenance lists in the owner's manuals.
  • Check out independent shops, too. Quotes from independents that included all the items in the manual were sometimes $150 below the cheapest dealer.

Dialing for dollars

The maintenance schedule in your car's owner's manual is the automaker's prescription for keeping the vehicle in good operating condition. Those regular checkups should be performed at the proper mileage intervals. But although the automaker sets the schedule, individual dealerships set their own prices.

We called 27 dealers in the Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York metro areas and asked, as a typical owner would, their price for a specific scheduled-maintenance interval and what service items they included. In each city, we chose dealers that were in relatively close proximity.

We asked for the 30,000-mile maintenance service for a 2005 Toyota Camry, the 60,000-mile service for a 2004 Ford Explorer, or the 120,000-mile service for a 2003 Honda Civic.

For the Camry's 30,000-mile service, we were quoted $187 at one Chicago-are Toyota dealership but $388 and $400 at two others. In Los Angeles, quotes ranged from $273 to $389.

Similarly, for the Explorer's 60,000-mile service, we were quoted prices of $400, $499, and $589 by different Ford dealerships in the New York City metro area. In Los Angeles, the same service drew quotes ranging from $338 to $590. For the Civic's 120,000-mile service, we received quotes ranging from $392 to $560 in the Chicago area.

It's a good idea to shop around. Also keep an eye out for maintenance specials. Several dealers were offering special prices for a limited time, which could carve more than $150 off the regular price.

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