Even though our minivan was only 6,000 miles late for its routine oil change, Heather unreasonably demanded that I get it changed before she left to visit my sister in Virginia.
Had she read my self-authored car care manual entitled, “How to Kill a Car in 90 Days,” she would have noticed with great relief that oil changes are optional.
Sure, she may need to add a few quarts if she see plumes of acrid smoke in the rearview mirror or picks up the scent of burnt engine parts seeping through the air conditioning vents, but paying for oil changes is a sucker’s game. Why pay someone to drain usable oil only to watch them turn around and put usable oil right back in? It’s absurd!
Oil burns off as you drive. The more oil you burn, the less you have. Kind of like when you pull into a bay at Hyperspeed Oil Change. The more oil they drain, the less you have. Regardless of the method, you eventually won’t have any, right? So all I’m saying is why pay to expedite oil loss? When it’s critically low or empty, just toss a few quarts down the engine’s gullet and get back on the road.
For those who know less about cars than I do, which would actually be quite frightening, you’ll know you’re a tad low if you notice any one of the following indicators. Should you experience all three at the same time, it’s best to gather your belongings and report an imminent vehicle fire to 911.
1. You have a Spy Hunter smoke screen emanating from your tailpipe
2. Your car’s interior smells a lot like your engine’s interior
3. The genie lamp icon is illuminated on your dashboard
One of the reasons I hate getting my car’s oil changed is because I know I’m going to have to endure a barrage of upsells from some grease monkey dressed in pit crew overalls. For those hoping to one day become a grease monkey in pit crew overalls, allow me to provide you with all the education you’ll ever need to quickly climb up the Quickie Lube ladder.
1. Escort the customer to the waiting room where other unsuspecting rubes are gathered. It’s easier to pick off prey if you keep them huddled together.
2. While the oil change is taking place by someone far more qualified, open the hood and try to locate any visible signs of dust or debris. Make note of any dried leaves as they provide an upsell bonanza.
3. Remove the $8 car filter and set it on top of the engine.
4. Open the door to the waiting room and call out the car owner’s name as though their loved one only has minutes to live.
5. Escort them to the opened hood and rub your hands over an oil rag to give the impression you just finished dismantling and reassembling their engine prior to the consultation.
6. Randomly point out failing engine parts while blending fancy words like ‘manifold’, ‘differential’, ‘plug valve’, and ‘gasket’ with alarming words such as ‘failure’, ‘degrades’, ‘weakens’, and ‘cataclysmic explosion’.
7. Express that all imminent automotive ills can be healed with a 6-minute “flush of the (insert car part here)” for only $69.99.
8. Repeat Step 7 until every service offered by the shop has been exhausted or the car has been completely rebuilt (whichever comes last).
9. Show the customer the extracted air filter and point out the importance of having a clean one. Withhold the fact that these filters could have the black lung and still function properly.
10. Tally all elected upgrades and send the customer who intended to pay $19.99 back home with an array of unnecessary flushes and insurmountable credit card debt.
I’ve found that this is the protocol followed by almost every oil change place I’ve ever visited. But today’s stop at Valvoline Instant Oil Change showed me just how far these other places have to go when it comes to clubbing a customer into submission. From the moment the garage bay doors closed behind me, it was a constant game of deflection as the upsells rained upon me from every direction.
After they guided me over the cavernous hole in the floor, I opened my car door expecting to sit in the waiting room until it was my turn to overpay for fabricated solutions. Instead, I was told to just stay in my car because they’d be done in 12 minutes. I was pleasantly surprised. Not only could I sit in peace with the window rolled up but I could take the opportunity to catch up on some emails.
All expectations were shattered when the knock came on the window seconds later. From there, it was a dizzying full-court press.
What seemed the most odd to me is that everyone in the place either drove a Town & Country or knew someone close to them who drove a Town & Country. I think this was to make me believe they were experts, but all it really communicated to me was that we were one big collective group of goobers.
To kick off the upsell circus, I was offered a synthetic oil specifically designed for those who “intend on keeping their cars in tip top shape.” The cost was $60 more than the standard oil but well worth it because, and I quote, “these vans get thirsty…they love themselves some oil, boy.”
When I declined the offer to pay $90 for an oil change I was told that I could “settle somewhere in the middle” and have a little less protection for only $30 more than standard oil. An offer I also declined considering it was 200% what I expected to pay.
Finally, he pointed to the oil can wayyyyyyyy down here and inferred that if I hated my vehicle and wanted to sentence it to a slow painful death, I could go with the advertised $29.99 Crap-ass Oil special. I chose the crap-ass oil. I was already there under protest so the last thing I wanted to do was grab my ankles over an oil change.
As they filled my car with ghetto oil, a technician tried to coax me into a power steering flush, radiator flush, transmission flush, brake fluid replacement, new spark plugs, new windshield wipers, a new air filter, and a fuel injection cleaning. All through veiled accusations of neglect.
When I declined everything he replied with a baffled, “Hmm. Well, okay…” as though I had just informed him that I’d like to be injected with the Bubonic plague.
Just then, a frantic technician named Doug walked up to the passenger side and knocked while motioning for me to roll down the window. He was out of breath and almost appeared frightened…as though he’d just seen a carbon-clogged flippity valve.
Turns out, he did see a carbon-clogged flippity valve, and he couldn’t wait to show me. He invited me to join him under the hood and when I declined saying I was just there for an oil change, he got this Puss ‘n Boots look on his face and said, “But I already got my flashlight out. It’ll only take a second.”
As I exited the van and walked to the engine, I tried to exhibit car expert swagger. I have no idea how car experts swagger, or if they even swagger at all, but I wanted these people to think I knew all there was to know about cars so they’d leave me alone.
It didn’t work.
And how could it? These people know full well that if I did know all there was to know about cars, I certainly wouldn’t be standing there trapped at Valvoline. I’d be in my own driveway listening to Great White changing my own oil. It’s absolutely impossible to feign knowledge when you’re seeking service from those who are salesmen first and auto mechanics second. I felt like I was stuck in a cheesy infomercial.
Doug pointed his flashlight into some valve and asked if I could see the darkened ring around the flapper. He explained that the carbon build up was causing my gas pedal to stick even if I didn’t know it. He went on to explain that this tinged valve was also costing me 2-3 miles per gallon in fuel efficiency, restricting air flow to the dynaflow transmogrinator, and putting the van at risk for sudden plasmic disintegration.
But wait! For only $69.99 (they LOVE this price), the flippity valve dealio could be flushed and fixed, ensuring 12,000 miles of carbon-free pleasure driving. He said that when his wife did it to her Town & Country minivan, she noticed an immediate gain of 2 miles per gallon.
It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t fun, but I did manage to only pay the advertised price. Unlike the poor guy with the Ford Ranger who was being picked apart in the bay next to me. Before I left he’d already opted for a few detox flushes and even agreed to consider the flipper-flapper adjustment. With a 5:1 ratio of vultures to customer, it wasn’t a fair fight.
Then again, I suppose they knew what was best for him. After all, they did all drive Ford Rangers.