Slick as Oil

by Telling Dad on March 1, 2012

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

Rub your dashboard vigorously if you see this. Lucky you!

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.

Whatever.

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.

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{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

Michelle March 1, 2012 at 6:13 am

If it makes you feel any better, I know how to change the oil in cars (my dad made me learn way back when cars were first invented) but I would rather pay someone to do it. And if you think getting upsells for you are bad, imagine being a woman (who they always assume know even less than nothing about cars).

I lol’d at the genie lamp bit. That was very funny.

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MrsTellingDad March 1, 2012 at 6:34 am

I see that I do NOT have new wiper blades. “If you really cared about” the precious cargo your Town&Country is carrying, you would have changed my wiper blades. I hope the salesman is wrong, and that we make it safe in all this rain. But on a positive note my engine got the “Crap-ass oil”….now I know you love me. :) But I know how much you loathe salesmen, and car talk, so thank you. I love you!!!

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Ali March 1, 2012 at 6:55 am

Those oil change places are the WORST. I think those “technicians” all take soap opera acting classes. I love how they make up nonexistent problems with your car. They really shouldn’t be allowed to constantly screw over and harass people like that. I’m so lucky my husband does warranty for a dealership and gets that stuff done at work. He’s lucky he can just use a lift and change the oil himself. He can fix pretty much anything on the car, but one time we were in a hurry and it was snowing (apartment, no garage…) and his car needed an oil change. We went to one of those awful places and they tried to convince him that if he didn’t get a radiator flush, the cold weather was going to immediately seize the engine. He was shaking his head in pity when we declined. It’s comical, but it makes me kind of angry too. Those oil places are also famous for forgetting to put the cap back on your oil pan because none of those clowns actually know anything about cars. Ugh. Sorry, that was ridiculously long.

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Karen March 1, 2012 at 7:02 am

You can do like me, and never get your oil changed! Or just lie under the car, put an oil pan underneath, take off the cap-thingy, let it drain, put the cap thingy back on and fill-er-up! Voila!

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erin March 1, 2012 at 7:29 am

We are lucky here in Martinsburg, WV to have an awesome place who will not only change your oil (it runs a bit pricy at $35), but they check and fill all your fluids, check it for mechanical probs HONESTLY, and even give u Dairy Queen tokens. No up selling, extras, anything unless u ask. Oh, and you don’t have to leave the car!!! Although we did discover the one worker had been obsessed with my sister in law (who is happily married with four kids and not to this guy) since elementary school. She is 29…

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Milo March 1, 2012 at 7:34 am

I never knew about the little genie who lived in the dashboard…live and learn I guess.

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dgm March 1, 2012 at 7:35 am

Whenever I need a quick oil change I’ll go to one of those quick-change places. The upselling is horrific, even worse than the upselling at a nail salon (“Eyebrows? You want eyebrows done?” No! Least of all by some lady who has to draw her own eyebrows on.) For every danger they point out I just nod and say, “I’ll have my mechanic look at it.”

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WilyGuy March 1, 2012 at 7:46 am

At least you got to sit in your car where you could hear and possibly feel the file being taken to all the belts and chains and flipetty-flopetty valves under the hood. I always envision that happening.

I always try to limit the services a shop offers by limiting the shops. I used to get Oil Changes at Walmart since they offered little else.

Now, I try to fake that I’m deaf so they can’t really talk to me. Tough to pull off unless you can give the “vibrations made me turn my head” or “I like the way the car shakes when the radio is on.”

I’ve also worked the “Well, I could do that or I could feed the kids this month” but they often turn that into the “you know your car is unsafe to drive with kids in it because your wipers are not making that safe squeek sound.”

Lastly, I’ve found that Oil, a Filter, and a bottle of Jack for the Car guy neighbor works most of the time and when he says “your valve is stuck” more than likely some sort of STP or other additive will fix it and he’ll tell you that.

WG

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Bullgrit March 1, 2012 at 8:06 am

As attentive as my dad was to always checking the oil, (of any and every car), this post would make him apoplectic.

And +1 for the Spy Hunter reference :-)

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awesomesauciness March 1, 2012 at 8:37 am

Try going to one of those places if you are female.

Screw equality, the vultures just see naive prey.

It helps if you are either a) car knowledgeable (I am a little) or b) a royal bitch (I am when necessary).

I go to the same place every time and yet every time I have to switch to option b after the first 5-10 minutes. They recently added a new one, too. Windshield repair. That little chip? Ohmygawd!! Why ignore it and you will be driving down the road one hot summer day and your windshield will explode in a million shards of death-inducing glass, you will be sucked out of the driver seat, land on the pavement and be run over by your own car! Riiiiiiiiiight…um..no thanks, besides it’s already been repaired.

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Audra March 1, 2012 at 9:45 am

Oh, man. I’ve spent years trying to disprove this myth (that all mechanics are shady), but it’s people like this that just kill me. We’re not all bad!!! I come from a long line of mechanics. My dad taught me to change my oil at the age of 15, and at 16 I was replacing the transfer case on my Ford Explorer. He wanted to make sure that I knew enough about my car not to get bamboozled. After that, I worked at auto parts stores and eventually a few dealerships in my city. I still know plenty about my cars but choose not to work on them cause I’m a girly girl and I don’t want to ruin my manicure.

Anyway, moral of the story is: I never worked any place very long that wasn’t reputable and honest with their customers, so I assure you that there are goods ones out there. I certainly don’t trust Grease Monkey, Jiffy Lude, etc. Find yourself a reputable, local auto shop and get to know them. You’re harder to screw over when you have a relationship with the peeps working on your car :)

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Telling Dad March 1, 2012 at 9:51 am

I have NO problem with mechanics. I come from a long line of inept car owners so I know they’re value. I just have a problem with these slick “quickie” oil change places that treat customers like neglectful mindless morons driving death traps if they don’t “flush” something.

Bubbe March 1, 2012 at 11:10 am

We were so blessed where we used to live. Our “quickie” oil change place was awesome. Hubs knows a thing or three about cars but neither of us is inclined to change the oil when we’d have to crawl under the vehicles on a dirt and gravel driveway. I agree, if you have some knowledge about your car it helps. And if you have a relationship with the folks running the place, that helps even more. Of course I imagine there’s high turnover at a lot of those quickie places, but we saw the same guys there every time we went. That in itself was a positive to us. Hope the Mrs. has a safe trip!

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Aimee March 1, 2012 at 1:40 pm

I am so with you on this one… I always wait forever and ever for the exact same reasons you have listed above. There was one service station who did not do this to me, in fact told me that my air filter looked fine and did not need to be changed until the next oil change, but they would be happy to install the one I had sitting on my front seat in a WalMart bag if I wanted them to. But sadly this wonderful little placed closed down so another bank could be built there. So now back to the drawing board.

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Holly from 300 Pounds Down March 1, 2012 at 3:54 pm

Well i’m kind of irritated that I’m just now reading this because I have just arrived home from having my oil changed. Actually I took my car in on Tuesday to get the oil changed at the dealer. I’m thinking that may have been a mistake. They said it wouldn’t take long so I sat down and watched HGTV in the waiting area. 2 hours later they still weren’t done and told me that my brake pads were totally stripped front and back. That it was virtually amazing I had made it here without killing myself on the road because at any moment in time they would go out. I have enough anxiety without that. I waited another hour before catching a cab home. And it took them until today to finish my car. I went in for an oil change and came out with a 680 dollar bill for all new brake pads and a 30,000 mile maintenance I’d been putting off. It’s no big deal though . The kids ate last month so they should be good for awhile…

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David March 1, 2012 at 4:00 pm

Haha. I agree, you get major points for the spyhunter reference. Really though, the smokescreen is vital to your winning at Traffic. (Assuming that “winning” is based on leaving the most accidents in your wake, per outing.)

There are two things no one expects. Obviously the first one is the Spanish Inquisition, but the second, slightly less well known event is to be suddenly enveloped in a thick, dank fog while driving down the interstate at 75mph.

Oh well. I guess you’ll have to find some other way to entertain yourself while driving.

Might I recommend reading a book? Or perhaps painting your three year old’s nails?

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Rebecca March 1, 2012 at 4:25 pm

It’s worse when you have boobs, believe me. Thank goodness I know enough about cars to make them feel stupid when they try to sell me a flopsywad valve or whatever.

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Jessica March 1, 2012 at 5:06 pm

My hubby prides himself on his car knowledge and is religous about doing his own oil changes. The one time I convinced him to go to a dealership to have the oil done “Professionally, in order to preserve our warranty on our New Car!” the technician managed to cross thread the oil filter, causing all of the oil to pour out onto the highway and our new car to run several miles without oil.

Needless to say he’s never gone again and I let him have his afternoon under the car.

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Valerie March 1, 2012 at 9:11 pm

I absolutely despise getting oil changes. I always try to make my husband go, because if you think its bad now, try having a vagina. Apparently, my vagina doesn’t know crap about anything… so lets try to sell it another gosh darn oil filter. Because the one I bought last time is somehow dirty. ITS CALLED LIVING IN JERSEY!!! If the air is THAT dirty here, screw the stupid air filter… I’m getting a gas mask and a spear. I’m not really sure why the spear… but it would look pretty darn cool…

:o)

Valerie

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the diva March 1, 2012 at 10:12 pm

Previous comments gave you bonus points for the Spy Hunter reference, but I would like to give you bonus points for “in my own driveway, listening to Great White!” I love some awesome 80′s hair bands! lol

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Cheryl March 2, 2012 at 12:58 pm

First of all – David, love your MP reference!!!

Second, just took my car in for an oil change, to the dealership where I bought it. And when I say “I” bought it, I really mean it. When we went to look at cars a couple of years ago, at the first dealership, I said I was the one buying the car. Salesman looks at my husband to confirm this. I said “Nope, not the way things are done” and we left. Went to second dealership, and again said I was looking for a car. As far as that salesman was concerned, my husband was invisible that day. I loved him for that. For some reason, everyone at that dealership seems to know that the car belongs to me, and to talk to ME about it, even when my 6’2″ husband is standing right there. They are very nice to us, and don’t try the “flippity valve” conversations at all. That is why I keep going back there for the oil changes and servicing that it needs doing. But I also know …………..at the small oil change places – all bets are off.

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Sheila March 2, 2012 at 1:45 pm

When the salesperson wants to sell me something other than an oil change, I say “sure if you want to do it for free go right ahead, I have enough money on me for the oil change only”. that shut the last one up pretty quick. Its also been a while since I’ve had an oil change because of ALL the reasons you gave above, sigh. I’m gonna have to go with Karen on this one “never get your oil changed! Or just lie under the car, put an oil pan underneath, take off the cap-thingy, let it drain, put the cap thingy back on and fill-er-up! Voila!”

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Heather March 2, 2012 at 2:33 pm

I assure this is what my husband would go through every time, so now I take the car for its oil change and feign the stupid wife. “I can’t possibly make that decision without my husband.” So I leave with a check list and a promise that I will let my husband know as soon as he gets home. Works everytime. No upsell drama at all.

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Caroline March 9, 2012 at 5:42 pm

Ditto! I’m sure my quick change guys think my husband is some giant ogre because I always fein a panicked look and say “oh my god, my husband would go nuts if I spent that on my car…I’ll have to talk to him about it”. :D

Britt W March 2, 2012 at 3:19 pm

This should make you feel better. We aren’t “car dumb” We’re smart, and didn’t even know it!!
http://www.cracked.com/article_19704_6-car-myths-that-cost-you-money-every-year.html

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Deborah March 2, 2012 at 3:29 pm

you’re making me really glad that my husband insists on changing the oil in both our cars himself. these places always sell harder to women, and i don’t miss it one bit!

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Karla March 2, 2012 at 5:38 pm

For all these reasons, I am SO grateful to my dad for teaching me not only how to change my oil, but the the tires, windshield wipers, distributor cap, head gasket, and spark plugs. My husband usually does oil changes now (because we have a gravel driveway and no garage), but if I do take it somewhere I’m glad I know I won’t be duped.

It’s funny, I don’t think he taught my younger brother the same lessons.

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Emily Drevets March 3, 2012 at 6:22 am

we are defenseless…helpless…who can we run to? Who will save us? God forbid I actually learn something about cars.

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Julia Stuarts March 3, 2012 at 7:32 am

This is a nice post. I actually know less about cars, so this is going to be very very helpful for me.
I now know about safety and other stuffs better.

Thanks.

-Julia

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Stephanie March 3, 2012 at 4:51 pm

Although I find this humorous, please don’t lose hope that there are some (and I use the term loosely) honest garage businesses. My husband manages one. Even he agrees you can stretch out that oil change…. without the fear of an imminent zombie apocalypse. :0)

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Stephanie H March 3, 2012 at 7:23 pm

Ha ha! Puss n’ Boots face. It’s nice to know another family uses that reference.

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Lynellekw March 4, 2012 at 1:08 pm

On a whim I once decided to check my oil before going to Uni. On discovering it was bone dry, I was left with a decision… (a) it’s still driving fine, so should I just head off to my lecture & sort it out later? Or, (b) GOOD LORD HOW LONG HAS THAT BEEN EMPTY I NEED TO FIX THAT NOW? I went with option b, figuring that once you’ve checked it & discovered that it needs oil, you’ve pretty much guaranteed that it will explode if you try to ignore it. I drove very gingerly to the car place down the road and paid whatever they asked. I think they sensed I was pretty much broke & went easy on me. I wasn’t in a position to argue – and the thought of having to explain to my mechanic father that my engine seized up because I let the oil run out but kept driving was VASTLY less comfortable than the living-without-groceries for a little while. I’d rather eat plain pasta for a week than explain THAT to my Dad.

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Melissa B. March 5, 2012 at 3:11 pm

Ugh. I hate when this stuff happens. The thing is, I CAN change my own oil but I lack time, space, and equipment to do so, so I go to these places for convenience and ease. They should be able to just change the d@mn oil and then I get to leave, but no! I have a high performance engine that takes 6 quarts of oil. They continually put in 5, even after I tell them it takes 6. Every time I go out to the parking lot and check the oil level and it is wrong. Then I have to go back in and be a b!tch until people listen to me and then keep being a b!tch until someone fixes it. All the while they are trying to tell me I need all sorts of crap that I know I don’t need. Like, and I quote, “High-beam fluid”. SERIOUSLY?! GAH! Just change the d@mn oil…

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Dan March 6, 2012 at 7:39 am

I really had to laugh reading this for a couple reasons…

1. Spy Hunter.. All I could envision was the smoke screen soon followed by the oil slick….

2. Until you revealed that it was VIOC that you had been repeatedly been clubbed by, I was convinced that you had gone to Monro Muffler.. I am an ex-store manager for them and you would be more than aghast at the stuff they wanted us to do to the poor unsuspecting customers that walked through our doors. I remember vividly a Chevy Avalanche that came in needing nothing more than brake pads, ($200 at worst for such a big vehicle, it was the heavier duty one,) and walked out with a $3000 bill that he more than eagerly paid, “because he carried his wife and daughter in the truck all the time.” (Disclaimer: I did not sell the guy. Another manager did, I left the company shortly after seeing this travesty when the DM clapped him on the shoulder and told me I should be more like him.) Good job avoiding the vultures, Greg!

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valmg @ Mom Knows It All March 6, 2012 at 8:20 am

I LOVE this!
It’s true and it’s funny!
I don’t have a magic genie lamp, I’m not sure I’d want to know what would happen if I did and I rubbed it.

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Shan @ Last Shreds Of Sanity March 6, 2012 at 4:02 pm

The oil jockeys in those places get commission for everything they screw sell you. Or do they get more gruel and less lashings?

I forget.

Years ago, I took my car to Goodyear for an oil change and something else. I asked the guy if he could take a look at my headlights, tell me any reason one was dimmer than the other and how much to fix it. About an hour after I left, the “mechanic” called me to say he had discovered the low headlight problem and could fix it for $250. I asked him what the actual issue was and he would not tell me. I politely declined the 2 and 1/2 bill upsell and asked him to just do the oil change. He became rather indignant, telling me how he had everything already taken apart, etc. I declined again. When I came to pick up my vehicle a few hours later, I paid my bill and began for home.

Only every time I came to a stop or near stop, my car died. It had been working just fine before I pulled in to Goodyear. I limped to a family friend’s house nearby. He took a look under the hood and found that nearly ALL of my vacuum hoses had been disconnected, thereby rendering my car nearly undriveable.

I think this oil jockey thought I was some stupid woman. Boy was he wrong! My father taught me how to rebuild a carburetor when I was all of seven years old. He also used that opportunity to teach me the finer points of hot wiring a car, just in case I ever needed this knowledge. I was his baby girl, after all.

I know how to change spark plugs, wires, a thermostat, replace break pads and yes, even change oil. Skills that are useful in a pinch, however, I much prefer to either pay someone else to do these things for me or direct my husband on how to accomplish these tasks.

My lesson? A) NEVER go to Goodyear for ANYTHING (or Valvoline, apparently). They are still employing these practices today. A friend of mine had a similar experience two months ago. B) Pay your trusted mechanic to do your oil changes if you can’t do them yourself. It may cost a bit more, but he won’t sell you useless crap or try sneaky ways to get you to come back grovelling for his help.

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Trish March 7, 2012 at 10:42 pm

I HATE having my oil changed at those places. My husband or I usually do it, but last time had a place do it because we had just moved and couldn’t find anything we needed for it. They, of course, offered all the stupid flushes that weren’t needed then screwed up the bolt in the oil pan. They tightened it too tight, to the point that it was stripped and my husband couldn’t get it off no matter how hard he tried. So…now we have to get it changed at one of those stupid places again, ugh.

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vickie vaughan April 21, 2012 at 7:48 pm

This is the one that got you in trouble, wasn’t it?

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