Free Maintenance Programs: Proceed with Caution

BMW maintenance program

“How about we throw in two years of free synthetic oil changes and call it good,” said the sales manager.

I was negotiating for a car about a year ago, and we’d reached a stalemate on price. We were close, within a few hundred bucks, but I was willing to walk if my price wasn’t met.

The sales manger claimed they were down as low as possible and couldn’t budge any further.

The free oil-change offer sealed the deal. I was thinking 3 or 4 oil changes per year, at about $70 each.

Being the type of guy who regularly dispenses auto-buying advice to friends, family and strangers, I should have thought it through. I should have asked questions. But I didn’t, and I fell for one of the newest strategies in selling cars: free maintenance.

The offer of free maintenance on a car sounds like a huge selling point. Buyers envision saving thousands of dollars on oil changes, brake pads, transmission and differential maintenance, and more. In my case, the offer of “two years of free oil changes” translated to two oil changes.

Ouch.

Many automakers now offer programs that include free maintenance for up to 4 years. The problem, though, is that the maintenance required in those first few years rarely adds up to more than $300 or $400 and includes things like tire rotations, visual inspections and, of course, oil changes.

Buyers might be better off passing on the free maintenance offer and negotiating another thousand bucks off the purchase price.

As always, there are exceptions. BMW, for instance, offers a 4-year or 50,000-mile maintenance plan that includes service visits and replacement of wear-and-tear items, such as wiper blades and brake pads and discs. It can even be extended to 100,000 miles on some used cars. That could be enough to sway buyers away from a company like Lexus, which doesn’t offer a comprehensive free maintenance plan.

As you embark on your car shopping journey, use any free maintenance offers as a negotiation tool, and don’t forget to ask questions and make sure you know all the specifics before agreeing to a deal.

Have you purchased a car with a free maintenance program?

-tgriffith

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