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Maintenance FREE Automobiles

Oct 31, 2013

auto maintenance

As a long-time automotive writer I'm familiar with tales of woe from acquaintances and friends about the cost of car repairs. It's maddening -- this culture of inflated costs. And it's everywhere, not just in automotive. Buy a ticket for a concert online and by the time you enter your credit card number the total is 20 percent more than the price of ticket. Label a stalk of celery "organic" and it's price becomes caviar.

Make a slight mistake at your bank or your credit card company and your wallet is lighter by double or triple digits. The New York Times reported recently that some workers are being charged fees just to retrieve their paychecks. That's just wrong. We're being overcharged and fee'd to death.

So it's no surprise you think somethings wrong with your hearing when a car salesman says that if you buy a non-luxury vehicle, the maintenance is free for some number of months or miles. Dealers haven't gone soft on you. But, now that the auto business has picked up, manufacturers and their dealers can focus on the importance of customer retention and loyalty.

We're buying new cars at a rate that hasn't been seen since 2007. Predictions are car buyers will purchase around 16 million cars in the U.S. this year. Even without a housing boom the ever-profitable truck sales are very strong.

When vehicle sales tanked in 2008, dealers were sitting on their lots twiddling their thumbs. Many of them had just invested millions of dollars in new facility upgrades and they weren't moving metal. Dealerships made whatever they could in the shop. Now they're making money selling vehicles.

Manufacturers of mass-market brands are offering free maintenance with the purchase or lease of new cars. General Motors announced that for most of 2014 models Chevrolet, Buick and GMC dealers will complete an oil and filter change, four-wheel tire rotation, and conduct a 27-point vehicle inspection based on what's called for in the vehicle owner's manual maintenance schedule and oil life monitoring system. The program covers up to four service visits in the 24-month period, and is fully transferable to subsequent owners. Customers who have already purchased or leased a 2014 model year vehicle will receive the scheduled maintenance program. It's no skin off the dealers; they still get reimbursed by the manufacturer. And it's good, long term, for business.

"We know that customers who service their vehicles at our dealerships are much more likely to purchase another GM product down the road," GM Chairman and CEO Dan Akerson said. "It's all the more important to bring customers to our service facilities for routine maintenance to further enhance the quality and reliability of their GM vehicles."

That's true. Better to have the dealer change the oil than Jiffy Lube. It's builds loyalty and trust. Kia is offering complimentary scheduled service for three years or 37,500 miles to the new Cadenza that was launched in April. Volkswagen and Toyota have been offering their own free maintenance programs for a few years now.

While maintenance is free, more car buyers are signing up for extended warranties. Part of that has to do with aggressive selling of the product and part of it is that consumers are covering themselves from the culture of overcharging. This is something of a golden age for car ownership. Cars are very good these days. Less goes wrong. And that's good for the consumer.

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