To keep your ride in good shape, you should follow your automaker's maintenance schedule. And if you have a newer car, failing to perform oil changes and other critical tasks can void your warranty. Unfortunately, the staff at nonprofit Twin Cities Consumers' Checkbook discovered that many shops charge astonishingly high prices for simple maintenance tasks, and some shops drove up costs by proposing unneeded work.
Checkbook's undercover shoppers called shops in seven major metro regions, including the Twin Cities area, and asked: How much would they charge to perform Toyota's recommended 30,000-mile/36-month maintenance on a 2020 four-cylinder Camry LE? They collected prices from 229 Toyota dealerships, independents, and quick-lube outfits.
The results were staggering. If the Camry had been driven under normal operating conditions, Toyota's recommendations called for a checklist of inspections plus four simple tasks: Change the oil; replace the oil filter; replace the cabin filter; and rotate tires. Yet some shops — 29 out of 229 surveyed — quoted $400 or more to do that work; six said they would charge more than $1,000; two Toyota dealerships quoted more than $1,400.
Checkbook's researchers quickly learned that requesting prices for a "30,000-mile maintenance" session often meant higher costs than if they asked shops to quote costs to do only the four specific tasks recommended by Toyota, plus an inspection.
Some shops wouldn't provide package prices. Some said they would check the vehicle and perform Toyota's recommended tasks only if they were truly needed. Others didn't know what work Toyota recommended and didn't seem interested in looking it up. But some shops explained that the recommended maintenance included only a few services, and they priced the work piecemeal. Shops with a la carte prices often quoted significantly lower costs than the shops that provided package pricing.
That raised an interesting question: What would happen if researchers called back shops that quoted package pricing and simply asked for their prices for doing the four recommended items, plus a comprehensive inspection? After waiting a few weeks, that's what they did. The results were striking.
While many shops' prices were about the same or, surprisingly, even higher, about 40 percent quoted prices substantially lower than what they originally quoted when Checkbook asked for a maintenance package.
Checkbook's researchers asked shops to quote prices just to change the oil, replace air filters, and rotate tires, they found most shops would do most of the checks Toyota recommends for free. Often, Checkbook's shoppers didn't even have to ask them to inspect the car; this was part of their usual oil change service.
Many of the higher-priced shops wanted to charge for maintenance that went far beyond Toyota's recommendations for 30,000-mile service.
One Toyota dealer said its $627 package included $176 to change the Camry's brake fluid and $233 to clean the fuel injectors; neither is recommended by the manufacturer.
Many late-models need oil changes only every 5,000 or 10,000 miles. For the sample 2020 Camry, at 60,000 miles Toyota recommends doing only the same handful of tasks as it did at 30,000 miles; at 120,000 miles, it recommends the same four tasks and adds spark plug replacement.
Have an all-electric vehicle or thinking about buying one? EVs have no oil to change, no spark plugs, fewer fluids to top off, and batteries needing very little service.
To help you get started, Checkbook is offering Star Tribune readers free access to its ratings of local auto repair shops until Nov. 5 at Checkbook.org/StarTribune/auto-repair. Before collecting price quotes, look up the maintenance your vehicle's manufacturer recommends based on your vehicle's age and mileage.
More than 100 of the shops Checkbook surveyed quoted at least $100 to replace the Camry's cabin and engine air filters. Checkbook's shoppers found the filters online for a combined total of less than $25. Most drivers can do those tasks without tools in 15 minutes or less.
Twin Cities Consumers' Checkbook magazine and Checkbook.org is a nonprofit organization with a mission to help consumers get the best service and lowest prices.