Ed Albanesi: How to save some cash

Air filter (photo by Ed Albanesi)

Air filter (photo by Ed Albanesi)

By Ed Albanesi

Reading this column may save you $33. At the very least it will probably save you $13.

Everyone who owns a car has to get his or her oil changed. Well, maybe you don’t have to, but not doing so will probably reap unpleasant “rewards” somewhere down the line.

Often I get the oil in my cars changed at the big box store most of us view as a necessary evil. I do this because I bought my tires there and figure I might as well get my oil changed when it’s time for a free rotation and balance. Usually the whole process takes 1-2 hours. During the wait I aimlessly roam around the store looking at stuff. Rarely do I buy anything.

The folks at the big box store are not overly concerned with customers’ time, and customer service doesn’t seem to be one of the specialties listed on the certificates of personnel posted in the auto checkout area.

I won’t dwell on this but I will say that this failing often means it could take half a day to get your oil changed and tires rotated and balanced there. When I anticipate this happening I usually opt to get my oil changed elsewhere.

Enter the quick-service oil change joints. Often you can get a $10 coupon that will allow you to get your oil changed there for about half what the big box store charges. Pretty hard to believe, isn’t it? And if you’re female you can get your oil changed at a special price on Wednesdays that is still pretty good. How do they stay in business? Quite simply, upselling is their game.

While your oil is being changed they will visit with you in the customer waiting area and show you a dirty air filter. In years past it was usually the round air filter that surrounded the carburetor. Today most cars use fuel injection systems, negating the need for this filter.

Not to worry, later model cars have something called a cabin air filter, which works just as well for quick-change oil change folks.

A few months ago I was presented with one such filter when getting the oil in my wife’s car changed. The technician told me it was dirty and needed replacement. However today was my lucky day because he had the right one in stock and he’d sell it to me for $20 off the regular price of $49.99.

I asked him how much the filter would cost if I went to the big box store and he said that he had never priced them there but they usually cost $25-$30 at the auto parts stores. That was close enough for me so I gave the go-ahead for the filter to be replaced. I joked with him that I had better not later find out that the filters generally cost much less than that.

That same day I researched the subject and found out that they did. Several auto parts stores offered the same filter for about $17.

I called and spoke to the manager of the quick-change oil place. First he said the price included installation, which I told him was ridiculous because his technicians had to reinstall my old filter if I didn’t purchase a new one.

After a few minutes of back-and-forth, the manager agreed to refund me $13. I was tempted to bring up the outrageous $3 shop charge supposed to cover rags and a squirt from a spray can of lubricant but I saved that argument for another day.

Then, a few weeks ago, I went to another quick-change oil place and had my own car serviced. Sure enough, the technician showed me the cabin air filter and said he had the replacement in stock for $49.99. I smiled at him and declined. He then noted that my vehicle (with 74,000 on the odometer) required synthetic oil or the warranty could be voided. I told him I had always used regular oil when having it changed.

He then had me sign the receipt noting that warranties were voided because he installed regular oil. I didn’t ask him whether his business would pay for engine replacement if mine “blew up” and I had agreed to the installation of synthetic oil, which is quite a bit more expensive. Somehow I don’t think so.

I left the quick-change oil place and drove a ½ mile down the road to an auto parts store (across the street from the big box store) and purchased a high-quality cabin air filter for $16.49. It took me about 10 minutes to install, including the time to look up the procedure in my car manual.

Happy lubricating!

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