Companies Make Big Money Off People Who Don’t Pay Attention

You hear a lot of people moaning that the rich get rich on the backs of the poor. A more plausible source of riches comes from people who don’t pay attention. This is a frequent warning I give to students, especially when talking about banking and ATM machines. (A couple years ago, I learned that companies like McDonalds pay employees with prepaid debit cards if they don’t have bank accounts for direct deposit, and I was shocked to learn that kids were paying $4 fees to cash $20 paychecks.)

Today I added several more data points to support the “riches from the ignorant” hypothesis. I had my car serviced; just an oil and filter change and tire rotation. (Yes, I can do it myself, but I had a coupon that got it all done for under $30, with tax.) The service scammer (she claimed “advisor”) told me the technician recommended several things: a fuel injector cleaning, a coolant flush, a brake fluid flush, and a wheel alignment “because you have some feathering on the outside of the front tires.” The total bill would be $670. Surprisingly, they didn’t recommend an engine air filter change since the manufacturer’s recommended service calls for it at my mileage.

It was easy to spot the scam and decline all the services because I’m familiar with the manufacturer’s service schedule, which I always review before doing anything to the car. The manufacturer recommended interval for a coolant flush is 6 years or 120K miles, but it’s a very high profit service with low materials cost and very little required labor, so dealers push it as often as they can, especially at the change of seasons to “winterize” or “prepare for summer heat.”

The fuel injector service is also a scam because the service manual does not mention a requirement for such a service… ever… at any mileage. Other dealers offer an “induction system cleaning” which basically means cleaning all the plumbing from the intake up to the cylinders… yes, plumbing that’s kept clean by an engine air filter (and up to the air filter is supposed to be cleaned when the filter is replaced). If it’s not in the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance, don’t pay someone to do it.

The alignment claim could be legitimate, if you haven’t already identified a scammer. In my case, I had just had the front suspension bushings replaced under warranty so an alignment had been done less than 5K miles before. Also, I knew I was getting close on my tires so I looked at them carefully before dropping the car off. The wear on each tire was perfectly even.

At a previous visit to this same dealership, the service scammer brought me a dirty engine air filter and suggested I replace it. I thought it odd that my filter could be that dirty because I only had 15K miles at the time and the manual calls for replacements every 35K miles. As usual, I declined. When I got home, I popped the hood and looked at my filter. It was spotless, and it wasn’t even the same size as the one the scammer showed me.

Dealerships aren’t the only scammers out there. On the way back, I stopped for gas and the pump defaulted to premium even though I pushed the button for regular. I’ve seen that happen at this particular gas station before and I wonder how many people don’t notice and pay the extra $5+ for a fill up (figuring $0.50/gal and 10 gal of gas).

 This isn’t exactly a new idea. The phrase “a fool and his money are soon parted” dates back to 1587 (Dr. John bridge, Defence of the Government of the Church of England). This is your reminder to not be a fool with your money.

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