3 min read

Just because I haven’t had enough fun with cars in the past couple of weeks, I went to get an oil change yesterday.

I’ve mostly gone to the same place since owning my Ford – a local dealership. They have a rewards program and it’s a short enough drive.

What I’ve noticed is they always run a coupon for a specific type of oil change called “The Works” Package. It’s only marginally more expensive than a traditional oil change, but it comes with a “fuel top off,” tire rotation, battery check, and some other miscellaneous system checks.

When I bring in a coupon for The Works Package, I feel like I’m getting a deal. All that for just a few dollars more than an oil change with the coupon? Sign me up!

So what I’ve done is purchase permission for them to do an exhaustive cataloguing of all the aspects of my vehicle that are not in excellent condition – and felt good about doing it.

And every visit, while my car is still on the lift and I’m in the waiting area, they’ll come over to me with an exhaustive worksheet detailing every aspect of my car and it’s current condition.

Well your transmission fluid is getting a little dark – that’ll cost you $199 to flush.

We noticed that your fog light is out – that’s just $40 to replace.

Your filter is OK, but it’ll need replaced before your next oil change – we can do that for just $19.95.

Your wiper blades are a little streaky – those are just $12 each.

Your wheels are near failing alignment – we can fix that for just $99.

Do you want us to go ahead and fix all of this?

What brilliant sales jiu-jitsu.

My $40 oil change just shot up to nearly $450 on the spot. They’ve made perfectly clear what they judge to be not up to par, and given me the solution to fix it.

My car is up on the blocks, I’m right in front of the technician himself creating tension of, “There are some flaws with the piece of machinery that hurdles you down the highway at 70 mph. Do you want me to fix it?”

Not only is he creating the tension, knowing with confidence that I’m in over my head, but he’s giving me an easy out to get rid of that tension. All I have to do is say, “yes.”

And remember: I asked for this. I asked for The Works.

Some quick disclaimers: not all auto mechanics are trying to scam you. I don’t think this was even a scam so much as an upsell in the guise of urgency. And, there are certainly mechanical failure that turn out of these checks that can be life saving.

But I wanted to point out the brilliant marketing in the front end of this strategy.

Here’s where I think it fails: under no circumstances did I expect to pay $450 on this visit. I felt ambushed, embarrassed in my own knowledge, and sort of taken advantage of.

After telling him I’d take the wipers and air filter (two things I was aware were near fixing) I did some quick research based on the measurements he gave me, and found the other more expensive problems to be minor at this time.

I paid my bill, having to remind the attendant to check my rewards account and use that balance towards my bill. “Oh, you have $53 here!”

My trust with that vendor took a hit. I had a poor experience. While someone a little less stubborn than me probably would have dropped the additional $350 or maybe not have used the rewards balance, they didn’t make that incremental revenue from me.

But it’s not even about incremental revenue – my lifetime value as a customer will decrease and I will not be an advocate for that business either.

I believe long-term investment in people pays dividends. Short-term gains are just that: short term.

Businesses (and relationships) built on trust win out.