Mustang Parts
   Carrying Saleen wheels and Bullitt wheels.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Fluid Flush Scam

A family member took her compact SUV for its 100,000 mile service recently, and the service manager attacked her with the dreaded "fluid flush gauntlet".  He showed her samples of her transmission oil, power steering oil, brake fluid, and coolant, and tried to sell her about $500 worth of fluid flushes.  He also tried to convince her to change out her rear differential fluid, which is rather expensive, because it comes from nearly extinct whales.

This is a scam.  It is pure profit for the shop.

You should not get any fluid changed on your car that is not recommended by the owner's manual, unless you have special circumstances.  More on those below.

She checked her owner's manual, and while the transmission fluid and coolant were recommended, there was no mention of power steering fluid, rear differential, or brake fluid.

And here's why: all three of these systems are sealed.  In the power steering and brake fluid systems, the fluids are primarily hydraulic working fluids, although they do have some lubrication functions.  If the systems are still well sealed, and are working properly, you may not need to touch them for more than 150,000 miles.

Part of the trick is to show you that the fluids are "dirty".  This is scary, but not necessarily meaningful.  I asked a guy I know, who is involved in the design of power steering systems.  He told me that power steering fluid picks up carbon black from the hoses, and that you can't really tell a 5,000 mile fluid from a 50,000 mile fluid based on color.  His professional advice was, "don't touch it unless you are getting noise from the system or hard steering".  And if you don't want to change it, he recommended using a turkey baster to remove as much from the reservoir as you can, replacing the rest with clean fluid.  "The flushes the service places sell are junk!" he said,"A waste of money."

So when should you change your fluids?

If the owner's manual says it is time to do it, or if something is wrong, or clearly contaminated.  If large particles are obvious in your fluid reservoir, or if there is water in the oil, or if the system has failed in some way, or is making strange noises. 


Jason Lancaster said...

Great post - the power steering flush is a classic example of shop "grease" that almost no vehicle needs.

Back when I ran a used car department at a small Ford dealership, one of my used car techs was notorious for recommending a power steering flush on every used car he inspected. For an hour and a half of labor, he'd hook up a machine and press a button, and I'd add about $200 to the cost of my used inventory.

My problem was, if I didn't give this guy a few power steering flushes every month, he wouldn't do a very good job on the inspections. Glad I'm out of that business.

Anonymous said...

Good post, but I have a few comments...First, if you wait until your power steering system or differential gets noisy, it's already too late. That noise you hear is metal grinding and wearing. In the case of differentials, if noise is present, then damage to the gears or bearings has already occurred and changing the fluid most likely will not resolve the noise. There are ways to test the fluids, and if your dealership is basing their recommendations simply on the color of the fluid, then they need to be educated.

Anonymous said...

Well all I have to say is that I think you are all crazy. If you think that the only fluid that breaks down is oil, you and your "mechanic" are uneducated! I run a shop and the reason you bring your car to a shop and get them checked is because you expect us to take care of your cars but you don't let us knowing that the car needs to be serviced. These recommendations are not always required but suggested. We are not just trying to "get your money" we are trying to help. If you want a source that you can trust look at MAP (motorist assurance program). It is an organization that "educates" the public and they are there to help if you have any questions. You will definatly see there logo in any of our shops and for that matter, any shop that has this in there window is very reputible.

Anonymous said...

most fluid changes are a scam. they will flush your wallet.

Anonymous said...

Greetings all,

The reason engine oil is changed that it goes through a chemical conversion and actually gets acidic. This is because of the combustion process. Break fluid is just a medium to transfer pressure. It does not have to be changed.

I wouldn't be surprised if some dealers deliberately contaminate the break oil

Some guy mentioned "MAP". Just because they are an organization doesn't mean they are reliable. I don't know either way, I never heard of them. The poster alluded that the shops probably like them because they are "pushing" these unneeded services.

Just my opinion here. I'm the type that doesn't believe in trading in a car. I get every last mile out of them. frequently to the 200k mark. In the many decades of driving Iv never changed break oil. Its a scam in my opinion

Thanks for reading this long post.

Unknown said...

Been in this industry for several years (15yrs) enjoying the comment "flush your wallet" is just being uneducated and obviously not a ASE certified trained technician . the whole point on doing preventive maintenance is to do fluid exchages to avoid fluid break down before vehicle suffers major repairs . Pay special attention and also you can GOOGLE it : 1st BRAKE FLUID , is a hydrolic fluid that builds moisture and water over a period of time , the guy with the "200 k" vehicle probably forgot to mention that he spends a large amount of $ on major repairs (broke car) due to the lack of maintenance . If the doctor tells you , your cholesterol is high . would you still eat junk food ? . Coolant drops ph level and builds corrotion (white spots on ur radiator cap) which tends to damage gaskets and plastic components . power steering fluid for steering rack , power steering pump for LUBRICATION . Come on people if the made fluid that last forever we would not be having this conversation . how many times can you re use cooking oil?. for all the "mechanics" that replace parts by taking bolts on and off a vehicle , please do your research before speaking negligently , probably the same people that think they can do a doctor diagnosis by looking it up online . theres a reason why people go to school . leave it to professionals . have a great day :)

Unknown said...

I liked your comment, It's a good thought i just did a transmission flush in calgary and i felt like it did a little bit, Thanks for posting this information.

Salesgalore said...

Thank you Esteban. I am a big believer in preventative maintenance! Probably why I never have any repairs other than wear n tear on my 05 GMC SIERRA lifted 4x4. Find one good shop and create a lasting relationship.