16 July 2012

Did I just dodge an "upsell" from Subaru ?

"Upselling is a sales technique whereby a seller induces the customer to purchase more expensive items, upgrades, or other add-ons in an attempt to make a more profitable sale. Upselling usually involves marketing more profitable services or products but can also be simply exposing the customer to other options that were perhaps not considered previously. Upselling implies selling something that is more profitable or otherwise preferable for the seller instead of, or in addition to, the original sale."
Last year our family traded in an ancient Mazda Protege for a better-in-the-winter Subaru Forester.  This year I called to schedule a 15,000 mile maintenance, and the conversation went something like this:
Subaru:  "O.K., you're set for Tuesday morning.  Shall we include a cleaning of the caliper slides?"

Me:  "The what?"

Subaru:  [explanation that this involves inspecting and cleaning brake components "to prevent excessive brake wear."]

Me:  "If that's part of the maintenance, go ahead.  I'm still under warranty."

Subaru:  "This is not 'normal maintenance,' but it's something we recommend.  It would be about $70."

Me:  "Well, if it needs to be done, I also have that extended warranty that covers everything from wiper blades to key batteries..."

Subaru:  "The Extended Service Plan doesn't cover this."

Me:  "So it's not normal maintenance, but it's something you recommend??"

Subaru:  "Correct."

Me:  "What if I don't do it?"

Subaru:  "If you don't do it at 15,000 miles, we recommend you do it during the 30,000 mile maintenance."
Right.  You should do it now - or a year from now - to prevent damage to the brakes that would be covered by the warranty that Subaru would then have to pay for. 

I opted out, and had the same conversation with another employee when I brought the car in.  The service I did get was prompt and efficient and the staff were courteous, but this leaves a bit of a sour taste in my mouth.  I'd welcome any comments from those more knowledgeable about cars than I am.  My wife and I like to get 200,000 miles from our cars over 10-12 years before trading them in.  Should I be more attentive to suggestions such as this one?


  1. I'm a mechanical engineer: you dodged an upsell.

  2. Another ME here: "just say no."

  3. I don't know much about cars, but I can tell you that sales people are under a lot of pressure from upper management to upsell, regardless of industry. So you're probably fine.

  4. All dealerships are basically dishonest.
    They have to be due to the structure of industry, all the things the manufacturer offloads on to them that Should be payed for by the manu., Specialized test equipment, training etc.
    They will upsell (technically not dishonest just sleazy - everybody does it), GROSSLY overcharge for simple parts and procedures (that's the "book" price), perform unnecessary "repairs", replace functioning parts "because that is what we thought was wrong" even though totally unrelated to the problem.

    And because, Oh yeah I forgot, they're in the automotive industry.
    Without being sleazy there's no way to make a profit selling the second most expensive thing people buy (number one if you count lifetime total)

  5. First, some background. The caliper/pad slides are little pieces of stainless steel that allow your brake calipers & pads to slide in & out. When you put your foot on the brake, the calipers push the brake pads towards the rotors. The friction between the brake pads and the rotor slow the car down. When you release your foot from the brake, the calipers release pressure on the pads, and the pads move every so slightly away from the rotors. There's no particular mechanism by which the brake pads are forced away from the rotor - it's just air pressure.

    If the caliper/pad slides are sufficiently dirty and gummy, the brake pads will not move away from the rotor when you lift your foot off the brake. The brake pads will continue to rub on the rotor, causing a loss of efficiency and heat buildup. If the stuck brake pad is bad enough, the rotor will get overheated and will warp. Generally, a warped rotor will need to be replaced or repaired in order to maintain proper braking function. (You can continue to drive with a warped rotor if absolutely necessary).

    Cleaning the slides consists of removing the tires, pulling the brake pads off, and cleaning the slides with a wire toothbrush. Not rocket science. If performed as a stand-alone service, it would take about 30 minutes. If performed as part of some other service that already requires that the wheels be removed, it probably adds 15 minutes.

    I do 99% of my own car maintenance, and I clean the slides twice a year. I do it when I already have the tires removed for the summer tire -> winter tire switch. Twice a year is overkill. Once a year is plenty. Once every two years is probably fine for peace of mind. Plenty of people will never have this done to their car, and will be fine.

    If you do not have this service done, the worst case scenario is that in a number of years you'll end up with a warped rotor, and will need to have the rotors replaced or repaired. The dealership will probably charge you around $400 to replace a set of rotors. Note that there are other ways to end up needing to replace the rotors - stuck caliper because of brake fluid contamination, rotors that are excessively worn or rusty, etc.

    Dealerships in general are for those people who don't have the time or inclination to keep track of required maintenance themselves. The trade-off is cost.

    In the long run, I would recommend using the dealership only for specialized or warranty work. For the more routine tasks, find a decent independent mechanic. Rates will be lower, quality of service should still be good, and you can say manly things like "While you've got the wheels off, might as well check those caliper slides too"

    1. TL;DR - In most cases I would recommend having the slides cleaned every 2-3 years as part of a normal brake inspection process.

    2. Not too long; read it all. Thanks, Marc, for an informative comment.

    3. I've learnt something and increased potential manliness-projection. Thanks Marc! :-)

    4. To really beat a dead horse, this is part of what is often called "cleaning & adjusting" the brakes. Caliper brakes don't really need to be adjusted, but most vehicles still have drum brakes in the back for the parking brake. Drum brakes are notorious for accumulating brake dust, rust flakes, and all sorts of other things. So it's not a bad idea to have a full "clean & adjust" done every 2-3 years. Not absolutely necessary, though. In a clean climate, you could probably skip any maintenance until it's time for new brake pads.

  6. This is timely, my Subaru Forester has 13,000 miles on it.

    1. Interesting. I'd love to hear a followup comment after your visit.

  7. This whole brake maintenance thing is a scam. Honda does it too. The slides should (if they don't the car company should be sued for negligence) have seals to keep the grease in and the dirt and water out.
    Mark, the pistons inside the calipers have seals that are designed to flex slightly, thereby allowing the piston to retract a bit when the brake pedal is released. This gives the pad room to float away from the disk. As the pads wear, the piston moves slightly in the seal maintaining proper clearance. Sometimes moisture gets in where the piston is, and causes failure of the piston to retract that tiny bit. This leaves pressure on the disk, building heat until the disk warps. Dry slides do make replacing pads a bit of a pain. I don't lube or clean my slides very often.

  8. HEY<>>>>HEY< Step right up!.....I'll tell ya what I'll do for you, If you Buy this load of Shi_, While I'm at it I'll change your winter air for new fresh summer air in your tires for the LOW LOW, Low Price of $65.00....That's right $65.00...That is equal to about 1 hrs labor rate.. And it will do absolutely nothing to improve or extend the life of your tires or car, but if you have MONEY to give away.......Give it to me.......

    Thank You Very Much
    Your Local Shister
    At your local Auto
    Repair Shop!

  9. Your dealer has a boat payment coming up. Cleaning caliper slides. I loled.

  10. Could you call Click and Clack on Car Talk about this before their show ends later this year?

    1. It would be interesting, and I do enjoy their show, but I don't think I have the time, and I pretty much trust the advice of the readers here.

      You can call and pretend you're me, though...

  11. I'll never know if this was a joke played on us but decades ago a good friend of mine and I stopped by his brother's auto shop after work - we were planning a weekend beach trip and we wanted him to join us.
    After a few seconds of pondering, he moved some papers around on his desk, calls a customer, and told them that they just found that the alternator should be replaced. After the call he immediately added to the invoice, 'replaced altenator'. He then looked up and said, 'looks like I'm going'. I later learned this guy also told his family to go ahead while he settled the bill at their huge family reunion only to pocket the hundreds in cash offerings AND WALK OUT shorly after them without paying the tab. (My friend almost got arrested the next time he took his wife there).
    So I don't trust mechanics. Aside from a few 'have to' visits due to state law (smog inspections) - I have never hired a mechanic since. But I also cut my own hair, fix my own computers, fences, plumbing, etc.

  12. Not trusting an entire group of people because the brother of a good friend is a thief is a bit of an over-reaction.

    In every group, from schoolteachers through mechanics to (insert a group you really trust here), there is going to be a range of integrity, sadly. People are people.

    I decided long ago that most people, like me, are trustworthy and want to do a good job. If I live my life suspecting everyone because there are some who can't be trusted my life will be poorer. I'd rather err on the side of trusting a bit too much, and sometimes be taken advantage of, than live as a cynic.

    I mitigate the risk by trying to learn a reasonable amount about a lot of different things so I can apply a combination of my own knowledge and considered logic to any advice I'm given - run it through my 'does this make sense?' filter - , ask for a second opinion when I'm still not sure and it's an important enough decision, then decide and move on to the next part of life.

    I live happier this way.

    My filter, just as yours did, would have questioned this offered service.

  13. There's a definite design problem if the slides can't last through a set of brake pads.

    When the dealer tries to upsell this sort of service, ask them if it is required to maintain your warranty. If not, the manufacturer apparently doesn't think its a big enough problem to worry about, and you probably don't need to worry about it either...especially if it still covered under your extended warranty.

  14. The caliper slides get brake dust and road dirt in them. When you release the brake pedal the pads are pushed out of contact over a few fractions of a second by the movement of the discs. Dirty caliper slides will, theoretically, slow this process a little. In all the decades that I did my own car maintenance, I never once cleaned the slides. A few of my cars had "floating" calipers with single pistons. The whole caliper slides, though I never cleaned the slides of these either.

    I find it very sad that mechanics have to scam customers. It is not so bad where I come from, thankfully - I find it depressing.

  15. Lots of inaccuracies in the previous post. Subaru caliper slides are sealed and should never get contaminants in them. I've seen them go 10 years through Vermont winters without a hitch. Whether single or dual-piston, the vast majority of cars use sliding calipers, as the pistons are on the inside, for wheel clearance. The caliper slides so that the outside pad will push against the outer edge of the rotor while the piston pushes the inside pad outward and the rest of the caliper inward. The poster who noted that it is the seal that causes the piston to move back is correct. The rotors should be almost perfectly true, so the rotor should not be pushing the pads away. The tiny amount of retraction caused by the seal returning to its shape should be enough. The pads don't actually clear the rotor, typically, but simply have no pressure being applied.

    The service isn't a scam, as previous posts have pointed out, but neither is it something that typically needs to be done on Subarus. On some vehicles, like Ford trucks, it's a whole different story. Cleaning the slides on Subarus can actually be counterproductive, as this can affect the seal between the boot and the metal of the caliper, providing a route for water to get in. As long as water stays out, the slide will last the life of the caliper. It's also unlikely that the same quality and type of grease will be used as that applied at the factory. I would suggest that, should this service be done once, I would repeat it at least once every two years. Otherwise, just leave it alone and you should be fine.

    1. Hi, Steve
      Just read your post regarding cleaning brakes in a Subaru. I am in a quandary. Last time the brakes were checked, the mechanic said I should have them cleaned next time they needed regular service. Our "regular" mechanic more or less thought it was a scam. Is there a definitive way to know what to do?

  16. Cleaning the slides is not a scam... It all depends on if you need it or not. Just like when they suggest you to do an injector cleaning.

    People that say it is a scam have never seen seized slides. Every time you do a pad job, there is a chance they will contaminate the slides because they have to remove at least one of the slide pins. Contaminated slides will dry out the grease and seize the pin within the slide at worst. I've seen one car with a slide completely seized and the pin broken inside because we couldn't unscrew the pin; it required a new brake bracket. A dirty contaminated slide that can be saved by cleaning can take up to 45mins of cleaning per side. Shops usually just clean the holes and put in new slide pins.

    My recommendation is to ask if the pads are worn unevenly or if the slides are starting to dry out (contaminated). If yes, then clean and regrease the slides. As most suggested, usually every 2 years is a good pointer.

    Im an ex-motorcycle mechanic that does all his car maintenances and repairs.


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