Automotive Finances & Money

The Saga Continues: MINI Oil Change

Just last week I described to you our $250+ oil change at the MINI dealership in the DC area (there’s only two here, but I’m holding out on saying which one yet). I tried to explain why, in some cases, you should go to the dealer to service your vehicle, but it’s hard to do that when you’re getting charged 8x-10x what it costs to get similar service at a quick lube shop.

The Customer Service Survey

Luckily, just after posting the article, I got an email from the dealership to complete a customer service survey. I had great things to say about my advisor, as well as the timeliness of completion and some other ranking factors, but I couldn’t give them the full 5 stars.

Nor could I say I would recommend them to others.

Knowing what I know about vehicle maintenance costs, I can’t consciously direct someone to pay so much more for something so simple. And I told MINI that in my survey. I don’t care how nice their service advisors are, if management decides to charge so much for materials, labor, “shop fees” and even windshield washer fluid, then they can charge someone else, not me.

MINI’s Survey Response

The next day after completing the survey, the Service Dept. Manager emailed me back. I’m pasting it below:

Dear Michael,

I appreciate the positive feedback on the survey of your recent service visit with us.

I understand that there is dissatisfaction of the cost of the oil service and the cost of the windshield washer fluid.

I applaud you performing service on your own vehicles. Typically, customers are not aware of the costs pertaining to such repairs that have been covered under the MINI maintenance plan of 3 years or 36,000 miles. I certainly don’t want you to feel “ripped off” so I hope you understand that even though you do perform your own service to your vehicles, there is a time value as well. The time value we place on the oil service pays for the technician’s time, proper disposal of waste oil, and of course a small profit for being a dealership.

Since you do pay for your own windshield washer fluid, may I strongly advise you to consider buying a fluid that has more anti-freezing agent in the solution as some of the less expensive fluid tends to freeze in the line and in the reservoir.

Again I would like to thank you for your positive feedback. We appreciated the opportunity to earn your business.

Have a great weekend and Happy Motoring!

MINI Service Manager
Keep It MINI!

I thought out a response during a drive to Pennsylvania yesterday and sent the following (I’m not posting the service manager’s name though):

My Response to MINI’s Response

(Service Manager),

Thank you for your quick response. However, it does not ease my concerns of improper billing for service to our MINI. Also, you did not address that we spent $4 for washer fluid that was not needed since it was just recently topped off. Pointing me to purchasing proper washer fluid was a very inappropriate answer considering that cheap or expensive fluid is all just distilled water and ammonia, and none of it should cost $4 a gallon, much less $4 for a couple ounces to top off our car’s tank.

I understand your dealership is out to make a profit, and I won’t argue against that. However, doubling the price on all materials AND charging a full hour for work was very inappropriate. Unless you can assure me that a worker was standing at our MINI for a full hour, monitoring the oil drainage (which it can take less than 10 minutes to drain) and replacing the cabin filter (again, under 10 minutes), then I would like a full explanation of why I paid $122 for 20-30 minutes of worker time. Does your billing system not support partial hours?

As a note, I’ve already written of this experience at my website, although I have not yet mentioned your dealership name. I have over 2000 subscribers and 30,000 monthly visitors, many from the DC area. The commenters on the article (see link below) are already aghast at the price we paid for a simple oil change and cabin filter replacement, especially since I already calculated the price of doing this work on our other vehicles in the past.

Also, regarding the shop fees, you charged me almost as much as it costs Jiffy Lube to do the entire oil service. Now I know I was ripped off there. Lastly, regarding disposal fees, I pay nothing to take the old oil to our county recycling facility. I can accept if your municipality charges fees considering the amount that you dispose of during the year, but when you add it up, I can’t see how someone like Jiffy Lube could stay in operation with the same fees. The numbers just don’t add up.

As you’ll read in my article, I actually tried to support going to the dealer to get work done. However, the insane cost of getting just a simple oil change done at (your dealership) has ruined any likelihood of my ever going back, or of my recommending service at your facility.

If you can provide a better explanation, I would greatly appreciate it.


I was very tempted to name their dealership in this article, but I don’t think that would get me anywhere. Right now, I’m just looking for a reasonable explanation for the costs we paid for a simple oil change. They weren’t using liquid gold, just synthetic oil. I know they buy it in bulk and pay even less than I pay when I buy it from Sam’s Club. They use synthetic in all their vehicles, so I know they’re not going out of their way to use it for our MINI.

My assumption right now is that there IS no reasonable explanation except that they’re jacking up the price on me while thinking I won’t question it. I know better. I know it only cost HALF as much to get the same service done on my Acura TL-S, and even THAT was getting overcharged.

The excuse that I’m not aware how much they pay to cover our car for the free maintenance is ridiculous. Whether it’s corporate MINI or the dealership covering the maintenance costs during those 3 years, both parties are only paying bare minimum costs. Maybe $20 for the oil, and the same for the cabin filter and maybe even the maintenance. Tack on another $20 for the car rental and you’re topping out at about $80, not $250+ (remember I’m not even adding in the $50 tire rotation here).

A dealership can’t expect to gouge people when it’s so obvious a blatant rip-off. Scale back that price by $100 and it would be reasonable for a dealer visit (not a third-party mechanic), but they’re getting into super-luxury prices. And the MINI is no super-luxury car.

UPDATE: Looks like this guy was shocked at the price back in 2006. He was smart enough to walk away, but found the local lube shops don’t service MINIs. I wonder if that’s changed?

What do you think?

I’m not going to ask if you think the price we paid for the service was reasonable, because no sane person would think so. Rather, I’d like to know what you would do in this situation. And keep it sensible. It’s easy to say you would refuse to pay, but if it’s about getting your car back at 7 o’clock at night so you can get home 30 miles away, you might act differently in the moment.

Should I ask for money back? I’m not the litigious type, so don’t expect me to go to court over something so small (to me). Personally, I think I can do more through this website (awareness) than through any court of law.

About the author

Clever Dude


  • cavet emptor

    ianal (as you know), but i doubt that you would get any money back, because they could argue that you knew that you knew the prices going in.

    you should have given them one star as a rating, and well, just tell everyone you know not to go there.

    the part that made me chuckle was the “time value”…i am going to start using that term when i rip off people…”you know, while i was taking the adult entertainment off your computer, the time value i preformed at the agreed price will save you many hours of hostility from your spouse”.

  • Wow … just … wow. I understand your reasons for going to the dealership, but if I was in your shoes I’d get a complete service record and then find a new place with an honest reputation that will keep your service record. I definitely understand your anger with the situation. I felt angry for you when I was reading it. 🙂

  • While very upsetting, I would simply take this situation as a lesson learned. I agree that speaking out on this blog is the best way to garner attention and possibly help someone else avoid the same outcome.

  • Education comes in many forms. Sometimes you gain knowledge from a classroom setting and other times you get it from the Mini Cooper dealership.

    I would see what your recent response to the dealer provides and then I would let it go. Life is too short.

    Appreciate you sharing your gained knowledge with all of us though.

  • As long as people go to the dealer and allow them to be charged that – the dealer is going to charge that. Which is exactly what happened to you. You sholud have checked the price first. Sorry but no one should ever have work done without a reasonable idea of cost.

    I think you have to suck it up as a lesson learned.

  • You stated that you knew you were in for a ripoff. I think you went into the situation blindly expecting to get screwed. Yes, dealerships charge more for servicing. But you knew this before you went there. I think you are complaining about something that you willingly asked to have done. I am both a MINI owner and a MINI salesperson, but I have my maintenance done elsewhere because I also know how much it costs to have it done at the dealership.

    You stated that you wanted to do the work at the dealer to build good-will should anything go wrong with your MINI out of the warranty. Then you gave your Service Advisor a poor survey. So, basically, you spent more money than you wanted to build goodwill, then you shot that chance by not giving him a good survey. So, I think you screwed yourself twice and should not be blaming the dealership.

  • @Amanda: Per your last sentence, I’m completely allowed to blame the dealership for blatantly ripping off willing customers. I just happen to be one of those willing customers in this case due to convenience-sake. And I gave my advisor a good review on the survey and to her manager via email. She explained that it would be around that much, and I accepted at the time because it was a quote.

    If you, as a salesperson, know that your dealership overcharges so much, do you warn your customers (which is the ethical thing to do), or do you let them drive away in their new MINI and hope you’re not around in 3 years when they come back and shell out $250 for an oil change? If you warn them (with an actual amount, not “maintenance can be pricey” line), then good for you. If not, you should be ashamed of yourself.

  • If a clients asks me anything at all about the maintenance costs, I am completely upfront with them know how much it will cost them after their 3 yr/36,000 miles is up and let them know about the really affordable extended maintenance to 6 yrs/100,000 miles as well as giving them the business card of the mechanic that does my work. I have already been here for 3 years and have many repeat customers and referrals, so I don’t think I have anything of which to be ashamed.

    I do think that trying to use your website and the readership against the dealership in complaining about something that you state you accepted is not right, and claiming unfairness when you were informed is even worse.

  • Dealerships don’t care about goodwill, they are always making a deal w/ someone. When you purchased your car, I’ll bet the salesmen took you by the Maint Dept/ Parts and told you how wonderful they were and how will trained the techs were by the factory. You say the service advisor gave you a accurate quote of the price involved, you agreed to the work w/o a qualm and now you fell ripped off? I have been to many dealerships around the country and I can count on one hand the number of times the quote was higher then the actual price.

  • @Amanda. I accepted the cost because it needed to get done (was already a month overdue thanks to their backlog in getting me in for a simple oil change), and because I had already driven 30 miles to the dealer. I could have balked, but I wanted qualified technicians to check out a few other issues in the engine, which did get fixed (I didn’t mention those here).

    Using my site as a forum for complaints and education is my right and freedom, and since I haven’t stated the dealer’s name, I’m not subjecting them to a tarnished reputation. It sounds like MINI service overall is the culprit, but when you buy a car that has a limited (on purpose) dealer network and specialized tools (again, on purpose), I guess that’s something that we all need to think about when buying our next cars.

  • @Brian, We bought the car used from a non-MINI dealer near our house. it already had 30,000 miles on it, so we didn’t get much experience with the service dept before our maintenance plan ran out.

    @Amanda, When the service tech quoted me the price on extending the maintenance plan at our visit last March, before the plan ran out, I balked at the price (over $1300, discounted) because I figured I would never come close to that with oil changes. She never told me I would make up that cost with just 5 oil changes! Had I known back then about the cost, I would have had almost a year to find someone else or figure out how to work on the MINI myself. Nevertheless, I can still buy the plan (at a higher price), but I’m still paying for $250 oil changes in it. I can do at least 30-40 oil changes for their $1500 extended plan price (rounded off).

  • Ugh, I hate this kind of stuff. Poor customer service gets my goat everytime. Good luck with dealing with them; in taking the time to deal with this, you are helping more people then just yourself… just remember that!

  • There’s nothing honorable or beneficial going to the dealer.

    The local independent BMW/MINI shop near me charges $70 to change the oil (synthetic), replenish the fluids, and still somehow manages to make a profit.
    They even rotate the tires for an extra $15.

    The MINI dealer’s 30k/60/90 service was $1700. The independent was $495 and includes the “$250” dealer-priced oil change.

    The MINI dealership is full of it. Their justification is the same as a lawyers trying to convince you that a 1,000 hours billing in a single week is good for you.

    The way I see it, MINI has a disposable razor model. Charge 20K for the car, and make the real cash off the services.

  • Clever Dude, I think the way you’ve handled the situation thus far has been exemplary. You have not resorted to outing the company specifically on the site, you have not used abrasive language, you completed the survey and gave your advisor the full marks for her service, but noted some concerns you had. That is precisely what those surveys are for. I also think using your site as a forum to discuss the situation is perfectly within your rights – after all, that is what a blog is for – and I don’t feel your mentioning it to the manager was in any way threatening the company as you have not, as of yet, even asked for anything.

    What I think you should do is explain, in detail, how much you think the service should have cost and request the difference back. If the service manager can’t give it to you, then go to his boss. Actually, let me back up just a second. I’d call the other dealership in your area and ask what they charge first. Just as a comparison tool. If it’s the same, ok. If not, well then this dealership you’re dealing with could be a little shady. Just tell them, if they would like to build customer loyalty and good will with you, you would appreciate a return on a portion of the funds you felt were overcharged. Depending on how much time you want to spend on this, you could keep going up the ladder until someone is able to help you, or you can stop with this one manager. Either way, it doesn’t hurt to ask. The worst that can happen is they say no.

    Just out of curiosity, does Amanda work for the dealership in question? Funny, I don’t remember her commenting on the last post about this topic, but in this one, suddenly she’s got so much to say?

  • Wait a minute! You asked them to do much more than just an oil change, so it wasn’t just the oil change, because you had them check out other things, too, which seems to me increased your labor costs. You also could have asked what their oil service charge was ahead of time. Dealers like everyone else have set oil change charges. If you didn’t want to do the dirty work of the oil change, you could have gone somewhere else for the oil change, bought the filter on your own and replaced it. however, as you noted, you didn’t mention here the other things that got fixed. so how much of the labor cost was checking stuff out that you wanted checked out versus labor for the oil change? like i said, dealers are competing with the jiffy lubes as well on oil service and have set rates for those things.

  • I think you knew what you were in for, and you went to the dealership for peace of mind on the other areas of service to your MINI, not to get a cheaply priced oil change. You got that piece of mind on the engine and other checks did you not?

    I think your complaint and their response were both valid, but I don’t think you have a leg to stand on in trying to get any money back from them.

    I thank you for your article from a “buyer beware” perspective but as someone who will have to shell out $1400 to get my car back from the shop tomorrow… I can’t really have much sympathy for your $250 oil change.

  • I would pay it and simply never go back. Of course, I would have found out how much things cost before I went there. One reason I love my dealership is that they post prices and a lot of info online (basic service is $43.95, includes oil and filter replacement, tire rotation, topping off of other fluids as well as inspecting/adjusting some things). I’m currently getting my car serviced at my dealer on a prepaid plan, but I will probably continue going there after it runs out. They seem to be one of those very rare things, an honest dealership. 🙂

    It’s funny though, I thought about getting a MINI, but didn’t because I’d heard bad things about the only dealer that will service them in the area. The next closest dealer is an hour and a half away. So I got a Scion tC instead. 🙂

  • This is like a bad relationship. Walk away and don’t look back. Some pay the price, therefore the dealer continues to charge the high fees.

    Find a small reputable shop that is willing to work on the car and build a relationship with them. The only time I visit the dealer is when I get a coupon from them in the mail.

  • I read this post, because I drive a VW Jetta, and used to get my services done at the dealership. I had a friend that worked in the service department that I trusted and would give me various discounts. He recently changed jobs and went to another dealer. When I called the dealership to get a price quote on my most recent service, I was told 3 different amounts by 3 different people (all too high), which I found unacceptable. Since then, a friend has agreed to perform all “simple” maintenance and some other things (such as brakes) for a fraction of the cost. I am also working on finding someone to do the more complex services at a reasonable price.

    As for your experience, I agree with some of the other commenters that if you were not happy with the price, that should have been discussed before the service was done. Although I think your comments on the first service card were appropriate, I think it was a bit much to try to use your blog as leverage or to then write a second letter to the dealership. I say find somewhere else and forget the dealership, which seems to be a growing club!

  • The only thing I have to say in defense of the dealer is that carting off used oil is not free to the dealer’s shop. My pop ran a garage and it’s considered hazardous waste that needs to be hauled off by a commercial service that charges the shop money. Your city’s municipal waste facility is not free. You pay for it with your taxes. Just keep that in mind.

    I despise my dealer. But I take my 8 year old car into their shop during the winter because it’s too cold to ask my boyfriend to do it outside. (There is no garage space.)

    I am shocked he gave you a ‘time-value’ argument because frankly the junior mechanic makes a fraction of what they charged you in labor.

    I also am pissed off that they do not bill you actual time, but what is known as ‘booking time’ i.e. book 2 hours but take 30 minutes and charge for the 2 full hours. If this was government contracting, they’d be sued. It royally pisses me off since when do they get off billing in full hour increments and overcharging the time spent?

    Perhaps it’s time to ditch the MINI anyway? They have a really stiff ride with those run-flats. Bumpity!

  • @Mapgirl, LOL at trying to get Stacie to give up her MINI! You’ll be prying that wheel out of her cold (er, colder) dead fingers before she gives it up. She can’t imagine driving any other car than a MINI…mainly because her husband takes care of the maintenance.

    I, on the other hand, enjoy my big ole’ Honda Ridgeline truck. Although I wouldn’t mind some luxury sometimes.

  • This was really helpful. I bought a new MINI in November and love it. Since my dad was a mechanic with his own shop, I was really skittish about going to the dealership. I do have the 36K/3 yr plan so I will use it for the oil change, etc. But your news about the washer fluid was welcome since the light is on and I’ve been putting off going to the dealership because it’s a 45 minute drive.

    I think MINI counts on the fact that many of the owners are hooked into the “cool” factor of driving that car and will stick with the brand even when it doesn’t make sense.

    Thanks for the wake up call.

  • On Friday I took my 2006 Cooper S into my local Mini dealer for it’s oil change. They rang me a few minutes later to tell me it was no longer free and it would cost me $106.00. I told them I’d bought an additional warranty before my car reached 50,000 miles. They told me that had expired, I told them the car had not yey reached 100,000 miles, they responded that the extended warranty was 100,000 or two years. The car has 68,000 miles on it. Oddly they called me two hours later to inform me of the following issues that needed my attention:
    Front Brakes:$570.00
    Valve Gaskets: $200.00
    Power Steering Fan: $342.00 (replaced under warranty two years ago)
    Engine Mount:$345
    Lower Contro, Arm Bushings:$775.00

    Since none of these problems were mentioned two months ago when I brought the car in when the low tire pressure light came on and the car was still under warranty I decided they weren’t really “problems”. I am currently searching for a mechanic in my area that repairs Minis in the hopes of saving some $ on repairs AND oil changes.

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