When your car has an issue, it can cost money to get the problem diagnosed. You can take it to a place that does a free diagnostic scan, such as AutoZone, but not all problems will be detected by your vehicle’s computer. When AutoZone tells you the problem is a P0171 cooling system performance intermittent, what does that mean anyway? Dealerships often charge for diagnostic testing. What we want to help you avoid is paying to find a problem that is easy for an expert to diagnose. Cars are mass produced and so are many of their problems. The benefit of going to a dealership is that they are usually familiar with your type of vehicle and are aware of what the common problems are. They also generally have the most sophisticated diagnostic equipment. For this article, let’s assume you are taking your car to a dealership and hopefully these tips can help you get a free diagnostic.
In order to save money on a diagnostic, it is important you understand what you are asking for. So what is a diagnostic? This is just the auto industry term for the testing required to determine the root cause of a problem with a vehicle. A check engine light could require sophisticated computer equipment, component inspection, wire testing, and more. For a noise concern, it could mean several test drives and inspections until they find the problem. It could also be as simple as putting the vehicle on a lift and saying, “Yup, there’s your problem right there.” The amount of diagnostic testing needed varies depending on the issue. Most dealerships offer a flat rate charge (maybe $100) to diagnose any problem. We want you to avoid being the person who pays $100 for something a skilled technician would detect very easily.
Dealerships usually offer free multi-point inspections. They are not that comprehensive, but hopefully this will get you in the door. Before the inspection, you can mention what you are seeing with your car and hopefully they will say, “Okay, we will look for that.” Dealerships don’t do this out of pure kindness, their job is to look over your vehicle and find something that needs to be fixed. Repairs are how they make money. If you already know you have a problem that needs to be addressed, they want to find it and sell you the repair. They generally charge for diagnostics because what they don’t want to do is spend two hours determining what is wrong with your car and have you take it somewhere else.
If you take your car into a dealership for a problem, do not start out by authorizing a $100 diagnostic inspection. The issue could be something that is very easy to detect. Start with a free multi-point inspection. Let your service consultant know about any problems your car is having prior to the free multi-point inspection. If the service consultant thinks you will have them complete the repairs, the more incentive they have to spend extra time looking, without charging the diagnostic fee. If they can’t find your problem as part of the free multi-point inspection, you may have to pay for some more time, but you didn’t lose any money trying. Our dealership expert feels confident that in many cases, starting with a free multi-point inspection will result in a free diagnostic.