The complimentary maintenance programs from different manufacturers have always been a large selling point for brands like BMW, Volvo, and Lexus. But recently there was a conversation on 6SpeedOnline discussing whether or not the Fiat “complimentary” maintenance program was truly free due to the fact that buyers can choose to get a $500 rebate for declining the service plan (Only on cars purchased before January 4th, 2012). The general argument was that this program was included in the price of the car already and was not “complimentary” as stated in the promotional language from the dealer. This got us here thinking about the nature of these plans for all the automakers and we found that “complimentary” doesn’t necessarily mean that it is free to the consumer.
For luxury brands it is now standard to offer the maintenance for owners, and typically leased vehicles will come with one, three, or even five years of oil changes and the regularly scheduled dealer visits. To think these dealers are doing it just for the sheer benefit of their owners is unfortunately not often the case. For leased cars the manufacturers often want to make sure that the vehicles they get back at the end of the lease are going to be in a near-perfect condition and they want a car back that is in great running condition with service records to show it has had an oil change in the last three years . All of these plans are considered when working on the MSRP of the car and the majority of any foreseen costs or risks are factored into luxury vehicles prior to the cars hitting the market. According to Tony Molla, Vice President of Communications for the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, the automakers are not losing any money on offering the programs.”None of it is actually free. They build the cost of maintenance into the price of the car, he says.” This feature benefits the luxury customer and offers them the peace of mind to look at brands that may have a reputation for higher ownership costs and increase in reliability problems (We’re looking at you Jaguar’s of the past). These brands never seek to offer a plan like that of Fiat because it would give the buyers a similar feeling that the “complimentary” maintenance they are receiving on their new Mercedes is anything but.
For the Fiat brand in particular the buyers are completely different and often have separate expectations when shopping for a car that starts at under $16k. These buyers are generally budget focused and look at the maintenance as a nice perk, but it isn’t a breaking point for their decision on the purchase. By offering the $500 discount for declining the plan they can look to give the buyers an option to have the car at a cheaper price for those that are seeking “the best deal possible.” So the truth is that these programs aren’t necessarily free and the advertising language of “complimentary” maintenance isn’t exactly as many would have expected.