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Why is my car maintenance bill so high?

I get a lot of e-mail. Some of it is complimentary and some of it is, well, not so complimentary. But mostly, I get tons of questions from frustrated consumers. And my job is to help find the answers.

Here are my responses on issues from car maintenance to light bulbs, to airline miles.

Keep the questions coming. I can’t promise a response to everybody, but I’ll try.

Q: I took my car to the dealer for its 15,000 mile maintenance service. I happened to notice that the work they did is different from what is recommended in my owner’s manual. It seems like they’re trying to run up the bill. What gives?

This is a very common situation. The work a dealer recommends at a routine maintenance interval is often significantly different from what the manufacturer requires.

"There's no question that if you follow the dealer's schedule versus what's called for in you owner’s manual, you can pay up to two times as much for a scheduled maintenance check," says Jack Gillis, author of The Car Book 2009. "Most of the time it involves a number of additional items that you simply don't need to do according to the carmaker itself."

The owner's manual, what Gillis calls “the most published and least read book on the planet,” tells you what to do and when. Follow it.

Watch out for oil changes. Many dealers change the oil every 3,000 miles or so, even when the manufacturer suggests every 5,000 to 7,500 miles for normal driving conditions. Again, that information is in your owner’s manual. For some cars the interval is ever longer. Many newer cars have a sensor that tells you when the oil needs to be replaced. 

One more money-saving tip: You need to go to the dealership for any warranty or recall-related repair work. But for routine maintenance, such as an oil change, you can go anywhere you want. It does not impact your warranty.

If you go to a place that specializes in quick oil changes – stick to the oil change. Don’t let them do any repair work. For that, you want to go to the dealer or a qualified shop.

Q: The news is filled with stories about those energy-saving compact florescent light bulbs. Has anyone considered doing a story about people who can't be around them? I have Lupus which causes me to be sensitive to ultraviolet light and those CFL bulbs produce UV. My Lupus flares when I am under them for long periods.

Many people with Lupus are sensitive to ultraviolet light and all bulbs, including compact fluorescents, produce some UV rays. According to the , the CLF bulb would have to be pretty close – for instance, in a desk lamp – to impact most people with Lupus.

You can get shielded CLF bulbs or add a UV blocking shield to a desk lamp. Overhead fixtures are normally not a problem.

Q: I heard that when I use my credit card to buy an airline ticket, the credit card company doesn’t pay the airline until the flight actually leaves. But the charge for the ticket goes on my statement right away and I’m charged interest on that “purchase” even though the credit card company isn’t yet out the money. Is that true?

Not true. Payments for all sorts of products and services – airline tickets, concert seats, non-refundable hotel reservations, even custom-made drapes – take place at the time of the transaction, not when the actual service is rendered. And if you don’t pay your balance in full each month, you will be charged interest on that purchase.

The credit card company does not hold on to the money. It pays the vendor when the transaction takes place. It may not seem fair, but that’s the way it works.

What if you buy those tickets and there’s a problem down the road? You generally have 60 days to dispute a credit card charge. But according to Gerri Detweiler, personal finance advisor for, credit card companies often make exceptions where an airline, cruise line or tour company goes out of business - even if you booked (and paid) months in advance.

Q: I can’t understand how credit card companies can charge such sky-high interest rates – 30 percent or more. Isn’t this usury? Aren’t there laws to prevent this?

Many states have usury laws that limit how much interest can be charged on certain transactions. But for credit cards, the interest rate is governed by where the credit card company is headquartered not where the cardholder lives.

That’s why credit card issuers congregate in states without usury laws or with more favorable ones, explains Greg McBride, senior financial analyst at

These lender-friendly states include South Dakota, Delaware and Utah. There is no federal usury law.

As long as the interest rate schedule is clearly listed in the cardholder agreement, the sky’s the limit.

By the way, the new Credit Cardholders Bill of Rights does not limit the amount of interest a credit card company can charge. It does regulate how often that rate can be changed and how much notice you must be given of a pending rate hike.

Q: My family is planning a trip this fall to Barbados. We’re all flying for free thanks to our airline miles. What happens if we can’t go? Can we have the miles deposited back into our account?

The terms and conditions vary from airline to airline, but if it’s one of the big carriers and the award ticket has not expired, you should be able to get those miles back into your account. However, expect to pay a fee of between $100 and $150 per ticket.