Automotive Free Services

Automotive Free Services

When I worked in the auto parts business, I became aware of stores that offer free services. This means that you get the benefit of getting specific information and help without going out of your mind trying to figure it out on your own.

Every store is different! They’re owned by different companies and have different rules. There may be more services at one store than another, so don’t expect them all to have every free service.

Battery Check, Charge or Replacement

The store will sometimes also offer a free battery recharge service to see if the current battery is bad or just needs a charge. They have special charging systems to charge car batteries and it takes some time for it to work (so sometimes you have to wait for a few hours). There are some battery exclusions – so if you bring one in that has to be trickle charged … such as a lawnmower battery, they may not be able to help you. They may not have the equipment in the store to do that.

They also have a free battery replacement service if someone is available to do this. If they can change the battery at the store, you may or may not be charged the Core Charge which is the cost of disposing of the old battery.

There are exceptions however to this service however…

If you own a car such as a Toyota Prius, because it’s an electric car, it has to be handled in a specific way. (See a Toyota mechanic for the replacement as you should not do this yourself because of the way the system is set up.) When those folks have to change the other battery (not the one that starts the car) they have to use special gear to do it to keep from being electrocuted.

Disposing of old oil (from oil change at home)

To change the oil in your car, you must make sure the old oil ends up in a clean catch pan or bowl (not one that was used for antifreeze or any other chemical as it will be considered contaminated). Then pour the old oil into back into the bottle it came in and return it to the auto parts store. They will put it in a bin to be picked up and recycled.

They cannot accept old coolant/antifreeze, or any oil in antifreeze containers. It has to come in very clean old milk/water containers or the old oil jug.

Battery/Alternator Testing

Unless a store has a garage or an overhanging roof attached to it, they may not be able to do testing while it’s raining, snowing, sleeting, ect.  Exposing the equipment to these elements may short out the equipment and it’s expensive to fix or replace. In the long run, you may not get the results you went there for, so that you could make an informed decision.

Alternative Alternator/Starter Testing

When I say “alternative”, I mean that the alternator or starter cannot be on the car to be tested. They really don’t have a means to test just that one part without it being removed from the car already.  The starter has to be out of the car in order to test it, as it is usually on the back of the motor, under the car, or in a place that isn’t easily reached.

Engine Lights

There is usually a code that comes up on the dash of the car, when there is a problem. It may be as simple as the car needs an oil change or a tune up. It could be things such as a bad sensor, EGR (exhaust gas recirculation – part of the emissions system), bad plug, ABS (brake system), engine is running too lean or too rich, bad O2 sensor (oxygen sensor-exhaust system), or something extreme such as the engine sensor (engine control module) that controls the whole car going bad.

The photo above shows a transmission light and an exclamation in a circle.

  • The transmission one, I believe has to do with the transmission. It may indicate a computer system problem, not a transmission failure issue.
  • The other one is a tire needs air or the sensor has gone bad. Tire change places can easily diagnose and change the sensor for the tires.

Wiper Blade Installation

The auto parts stores can install the wiper blades on your car. (They are not allowed to install blades from another store such as Walmart.) They will look up the wiper blades by Year, Make, and Model to make sure you are getting the right size to fit the vehicle. They may also wander outside to check the Type of wipers you have. There are some that slide-on, some clip onto another piece and some are special to the vehicle.

You can then make the informed decision on which wipers you’d like to purchase and have installed – if they are available. You may have to order them as they may not be in stock.

Loaner Tool Program

These stores have different rules for loaning out tools.  The store I worked in required you to put a deposit on these tools, used them and cleaned them up, and then returned them in good working order, they give you back all your money.

You have to ask about how the service works in the store that you use, if they have that service available.

Battery Installation

When you bring your car in to have the alternator/battery system tested, and the battery is showing that is low on charge, you can choose to replace it. If it’s 5 years or older, you should do that anyways.

~Diesel engines usually run Marine Batteries in them. The store may not be able to check the battery.

They will look up the battery the same way they look up the wiper blades, only they will also need the engine size as well.  You can find that information in most owner’s manuals. They can also tell by reading the number (if visible) on the battery itself.

Do not ask someone to replace a brass connector on the battery at the store, such as one on a Toyota, because they do not have the service or equipment available to do that. It requires a replacement of the entire wire from the battery to wherever it goes and the brass connector (which is one piece). You may have to go to the garage or a Toyota car dealer for that.

It doesn’t usually take that long to replace a battery, but make sure when you buy the battery, you get the terminals cleaned (better connection) as well as some grease to keep down the corrosion.

Headlights

The headlight number is listed in the Owner’s Manual under headlights, bulbs, lights or something to that effect. Once you’ve found the number, you can go into the parts store and have someone show you where to find it.

I also highly recommend buying a little package of what’s called Dialectric Grease. It’s to give you a better connection from the wiring connected to the lights, and to keep out the water and condensation. It also helps to keep the bulb from burning out so fast.

LED lights (light-emitting diode) are brighter and last longer, but they are more expensive, if you wish to go that route. Some cars already come with LEDs to begin with.

Newer cars have HID lamps(High-intensity discharge), and cannot be done at the parts store to my knowledge.

Bulbs

Turn signals, marker lights, reverse lights, brake lights, license plate lights may sometimes be replaced at the store.  You will find the bulb information in your Owner’s Manual.  Go into the store with the manual, and get the bulbs and grease. Ask someone nicely, if you cannot change the bulb yourself, if they can help you to change the bulb.

Not all stores may offer this service. Please check to see if they have this service available.

Some services may not be available for either diesel engines or hybrid cars. 

Did you find this article to be informative? Did it leave you with more questions? Feel free to post a comment or a question by going to the “leave a comment” link on the top left. Thanks!

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