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Singing those service department blues

| January 1, 2021 1:00 AM

A Post Falls reader described an interesting experience he had with a local dealership’s service department. It sounded like an issue that could be common for many car owners and possibly independent repair shops, so the reader thought it might be helpful to share with other readers.

The reader went in for his vehicle's three-year service for which the manufacturer calls for certain things to be done. However, upon arrival he was presented with an estimate with an extra fuel system cleaning handwritten in for a mere $120.

The manufacturer does not require this service so the customer wondered why it was included on his estimate. The adviser could only say the dealership recommends it, not enough to get our reader to bite so he asked for it to be removed.

And with three more years of warranty coverage ahead from the manufacturer, why not go by their requirements instead of the dealership's?

The point here is to always take a close look at your estimate and know ahead of time exactly what the manufacturer requires to keep your warranties in effect. Too often, consumers are in a hurry and might not notice service items that are included in an estimate that the manufacturer hasn’t recommended.

This situation was concerning because the addition was not discussed when making the appointment. It would have been better if the dealership had brought it up in advance so the customer could read up and figure out in advance if it truly was a helpful thing to do for his vehicle.

Budgeting with utility bills

Most of us are probably looking for ways to better predict our bills so we can better budget for them. One bill that can get unpredictable, especially in the winter, is our heating bill, so what can we do about that?

Many utility companies offer budget billing as an option for paying your home utility bills, but is this a good choice?

Budget billing basically allows the utility company to add up your bills for the last 12 months and divide the annual total amount by 12 to determine a fixed monthly amount you will pay for the next 12 months. The one basis of this calculation is to assume that your historical average usage will be the same over the coming year.

At the end of the year, the billing system compares the amount of energy you actually consumed with the amount you paid during the year. If you paid more than you used, you get a credit on your next bill. However, if you paid less than you use, you will get charged the additional amount at the end of the year.

Budget billing has a couple of advantages. It is a way to help customers plan their budgets with better predictability and it also reduces the chances that the customer won’t be able to pay the bill during periods of higher usage.

However, the downside to budget billing is having a false sense of security that your bill will be the same amount no matter how much energy you use. Don’t forget that a true bill will be forthcoming to reconcile your actual usage with what you’ve paid at the end of the 12-month period. That means if you aren’t keeping track of your energy use, you could end up with a big bill at the end of the year that you weren’t expecting.

Bottom line: Budget billing can be a good way to manage fluctuating bills but you'll need to track your usage to some extent so you don’t engage in excess usage and end up paying a higher overall energy bill in the end. You can look at your bill to see how much energy you used the previous year.

Fake delivery

If you've made purchases online and are waiting for packages to be delivered, be careful of electronic communications that notify online shoppers their packages have not been delivered for one reason or another.

The notices look authentic and include appropriate logos, website links and maybe even an 800 number with people answering the phone so when you call you will believe it is real.

Unfortunately, these notices are designed with one purpose in mind: To get your personal information including credit card or other personal data that will verify your identity.

If you don’t remember ordering anything, the scammers will try to convince you that the package is being sent to you as a gift by someone else. Don’t fall for these ruses and don’t reschedule the delivery.

Legitimate delivery companies will still post a notice on your door that they are trying to deliver the package to you.

The best way to protect yourself from these fake delivery scam notices is to contact the company directly. Either sign into your account or call the actual customer service number from the authentic website to check on the status of your order.

As always, don’t click on any links and delete the email or text message.

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Remember: I’m on your side.

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If you have encountered a consumer issue that you have questions about or think our readers should know about, please send me an email at terridickersonadvocate@gmail.com or call me at 208-274-4458. As The CDA Press Consumer Gal, I’m here to help. I’m a copywriter working with businesses on marketing strategy, a columnist, a veterans advocate and a consumer advocate living in Coeur d’Alene.