Do drivers in Atlantic Canada need more frequent motor vehicle maintenance?

One Halifax woman was told she did, but now she's questioning that and is asking for a refund for what she considers unnecessary work performed by a Halifax dealership.

"They said the reason they had recommended the services is because I drive in special conditions, and the special conditions are because I live in Atlantic Canada," Mary Jane Hampton said.

"An Atlantic Canadian driver, according to the dealership, means that you have a very different service schedule than anywhere else in North America."

Recommended 55-point inspection

Hampton initially took her 2010 Lincoln MKT into Steele Ford Lincoln in Halifax because of an air conditioning problem. She was told the repair work would be covered by an extended warranty, but was later told it was not.

The dealership also recommended a 55-point vehicle inspection because the extended warranty would soon expire. Her car was given a clean bill of health, but the dealership said based on her mileage she needed new spark plugs, and a transmission flush and fluid replacement.

She agreed and paid approximately $750. However, when she took the vehicle to her longtime independent mechanic, he questioned whether the work was required.

Private mechanic questions work

"My mechanic, God love him, went into the glove compartment and pulled out my owner's manual and right in owner's manual it's very clear that for normal driving conditions you have a very clear service schedule," Hampton said.

Hampton has 120,000 kilometres on her car. The manufacturer's handbook says a transmission flush and fluid change is due at 240,000 kilometres and spark plugs should be replaced at 144,000 kilometres.

"My mechanic said, 'Something isn't right here. You should call them back because maybe they made a mistake or maybe you have been given a bum steer on what services you actually needed to have done to your car,"' Hampton said.

Traffic on Kings Road, Sydney, NS

The dealership said driving in Atlantic Canada falls under 'special condition services.' (Yvonne LeBlanc-Smith/CBC)

She emailed the dealership and received a response from service manager Lynn Collins, who wrote: "Living in Atlantic Canada you fall under special condition services."

The special operating conditions are outlined in Hampton's owner's manual. They include things like towing a trailer, carrying a heavy load, operating off-road and using the vehicle for police, delivery or commercial purposes.

One clause of those conditions states: "Varied driving habits, dust, salt and road conditions require more frequent replacement or service of wear components than the time and distance intervals shown in this publication."

Conditions do not apply

Hampton is adamant none of those conditions apply to her and the work was not required.

"I think it is absolutely absurd. I can think of no defensible way that the position taken by the dealership can be supported," she said.

Steele Ford Lincoln did not detail precisely what about Atlantic Canada makes driving in the region a special condition.

Unhappy with the dealership's response, Hampton contacted Lincoln Canada. She said she was told in a phone conversation that living in Atlantic Canada did not qualify as a special operating condition.

But she subsequently received an email with a different response from Lincoln Canada client service manager Marie Anodjo.

"With the type of vehicle and environmental circumstances that she drives in, the vehicle falls under special operating conditions," Anodjo wrote, adding Hampton's car will need maintenance more often than specified.

Steele Ford Lincoln general manager Jonathan Bonang also told CBC News the work was done based on the special operating conditions. He added that maintenance schedules list the maximum amount of kilometres before work should be done.

Consultant questions work

Car consultant Doug Bethune said he sees nothing in the special operating conditions that require people in Atlantic Canada to do that sort of maintenance more frequently than what the manufacturer recommends.

He said the transmission flush and fluid replacement was done before it was due "without a good, solid rationale," calling it an "upsell."

Bethune said dust and salt would affect engine filters but not transmission fluid.

He said not only is he concerned that customers may be getting these services before they should, he worries about the impact of fluids being put into the environment before it's necessary.

Overtreatment a concern

George Iny, executive director of the Automobile Protection Association, told CBC News his organization sees examples of overtreatment when it comes to vehicle maintenance, noting special operating conditions could apply to most of the country except the West Coast.

"[However] if you're not towing, if you're not idling a long time or doing just very short trips all winter where the vehicle doesn't warm up, the standard interval would be acceptable," he said.

He said based on information provided by CBC News, Hampton appears to be a standard user, meaning the special conditions wouldn't apply.

Hampton and Bethune both said finding a mechanic you can trust is a good way to avoid such situations. Bethune said word of mouth, not advertising, is the way to go.

Iny does commend the dealership for recommending the 55-point inspection prior to expiry of the extended warranty.

He said some manufacturers prohibit that, but it's a good measure in case there is anything about to fail that could be flagged in the last couple of thousand kilometres before the warranty ends.