Bucking an industry trend, Mercedes-Benz is eliminating free maintenance during the warranty period beginning with the 2005 model year.
Customers who used to get free service checkups, labor and many parts will pay for them individually or buy a maintenance package that Mercedes dealerships will start selling.
Mercedes-Benz will save money, but some experts say it may lose a competitive edge because other luxury makes continue to offer free maintenance programs.
Mercedes-Benz executives say the service program launched four years ago was not totally free. For example, customers still had to pay for parts that were replaced due to normal wear and tear, such as brake pads and wiper blades. Mercedes says this confused owners.
Industry experts say the move could affect sales or customer satisfaction ratings from conquest buyers.
"It will hurt them. Free maintenance is a big selling point for the industry in that segment. It's almost the price of entry into that class," says Bob Kurilko, vice president of marketing for Edmunds.com, a consumer Web site for car shoppers.
Under the new program, Mercedes-Benz owners won't be charged for their first visit between 1,000 and 3,000 miles and the first tire rotation at 6,500 miles. After that, the customer pays for everything including labor.
Dealers will sell new maintenance packages that, for example, range on a C class from $576 for two years to $1,312 for four years. Owners will receive a maintenance book spelling out what services are needed when.
Archrival BMW says it is sticking to the program it began in the 2003 model year covering all service costs, even wipers and oil filters, for four years or 50,000 miles.