Yes, it can be legitimate, but I will never own a car that MUST have this done when a computer is replaced. GM started this nonsense as a way to empty their customers' wallets after the sale. They have a lot of customer-unfriendly business practices that include locking out independent repair shops so you're forced to go back to the dealer.
Chrysler has been said to be one of the more customer-friendly manufacturers after Hyundai and Toyota, but they DO have computers that accept software upgrades. The advantage is Chrysler and Toyota allow any repair shop with an internet connection to do updates to any of the dozens of computers, (except the Security System), for $40.00. Those numbers are from a class I took about six years ago so they might be out-of-date. Hyundai is the only manufacturer in the world that allows any repair shop and any owner full access to their repair web site for free, including service manuals. If I ever decided to buy a new car again with grossly over-complicated computers, that's the brand I would consider, just for that reason.
Chrysler and Toyota require you to go back to the dealer when the Security System Computer is involved because if anyone could work on them, so could the car thieves, so what would be the point of having the system?
The issue here is what is required and what is not. GM requires you to go back to the dealer when a new computer is needed. With up to 47 of them on a car, needing a new one every year or two is common, and you can't use a good used one from a salvage yard. (They thought of that too and made it impossible or expensive). They designed it so you have to buy the new one from the dealer and have it programmed to work in only your car, then the software has to be downloaded into it, and you can be sure they don't do that for free, and they won't let you off with a piddly $50.00 bill.
Chrysler computers work the same way except you can use a salvage yard computer, but you still need to have the correct software installed. The reason is they used to have dozens of, in this story, Engine Computers for one application. They all fit the same engine in the same car year and model, just with different optional equipment, like with or without cruise control, with or without air conditioning, etc. Now, to save cost by not having to build, stock, and supply a dozen different part numbers, one computer fits all the applications, often for multiple models and years, then you just install the correct software for that application. Think of it as the hard drive in your computer. They're all the same but you have to install the correct software for your specific model. That's better than having to search through thousands of hard drives on eBay to find the right one for your computer.
Now for the issue at hand. Under a very specific set of conditions, they may find there's a minor hesitation, stumble, or misfire. You may have never experienced that, but if you did, there has been an update in the software to fix that. This is where you might be expected to pay for the update if it solves the complaint you came in for. More commonly it will be found that at a certain altitude, and certain temperature, under a certain load pulling a trailer, tail pipe emissions might go a fuzz too high momentarily. There will be an upgrade for that, and anything to do with emissions is usually under warranty for five years, so Chrysler paid for that.
Safety-related issues are almost always done at no charge to you, but it depends on the circumstances. This is just an example I dreamed up, but suppose it was learned that if you are accelerating while you tap the brake pedal to cancel the cruise control, you have to tap it twice if you turn on the right turn signal during a specific half second period of time. That could leave you with the cruise control taking over once you want to coast down to a slower speed. There will be a software upgrade for that, and typically a recall notice. That would be done for no charge to you. On the other hand, they may have found that a lot of people complained that the speed with the cruise control on drops two miles per hour on a steep hill, then overshoots two miles per hour going down the other side, (people have whined and complained for a whole lot less), so they came up with a fix for that. That is not a safety or emissions issue so there's no recall and no service bulletin, but the fix will be incorporated into any future updates that are done to your car's Engine Computer. You won't even know things like that were addressed.
The issue is what is required and what you should pay for. Without knowing any other details, I can assume there were no safety or emissions-related issues involved because Chrysler would have insisted those be addressed. Since the upgrades were done while you came in for routine services, it sounds like some of these upgrades were related to "customer satisfaction" issues which cover annoying little things, and since there was no charge to you, your dealer wanted to do them and get those problems taken care of. My concern is the upgrades you had to pay for. If you were not having a problem, I would have refused those upgrades. If you had made a comment while scheduling the oil change that there was some little irritation you noticed, they may have taken the time to look if there was a fix for that, but you should have been given the chance to refuse that upgrade at this time.
Also consider that since everything is easily categorized on computers, any updates that are available for your car will pop up on the service adviser's computer when he enters your car. He has to decide on what is in your best interest, and what is a legitimate "up-sell" that has some benefit for you as well as his boss. "Up-sells" are things you buy that you didn't originally come in for. In my case, as a former suspension and alignment specialist at a very nice family-owned Chrysler dealership, the typical up-sell when you came in for new tires because your old ones were worn, was an alignment to keep this from happening to your new tires. There was a real benefit to you that would save you money in the future, but it was in my boss's best interest for me to sell you that job rather than allowing you to go to some other shop to have the alignment done. (Plus, no one was more conscientious than me, and my boss never once yelled at me for taking too long on an alignment, because he knew I was doing a good job for you)!
Oil changes are a losing deal for busy repair shops, partly because they don't make much profit, and they tie up the mechanics who could be working on more profitable things. A conscientious mechanic is expected to inspect your car for bad tire wear and its causes, exhaust leaks, burned out bulbs, and anything else you should be made aware of. What would you think of a mechanic who didn't bother to look for these things that could cost you money in the future or put your safety at risk? Selling you any of those parts and services is the goal once the oil change has gotten you in the door. The problem is when we forget the line between what is in your best interest and what is done solely for profit with no regard for you. There's enough things we consider very important that appear to be "taking you to the cleaners" to you already, and it's why a lot of people don't trust us. With today's cars, we have more than enough work already. Good shops don't need to sell things you don't need.
In the future there are always going to be upgrades to the software in the computers in your car. If any will be paid for by Chrysler, let them do them, but regardless if they're free for you or they will solve a complaint and you have to pay for them, ask what those upgrades cover and if there will be any other unacceptable results. The only sad example I can think of is lets say the upgrade covers something with the cruise control, but it will also result in it not working below 50 mph, that may be unacceptable to you if you like to use it often at 45 mph. You should be able to decide if you want the update installed and if it's a good value.
Think too of going to a restaurant. The food costs a real lot more than what you'd pay for it at a grocery store, but you're paying for the "upgrade", meaning having it cooked, and having a clean table provided. You DID get something of value at the dealership, but remember the next time you go there, it is likely there will be more updates available, (just like with Microsoft Windows each time you turn on your computer), but if you refuse that service but have it done a year or two from now, you'll still get those same improvements without having to get them a few at a time and pay for it each time. If there's no safety or emissions issue, and no obvious benefit for you, there's no need to buy the service.
A better alternative is to return a week after your last oil change with a box of cookies! I, ... I mean, ALL mechanics prefer chocolate chip!
Tuesday, January 13th, 2015 AT 4:39 PM