Let Inga Tell You: I’m not buying what everybody’s upselling

Burlap bag containing cash

Is it just me or is upselling reaching new heights?

There were certain places you always expected it — for example, at auto repair places. I couldn’t go into the dealership for windshield wipers or a tire place for new tires without them doing a “courtesy inspection” — a phrase third on my list of scary expressions after “Packed flat for easy assembly” and “It’s a simple outpatient procedure.”

My dealership (a place I avoid like the plague) has what I call “The Rule of 1,000.” Dollars, that is. They are sure I will want to get these things taken care of preemptively, for my own safety. They will even concede, upon questioning, that there isn’t anything actually wrong with these parts right now. But it’s always good to get things replaced before they break.

A year or two ago, I went to my tire place and, while I was waiting for the balancing to be finished, a mechanic approached me with an expression of deep concern. They had done a “courtesy inspection,” he reported, and found that there are “holes” in some of the hoses under my hood. But fortunately, they have the capability to replace the hoses for an additional $300 and could do it right now! Good thing they caught it in time!

I asked to be shown these holes. As we peered under the hood, the mechanic pointed vaguely in the direction of various hoses.

“I don’t see any holes,” I said.

“They’re very hard to see,” said the mechanic/upseller. “You have to be trained.”

Yup, I’m sure you have to be trained — to sell repairs of non-existent problems. My car is regularly maintained by an independent shop whose eyesight I trust far more than these guys.

Now, whenever I go to a dealership or tire place for a specific reason (airbag recall, new tires) I am clear: “I do not want a courtesy inspection. Do not open the hood of my car for any reason. Are we absolutely clear?”

But the auto repair folks have nothing on what seems to have happened to the veterinary and dental industries. The turnover of longtime family dental or veterinary practices to corporate ownership or even just to high profit models has become alarming. We’re fine with them making a profit, but the problem is we don’t trust their recommendations anymore. When both your pet and your teeth are involved, this is a serious problem.

The veterinary practice we had frequented for many years is now owned by a corporation. We did anything our old vet (no longer there) recommended. You may have read a recent column about the $17,000 we spent on veterinary care last year. A chunk of it was a new knee for the dog, followed by her sudden refusal to eat.

Lots of those tests were absolutely necessary. But honestly, lots of them, in our view, weren’t. We were constantly declining pricey procedures or that bill would have been way higher.

Meanwhile, our beloved dentist of 35 years retired several years ago, and finding a replacement has been arduous indeed. The practice is now owned by an investor who, as far as we can tell, puts in salaried dentists with some rigorous profit targets. If our old dentist recommended something, we pretty much always did it. But if we declined, he was totally fine about it.

In the new model, by the time the hygienist is finished cleaning your teeth, the closer has already printed out an estimate of the work needed to be done (which always seems to be replacing perfectly good crowns, plus a “deep cleaning” laser treatment) and wants to schedule it right then. If you demur, they insist you sign a document that you are refusing recommended care.

So we decided to move on. But with no more success. One dentist tried to talk my 70-plus-year-old husband into $11,000 worth of clear braces in conjunction with a crown or two. As for me, they were adamant that I needed $7,200 worth of veneers.

The next dental practice — highly recommended to me — had just had a turnover due to health problems of the original dentist. The new dentist and the hygienist basically tried to tag-team me into agreeing to prophylactic dental work. I pointed out that my teeth weren’t hurting and that I truly hated dental work, so I was declining.

But they weren’t taking no for an answer. Finally, the hygienist huffed, “Well, I don’t think we can continue to have you as a patient here if you are not going to follow recommendations.”

“Works for me!” I chirped. I already knew I was never setting foot in that place again.

I am happy to report that Olof and I did finally land at a new dentist who had all the warm, fuzzy, non-pressured demeanor of our old dentist. One problem solved!

Then last week we got a letter from our lovely new dentist. He has sold the practice.

Inga’s lighthearted looks at life appear regularly in the La Jolla Light. Reach her at ◆