Mary Ann Schwab believes in preventive maintenance. That's why, 10 years ago, when she was in the market for a car, she dropped her $10,088 at Alexander Chrysler-Plymouth on Northeast Sandy Boulevard and drove off the lot in a slightly used Plymouth Acclaim.

At the time, the Alexandrians billed themselves as "The Gentlemen" and offered a card redeemable for free lifetime oil changes, as long as they owned the vehicle.

"The reason I bought this car is the maintenance that came with it," says Schwab.

She and her husband took their Acclaim on many a road trip around the state, always returning faithfully to The Gentlemen at Alexander for oil changes and regular maintenance.

Unbeknownst to the traveling twosome, The Gentlemen sold Alexander in mid-1997 to local auto mogul Joe Breslin. Luckily for the Schwabs and others who bought cars from Alexander, Breslin chose to honor the free-oil-change policy. "It was a good business decision," he says.

This May, Breslin sold the business to Alex Laws, the dealer who promises, "Your best buy, or I'll eat my hat!"

Earlier this month, Schwab wheeled her beloved Acclaim in to Alexander to get it oiled up. She was told that while Laws may be willing to dine on his derby, he isn't going to honor the promises made by his predecessors: On his lots, there's no such thing as a free oil change.

Kevin Neely of the state Attorney General's Office says, "We have found consistently these offers are easy to misinterpret by consumers. If only we could we do away with all these free offers."

That's no comfort to Schwab, who for some reason thinks "lifetime" should mean, well, lifetime.

Repeated phone calls to officials at Laws' car lot met with message machines, missing managers and nobody willing to take responsibility for the decision--or, for that matter, eat their hat.