Here’s a look at the pros and cons of dealership service departments versus local repair shops. (pixabay.com)
You need an oil change. A tire rotation. New brakes.
Or maybe your vehicle has an electrical mystery.
Where should you go for service?
Some drivers favor the dealership, where they believe they will get better service, better parts and better-trained mechanics working on their car. Others swear by local mechanics, saying they’re more trustworthy, far less expensive and just as talented.
What’s the truth?
Spending on repairs and maintenance for vehicles is big business. (pixabay.com)
Let’s start with the money.
When you add together parts, labor, tires and do-it-yourself sales, Americans spent $285.8 billion on their vehicles in 2017, according to the Auto Care Association’s 2019 Auto Care Factbook.
New Jersey makes up 2.6 percent of the U.S. total automotive aftermarket, spending about $7.6 billion last year, said the Auto Care Association’s Behzad Rassuli.
The estimated dealer share of the N.J. aftermarket is 30 percent or $2.3 billion, while the estimated independent share is 70 percent or $5.3 billion, Rassuli said.
So in our state, it seems more drivers head to the neighborhood mechanic than to the dealer.
There are a broad range of shops that provide vehicle maintance and repairs. (pixabay.com)
Your service choices
If you’re not a do-it-yourselfer, there are three kinds of places you can go to service your car.
The first is the dealership. This is the place where you bought your car – or a sister dealership that sells the same models.
Then there are car specialty shops. These – like Jiffy Lube, Meineke or Midas – tend to specialize in one car maintenance service, such as mufflers, oil changes or tires.
And finally there are neighborhood repair shops. These may be stand-alone garages or ones attached to a gas station. Some of these repair all kinds of cars, while others specialize in specific brands.
Mechanics can be just as knowledgeable or skilled no matter where they work. (pixabay.com)
You might assume that mechanics, or technicians, who work at a dealership are the most skilled and best trained, but that’s not necessarily true.
Dealerships require certain training of their workers, and mechanics become specialists on the manufacturer’s brand. The dealerships are also up on their brand’s new features, and how to fix them if something goes wrong.
Because many independent mechanics work on all kinds of vehicles, it’s possible they’re not as educated about your specific car.
Independents can stay up on the latest technologies through certification with the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, commonly called A.S.E., a non-profit organization that offers testing and certifications in 50 areas.
Dealerships typically have higher overhead than independent shops, and you’ll pay for it with higher prices. (pixabay.com)
What you’re paying for
While you want the best possible service for your car, also think about what kind of personal service is important to you.
Dealerships typically charge a higher labor rate for their mechanics, but that’s not the only thing you’re paying for.
You’re paying for the dealer’s overhead for conveniences they want to offer their customers.
Think about the greeter at the front door. The service manager who checks you in. The assistants at the check-out desk who run your credit card and return your keys.
Then there are comfortable waiting rooms that provide cable television, free WiFi, fancy coffee-makers and tasty pastries. The sparkling clean bathrooms.
The free loaner cars or shuttle service so you don’t have to wait for your car while it’s being worked on. A free car wash.
Compare that to what you might find at a local shop: a hard folding chair to sit on, no food or beverages, no loaner cars, no WiFi, not-so-sparkling bathrooms.
Because independent mechanics have much smaller overhead than a dealer, there are usually fewer costs to pass on to the consumer.
Understand what kinds of parts you’re getting when you service your car. (pixabay.com)
When you go to a dealer, you’re sure to get only manufacturer’s parts. That means you won’t have any choice when it comes to cost.
A local repair shop, on the other hand, may give you a choice of manufacturer parts or replacement parts. In most cases, the difference is much like a name-brand drug versus the generic – the only difference is in the name and the cost.
If you want only manufacturer parts, you’ll have to have a conversation with your local mechanic to see if the part can be ordered, and this will cost you more time and money.
Before you decide, research the specific part online to see if there’s a difference in reliability or performance.
Beware of service departments that was to sell you unneeded work. (pixabay.com)
While it’s absolutely possible you’ll find a neighborhood mechanic who isn’t honest about what your car needs, dealership service departments sometimes upsell.
And it’s not uncommon for service managers to receive a commission on the parts and services they sell, so you can expect the dealer’s mechanic to go over your vehicle with a fine-tooth comb.
Even if you’re just in for an oil change, the mechanics will put your vehicle through a multi-point checklist to see if there’s anything else your car needs, or could need. Manufacturers also recommend certain services at different mileage milestones, so you can expect the service manager to call you with a long list of recommendations.
That doesn’t mean you need the work done.
Be sure to understand if maintenance is really needed before you agree to have work done. (pixabay.com)
If you’re working with an independent repair shop, use your car’s manual for a guide on what work the vehicle may need.
And if you’re not sure about any expensive diagnosis – no matter what kind of mechanic you use – consider getting a second opinion.
Remember, dealers make more money on servicing cars than they do selling them. In fact, the National Automobile Dealers Association says 44 percent of dealer profits come from the service and parts departments.
If a local repair shop doesn’t have a needed part on site, you may have to wait longer. (pixabay.com)
Again, this will vary by dealer or mechanic, but you might find service to be quicker at a dealership. The dealer probably employs more mechanics, and it often has a large parts department so whatever is needed for your car is probably readily available. There’s a good chance your car will be completed in one day.
At your neighborhood shop, you’ll probably have fewer mechanics so there may be a longer waiting list. And if your car needs a specific part – whether a manufacturer part or a replacement part – your mechanic may need to wait several days for it to arrive. That means you could be without your vehicle for much longer.
If you car has a complex or hard-to-diagnose problem, you may be better served with a dealer. (pixabay.com)
If you’ve decided a neighborhood mechanic is the way to go, there will still be times you may want to visit the dealership.
New cars have all kinds of bells and whistles that rely on electronics, and some of these problems can be tough to diagnose if the mechanic doesn’t have the complicated diagnostic equipment most dealers have.
Then there are manufacturer-specific problems that can happen for unusual or uncommon features.
If your local mechanic doesn’t have experience with the issue, you’re probably best served by a dealership that’s familiar with your make and model.
Understand what guarantees are offered by whoever works on your car. (pixabay.com)
It’s common for dealerships to offer longer guarantees on both parts and labor than a local mechanic.
And that’s important. If something goes wrong with the car, you don’t want to have to pay for the same repair all over again.
Before you have the work done, especially for expensive items, compare the guarantees offered by the dealer and the local shop and see what works best for you.
Read your warranty so you know what’s expected of you as an owner. (pixabay.com)
Will you void your warranty?
Whether you have a new or previously-owned car, your dealership has probably given you a warranty.
Many drivers think they will void the warranty if they have service performed someplace other than the dealer, but that’s not usually the case. (Please read the fine print on your warranty and don’t depend on the generalizations we’re providing here.)
New car warranties can require you to follow a regular maintenance schedule for the warranty to remain in force. The law actually protects you here, allowing you to get routine maintenance done anywhere. As long as you can prove to the dealer that you had the work done, it’s required to honor the warranty. So be sure to save all service records.
Your warranty could be at risk, though, if a local mechanic makes a mistake and causes damage to a part of your vehicle. If that happens with a dealer, the dealer’s service department will probably cover the repairs and replacement parts. Will your local mechanic fess up to a mistake like that? It will depend on the mechanic.
Also note that if you have a lease, your lease contract may require you to use the dealership for service. Just read the fine print.
Be sure to check out any business you may use for car service. (pixabay.com)
Do your research
As with anything else, be sure to do your research before you choose where you will service your vehicle.
Start by asking family and friends for recommendations, or ask your neighbors with a post on your town’s Facebook page.
Check out the service provider on the Better Business Bureau (BBB) website.
Also read reviews of 848 shops in New Jersey on the CarTalk radio show’s “Mechanics Files.”
Contact the state’s Consumer Affairs department to see if there are any complaints against the dealer or small shop.