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Dealership vs Mechanic: Which Should You Choose?

When it comes to car repair, we’ve all heard horror stories. People are pressured into getting unnecessary repairs. Shops cut corners. You walk in needing one repair, and walk out needing four more.

We get it. It’s hard to find someone you can trust with your vehicle.

But unless you can do all of your repair work yourself, you’ll need to take your car somewhere. Are you better off going to a dealer, or should you take your car to an independent shop?

The Pros and Cons of Dealerships

The dealership may seem like the go-to choice for repairs, but they do have some drawbacks that may not make them ideal for every situation.

The Good

One of the main benefits to going to a dealership is that they hire technicians who specialize in repairing and maintaining your car brand. Their experience is hard to match. After all, they work on hundreds of cars each month.

Dealerships also have several service bays, and their technicians are factory-trained. And if your car is still under warranty, only a dealership will cover the cost of most repairs.

Dealers are backed by brand names, and they often offer extended warranties. Each time you bring in your vehicle for service, they’ll check for any recalls or repair bulletins that may affect your car.

Dealerships also use original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts, which ensures high quality control.

There are also some other little benefits to bringing your car to a dealership for repairs. They often have comfortable chairs and refreshments available in the waiting room. Many also have shuttles or loaner cars available so that you can go about your day while they work on your car.

The Bad

The biggest complaint about bringing a car to a dealership is the cost. You’ll pay a much higher price to have your vehicle serviced. This is partly because the dealer pays higher salaries for specially-trained and experienced technicians.

Another issue with dealerships is that service managers usually earn commission from their work. This means that when they recommend a repair, they usually get a percentage of the parts and labor. That’s why dealerships often get a bad reputation for recommending unnecessary repairs.

I once brought my car to the dealership for a simple oil change. Somewhere between parking my car in the lot and bringing it into the shop, the tire “went flat” and I had to have it replaced. Another time, it was recommended that I change my cabin air filter. I declined because I can do it myself. I later found rocks in my filter.

In my opinion, this is one of the biggest drawbacks to bringing a car to a dealership. I’m okay with paying a higher price for specialized service, but I’m not okay with service managers earning commission from recommended repairs. This almost always leads to shady practices.

But not every dealership is like this, and thousands of people bring their cars to dealers religiously for repairs without issues. I also recommend using an OBD II scanner, like Uberfix MD, to see if you can pinpoint a problem before bringing your car in for repairs.

Another potential drawback to using a dealership is that because they only use OEM parts (which are better in quality), shipping times can be much longer if the part isn’t in stock. Prices can also be higher because they are OEM.

In general, customer service isn’t as great as you might think. Don’t expect to talk to the mechanic, and don’t expect the person at the desk to be able to confidently answer your questions.

The Pros and Cons of Independent Shops

Some people prefer to take their vehicles to independent shops for repairs, but they also have some drawbacks that need to be considered.

The Good

Independent repair shops are usually smaller garages, and customers usually meet directly with the mechanic who will be working on their vehicle. If you’re the type of person who likes to ask questions or learn more about a particular repair, being able to talk to the mechanic directly can be very beneficial and may also put your mind at ease.

Many repair shops are staffed by former dealership technicians, so their expertise and knowledge aren’t necessarily subpar. They often have experience with a wide range of makes and models, and they may even honor third-party warranties.

Independent mechanics typically rank higher when it comes to customer satisfaction, efficiency and quality.

But to enjoy these benefits, you need to make sure that the shop has its Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification.

Independent shops have the benefit of offering either OEM parts, or less-expensive after-market parts. Some even offer rebuilt parts.

Because the mechanics are independent, they have no loyalty to a manufacturer, nor do they earn commission from repairs (in most cases).

And because mechanics work in smaller garages with less overhead, prices for repairs and maintenance is usually much lower.

Independent shops strive to be efficient and offer better customer service simply because they have to build up their reputation from scratch. A dealership, on the other hand, has its big-name brand to stand behind it, which automatically builds trust with car owners.

The Bad

If you live in an area with a lot of local mechanics, you may have a hard time finding the right shop. It will take some time to weed through all of the available shops in your area and read through reviews.

Some shops will turn down repairs or maintenance work if they don’t specialize in that brand. If you drive a Tesla, don’t expect to take it to Joe’s Garage down the street for repairs (not that you’ll really need them).

The lack of specialized expertise and knowledge may be a turn-off for some people. Independent garages usually work on a wide range of makes and models, so it may take them longer to pinpoint the problem compared to a dealership with specialized knowledge.

Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference and comfort level. If you feel more comfortable taking your car to a dealership and have a long history of good experiences, there’s no reason to change. But if you prefer a more personalized experience and better prices, a local independent shop may be the better option.

November 14, 2019


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