Scenario: Your vehicle had a manufacturers warranty that expired and now your car needs repairs. What do you do? Where do you go?
When your car’s warranty runs out, it can be very stressful to think about your options for repair. Do you take your car to the dealership? What about an independent mechanic? Can a smaller independent mechanic perform the same quality repair while saving you money?
There are a few misconceptions when it comes to taking your car to an independent mechanic versus the dealership. Some believe dealerships are honest and will not take advantage of you, while on the other hand, the independent mechanic is synonymous with “shade tree” and dishonesty is all but guaranteed. Ultimately, our research has uncovered this fallacy.
You should vet dealerships just as you would vet an independent mechanic; there simply is no “one size fits all.” Some dealerships will take good care of you while some will try to take advantage of you. (click here to learn how to spot dishonest mechanics)
So, what are the benefits of going to a dealer versus an independent mechanic? In some cases, it IS more beneficial to take your car to the dealership. We will list the pros, cons and exactly what to look for prior to spending your hard-earned cash with at a dealership.
Specialized Tools – Certain brands of vehicles need specialized tools to repair different areas of that specific car. Without these tools, the vehicle can be damaged or repaired incorrectly. For example, when changing the oil in Audi’s a special tool is needed to complete this job. Not all independent mechanics will carry specialized tools like this.
General and Programming Information – Information is a major advantage dealerships have over independent mechanics. It is always helpful to have warranty data and a collection of manufacturing issues when repairing customers’ vehicles. This information is not always available outside of the dealer giving dealerships the upper hand to diagnose problems that are outside of normal wear. Dealerships are, therefore, able to identify problems generated during the manufacturing process or defects in certain parts. Recalls for example are given directly to the dealerships which they can in turn make this repair, in most cases, free of charge.
With the increasing amount of technology in vehicles, more programming is needed for all features to function properly. The programming is sometimes very sensitive information that is not allowed to be released outside of dealerships.
Additionally, dealerships have access to your maintenance schedules which they can used to help ensure you are taking care of your car within the appropriate timeframe.
OEM (original parts manufacturer) Parts Used– Dealerships are more inclined to use the recommended OEM (original equipment manufacturer) parts when completing repairs. (Tip: Don’t assume the dealership will use OEM parts. Always make sure to ask for OEM parts if that is what you prefer)
Specialized mechanics – Dealerships also have more specialized mechanics who have special certificates to work on certain areas of your car. For example, some dealerships have brand specific brake experts who were trained by the manufacturer to work on the braking systems. Or, they might have a body panel specialist who has been trained by the manufacturer on how to repair different body damages. For the dealership to work on different areas of a vehicle, the OEM requires them to have specialized mechanics.
Now, what’s the catch? It seems like taking your car to the dealership is a pretty good idea based on the pros detailed above; but, there are some drawbacks listed below:
Higher Repair Costs: The specialized tooling and certifications can be very expensive to the dealership, an expense that gets passed down to the consumer. The prices for a dealership are usually not negotiable like they may be at an independent mechanic.
Can be Dishonest Due to Trust: When getting repairs at a local dealership, you might not think a mechanic would take advantage of you and, therefore, let your guard down. We’ve found many undercover investigations that have caught dealerships in a lie.
Just because the dealer says you need a specific repair does not mean you take their word at face value; it never hurts to do your own research and question their opinion. After all, dealerships are in business to make money. (click here to learn what to do when making decisions at the repair shop)
Next you might ask, what is the benefit of going to a local mechanic? Even with the many benefits of the dealership there are still many benefits to go to an independent mechanic.
Cheaper prices: Most independent repair shops are significantly cheaper than dealerships. Since local repair shops don’t require their mechanics to have certain certifications, the cost of repairs is generally reduced making repairs more affordable (many independent mechanics came from dealerships where they received different certifications). Bigger independent repair shops can spend the extra money to purchase the needed information and specialty tooling, making them a better option to choose.
In addition, independent mechanics’ prices are sometimes negotiable unlike most dealerships where labor costs are fixed.
More Personable: Smaller local shops tend to have a more personable atmosphere than some dealerships which can make them more inviting. A good portion of independent mechanics are significantly smaller than dealerships allowing more of a one on one feel to the repair process. You can actually meet the mechanic doing the work on your car and, sometimes, even go into the garage to watch them perform the work.
Flexible Hours of Operation: Since many dealerships service a significantly larger amount of customers, it can be difficult to schedule appointments. In contrast, independent mechanics don’t always have set hours, so they can be more flexible when servicing and repairing your vehicle.
Independent mechanics are more apt to work extra hours to ensure you car gets fixed by a certain time and can sometimes even make house visits if needed.
Even though the pros of going to an independent mechanic might seem very appealing, there are also many risks involved. These risks include:
No warranty: When taking your vehicle to independent mechanics, you are no longer warrantied by the OEM. This means, if something goes wrong with your car after a repair they are no longer required to fix it even if you are still under your original warranty. (Tip: Many independent mechanics offer their own warranties for repairs and this can sometimes be a good option. Be sure to do your research by checking the reviews of the mechanic to ensure you get good service before using these warranties. There have been many cases where customers use independent mechanics warranties only to constantly need to take their car in due to faulty repairs.)
More Options: Usually more options are a good thing but, in the case of finding an independent mechanic, this can make it harder to distinguish between a knowledgeable mechanic and someone wanting to take advantage of you; i.e. “shade tree”. It is best to look up reviews of the mechanic you want to use to avoid dishonest mechanics.
What to do? Go to a dealership or do you go to an independent mechanic? There is no right or wrong answer. There are pros and cons when it comes to an independent mechanic versus a dealership. It is important to be aware of these factors when finalizing your decision.
Even with the added resources and tooling dealerships have, independent mechanics are just as knowledgeable if not more knowledgeable than some dealership mechanics.
In my opinion, the choice should depend on whether your car is under warranty or not and how much emphasize you put on the maintenance of your car. If your car is still under the factory warranty then you should take your car to a dealership since, in most cases, the repair is free. Even still, I would do research on the different dealers because they are not all created equal.
If your car is out of warranty, then I would explore using a trusted independent mechanic for scheduled maintenance and repairs. Using an independent mechanic for all routine maintenance requires you to manually keep up with most or all your scheduling. If you would like all of your maintenance to be scheduled for you then the dealership is probably the better option.
If you have any questions or comments drop them below or send us a message here. We’d love to hear from you. And remember – knowledge is the key to a fair repair.