In today’s world, owning and driving a car provides many of us with the considerable convenience of having access to reliable transportation all the time. Yet due to ever-increasing automobile complexity, fewer of us now can troubleshoot and repair cars compared to older generations. So when you need to bring your car in for repairs eventually, what makes you choose a dealership over an independent mechanic or vice versa? Here’s a look at the triangle of factors: cost, convenience, and expertise.
The conventional wisdom is that having your car serviced at a dealership will come out as significantly more expensive than if you were to have an independent mechanic perform the same repair work. However, the often unspoken assumption here is that the vehicle in question is out of warranty.
If your car is still under warranty, or if a manufacturer recall has been issued for your vehicle, you’ll probably end up paying nothing if you take the car to your dealership – they’ll cover all the necessary costs. You can check with your manufacturer or local dealership, or the NHTSA website for recall information.
Unfortunately, if your warranty no longer covers the repair work, then it’s generally true that dealerships cost more. They are in the business of selling new cars first, and may often try to upsell you along with the service. This can be great if you’re looking out for opportunities to trade in, by the way. Otherwise, odds are you’ll find costs to be much lower at an independent repair shop.
Due to the higher cost of service at a dealership, repair demand can be lower. This, along with the typical scale of its operations, may very well lead to shorter waiting times when you take your vehicle to the local dealer for service. If you’re in a hurry, this could be an important factor to consider.
On the flip side, you may need to spend that waiting period inside the dealership’s lounge, which may have rather sparse amenities. Local mechanics can have some loaner vehicles for their customers to use, so your time waiting on the service could be more productive. And you might also have a chance to watch the independent mechanic at work and learn a few things about DIY car repair if you’re into that sort of thing.
The easy assumption to make is that dealerships, in general, possess greater skill when it comes to troubleshooting and repair on their vehicles. Whereas independent mechanics have more general know-how and familiarity with a wide range of models and would be the go-to place for general maintenance work.
While this assumption may hold broadly true, there are many factors to consider. Some shops have a particular specialization; perhaps your local mechanic has a passion for vintage cars. Certain parts may no longer be manufactured, but an independent mechanic with the right expertise can reverse engineer them. Even with more recent model-specific issues, such as turn-of-the-century Subaru Foresters with worn-out head gaskets, a specialist repair shop can get the expert level job done at a reasonable price compared to the dealer.
When in doubt, shop around. Look at both dealerships and local mechanics to gauge the type of work they do, and how committed and transparent their services are. Keep an ear open for local word of mouth, which can be the best sign of great service. It may take more effort, but you’ll get to know your local shops better and find the best value for money on your car repairs.