Auto Repair Prices: Should I Go to the Dealer or My Local Guy?

There is lots of advice on where to service one’s vehicle. Many argue that local shops are best, and that you only need to go to the dealer for warranty work and recalls. Others state that dealers are the real experts even though they’re expensive. These arguments are interesting, but do little to clarify the myths and facts of dealership service versus local shop service.

The two primary objectives of these arguments are money and quality. These two points need to be fleshed out when determining the appropriate facility in which to service a particular vehicle.

In terms of money, car repair is expensive, whether at a dealership or local shop. Car repair can also be shady. Consumers are scammed tens of billions of dollars every year. Every type of service facility: dealerships, local shops, and franchises, are ripping you off in one form or another. Stating that one facility is more expensive over another fails to recognize that 98% of all auto repair shops manipulate car repair prices.

Moreover, the expense argument of car repair doesn’t take into account the quality of service for the money. The quality of service between a dealership and local shop is a key factor to consider.

There are vast differences in the quality of car repairs. There are many variables, from the customer service received, the diagnosis of the problem, the quality of parts used, to the technician performing the actual repair.

In short, you could have a water pump replaced perfectly, and at a great price, at a dealership. You could have the same job butchered at a local shop. You could easily switch these scenarios, and add ten more variables.

The concern over the quality of repairs is heightened by the fact that the majority of technicians lack the appropriate training, which can also increase the price you pay due to incorrect repairs and/or misdiagnosis. Furthermore, depending on the facility, the technician will be limited by the facility’s resources—equipment and expertise, as well as by the service center’s internal policies and practices.

For example, at a dealer, a technician can only use factory parts (parts built by the manufacturer). In most cases, this is great. Factory parts are designed for the vehicle. However, a twelve-year-old car doesn’t necessarily need a factory part. While it can’t hurt, the age of the car may not justify the expenditure if the repair can been done for less elsewhere. The technician may know this, and have a great alternative solution “outside company policies.” It’s unlikely, however, that he’ll speak up, or that he’ll even be allowed to speak up.

In cases like these, the customer suffers, having to pay significantly more than necessary. By-the-book dealership protocols often dictate replacement of expensive parts, and thus dealer personnel will not and/or cannot offer alternatives. Following these mandates isn’t necessarily bad, and this example is not intended to frame dealerships in a negative light. However, repairs in a dealership environment very often exceed the value of the vehicle being repaired.

The point here is to illustrate that depending on the year, condition, and value of one’s vehicle, a dealership “may” not be the best alternative. However, this is rapidly changing. Technological advancements require dealership service more and more for computer updates, software updates, intricate electronic coding, and a host of mechanical concerns outside the scope of the local garage.

A local shop may not be a good alternative either. At a local shop, a technician has a whole range of parts from which to choose. However, this presents problems. First, most local shops will use local parts suppliers regardless of quality because of speed, convenience, and business relationships. This means that you “may” get a better price, but the quality of the parts can cause numerous short and long-term problems.

Local shop technicians—the good ones anyway—know the difference between quality parts and cheap parts. However, as mentioned above, good technicians are rare. In light of this, many local shops are turning to the use of factory parts because it’s just less headache. There’s nothing more frustrating than installing an aftermarket component that has to be bent, twisted, tweaked, and manipulated to fit correctly or work properly. Not only is the part made poorly, it’s been modified before it’s even installed.

Car repair concerns are not limited to parts. The quality of the worked performed (diagnosis, labor, experience, and installation procedures) is a critical factor. In this arena a dealership technician and a local shop technician are often worlds apart.

A dealer technician has all available information and proper equipment at hand, although he may lack the training to know what to do with it. Nevertheless, he does have a team of co-workers to turn to, and he can draw from their experience. Dealer technicians also see your car and its types of problems daily, and what might be a complicated repair for a local shop is quite easy for a dealer.

However, the structure and flat-rate environment of dealerships very often cause even experienced technicians to overlook simple problems. This is exacerbated by the lack of effective of communication of an inexperienced or overwhelmed service advisor who is supposed to be advocating on the car repair customer’s behalf. While there are numerous other obstacles, the point is that dealers struggle to provide consistent quality service.

A final point to consider is the condition of your vehicle after several years. In other words, what facility keeps your vehicle in better condition long-term: a dealership or local shop? And, does this better condition translate into value?

Given the current state of the auto repair industry, it would be an aberration to receive consistent, quality service anywhere. Nevertheless, both local shops and dealerships are a vital component of the automotive service community. (Franchises are in a different category and thus have been excluded from this discussion).

In the end, the consistent use of inferior parts and poor technical understanding and workmanship continues to be the locals repair shop’s downfall. Vehicles need to be maintained according to manufacturer specifications. There’s no argument on this. Although dealers still struggle with good customer service and consistent positive results, a well-maintained vehicle from a state-of-the-art dealership results in a significantly better quality vehicle, long term. A better quality vehicle equals an increase in value.

Share