Whether you swear by the professional standards of your dealership or you’ve been seeing the same local mechanic for a decade, we gravitate to the service and satisfaction that we’ve come to expect.
But what, exactly, does each have to offer?
Before making your next big car service and repair decision, take a look at the pros and cons of using a car repair dealership or independent mechanic.
At first glance, the difference between dealership mechanics and independent mechanics seems purely financial. Those with new, warranty covered cars will utilize the perks of their purchase and have their car serviced at a dealership. On the other hand, used car owners will likely jump from mechanic to mechanic, seeking trust, reliability, and affordability.
But there’s more going on under the hood, so to speak.
Dealerships specialize in a specific car brand, such as BMW, Audi, or Porsche. They provide manufacturer-backed warranties and utilize high-quality car components directly from the manufacturer. The mechanics at a dealership are trained to work on a specific brand of car. Rather than being a jack-of-all-trades, dealerships are masters of their specific brand.
Independent mechanics are highly personalized. They often offer better customer service, pricing, and scheduled repairs. Unlike a dealership, you’ll actually communicate with the mechanic(s) at a local repair shop, so it’s possible to build rapport with a specific mechanic.
In fact, building a relationship with a mechanic is in your best interest. According to a Consumer Reports survey, consumers who visit local mechanics have a more satisfying experience and are able to haggle for discounts.
John Ibbotson, Consumer Reports’ chief mechanic, shed light on this by suggesting, “If you stay loyal, [independent mechanics are] bound to treat you right, which can be advantageous when it comes to those really expensive jobs.”
Dealerships provide a trained staff of mechanics and technicians that specialize in one specific brand. A dealership can work on hundreds of cars a month, so repairs tend to be quick and efficient. They use high-quality parts that are specific to the make and model of your car. They’re also authorized and inspected by the respective car manufacturer, so your car will be in safe hands.
Most modern vehicles require diagnostic equipment that dealerships have on hand. According to Popular Mechanics, it’s more beneficial to visit a dealership for modern technological issues rather than paying a local mechanic to learn about your car. Whether you have a complex mechanical problem or a reoccurring electronics issue, a dealership is prepared to update and restore your car to working order.
Ultimately, you stand to benefit from a dealership if your vehicle is currently covered by a warranty. Think of a warranty like premium health insurance: most of the repairs your car requires will be covered by the manufacturer as long as the warranty is active. When it expires, you can either extend the warranty or pay for your repairs as they’re needed.
Although they’re much smaller than a dealership workshop, independent mechanics are equally skilled at auto repairs and servicing and are usually staffed by former dealership mechanics. Unlike a dealership, customers can meet directly with their mechanic and discuss the details of the repair in question. Plus, independent mechanics are not limited to working on one specific brand. They are specialized in a variety of cars due to their diverse experience, and in some circumstances will even honor a third-party warranty.
Nurturing a relationship with your mechanic is also advantageous.
A 2018 study of 1,500 car owners by AAAA found that a whopping 86% of participants trust the skill of their local mechanic. The vast majority of those surveyed believe it’s important to have a good relationship with the mechanic, while 68% appreciate that the person who works on their car also owns the repair shop as well.
According to the Consumer Reports latest study on car service and repair, independent mechanics consistently rank higher in terms of satisfaction, price, and quality.
A recent Consumer Report survey showed you’ll be “more satisfied with an independent repair shop than with a franchised new-car dealership.”
The report highlights the fact that independent car mechanics rank higher than dealerships when it comes to:
There’s also one more problem that comes up whenever you choose a dealership over a local car repair shop:
Dealerships come with prestige, professionalism, and experience, but at a price. Not only do dealerships have a higher overhead to manage than local auto repair shops, but they tend to pay their manufacturer-trained mechanics a much higher salary. This can lead to dear prices for similar services.
In addition, dealerships are required to use factory-made equipment. If a part is unavailable or out of stock, then it will be shipped to the dealership when it’s available. This can further inflate prices and result in long wait times.
Finally, because dealerships employ a pool of mechanics, the average customer won’t interact with the mechanic that’s working on their car. This means it will be difficult if not impossible to establish a long-term relationship with a mechanic at a dealership. The lack of customer service and satisfaction has meant dealerships are consistently overshadowed by independent mechanics in Consumer Reports’ annual car owner survey.
Only Tesla, a relative newcomer to the dealership industry, outscored independent mechanics.
Honesty and reliability are perhaps the biggest concerns for skeptical auto repair customers—finding an honest mechanic is akin to winning the jackpot. Complicating matters even further is the fact that many of us don’t know the inner workings of our car. How are we to know if we’re being duped?
According to ConsumerAffairs, you’re safer following your gut than you might think. In interviews with members of The Automotive Service Association (ASA), ConsumerAffairs found that dishonest mechanics tend to avoid repeating the problem in layman's terms. The regulatory body also recommend you compare prices for any parts or services on the internet and study any advice that’s given so you’re prepared to talk with your mechanic.
Independent mechanics can order factory original parts, but you’ll need to pay for these as well as wait for them to arrive.
Finally, it takes more work to find the best auto shop for your vehicle. If you live in a large city, it’s likely you’re surrounded by dozens of independent repair shops. Finding one that’s not only reliable but capable of servicing your car can be a challenge and will involve more sleuthing than simply heading to a dealership. Furthermore, some auto shops might turn you down if they don’t have the skills or time to work on your car.
In the end, the right auto repair service for your car is up to you.
If the price is important, obtain a quote from both a car repair dealership or independent mechanic. Shop around and compare prices until you find the best offer. But remember, cheaper doesn’t necessarily mean better.
If you’d like to begin fostering a relationship with a mechanic in order to build trust, loyalty, and future negotiations and discounts, then begin looking for reputable independent mechanics near you. More often than not, someone you know already has a lead on a great mechanic.
On the other hand, finding the right mechanic can be stressful, and some of us just weren’t meant to haggle. A dealership will provide exceptional care and professionalism—at a price. But with a warranty in hand, you’ll be able to keep your car maintained and your wallet happy.