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Servicing Cars At The Dealer Or An Independent Shop

Updated on June 30, 2016


As a certified auto tech, I hear a lot of different stories and situations from either customers or friends and family. Is the dealership worth the expensive repairs, or is it worth taking to a reputable independent shop to most likely get it done a little cheaper.

As an auto tech that works in the Independent world but have worked for both, I believe there are pros and cons of both places and would like to shed some light on the subject and maybe help out people who are curious about the operation of an independent shop vs a dealer. I also would like to provide some tips and suggestions when working with "car guys" (or gals).


In most cases when someones car breaks down, Its not the actual problem with car or the fact that they are late for that office meeting that gets them upset the most. Its who they get to talk to next and where they are about to go. Those people being the service writer and that place being the dealership, no not the STEALership! If your thinking about switching to the dealer or even leaving because its too expensive, this is what you are getting:

Factory trained technicians. Dealerships invests the most money into their technicians than any independent shop I've seen. Every 6 months or so the technician is sent to a training location to get updated on new technology about the car line. Not only do they have to sit and take notes, but most are required to demonstrate and prove that they understand the material. Some dealers have internet based learning programs that the tech is required to complete on his own time (usually compensated by the dealer). To be a factory certified technician and maintain that status, these are mandatory. These technicians also see pattern failures in the car line which may lead to a faster diagnosis and repair. Remember they only have to worry about One car line so they know the the ins and outs, causes and fixes for common problems.

Diagnostic equipment. If anyone reading has been in a situation when they were at an independent shop and the service writer has told them "we cannot do that here, we would have to send it to the dealer", this is why. Dealerships are equipped with every diagnostic tool available to work on any vehicle of that dealers car line. I have come across cars at an independent where i would plug in an aftermarket diagnostic tool and it would not even work with the cars computer and even said "See Dealer". Heavy diagnostic work may be the best done at a dealer given that they have all the access to specific tools to work with cars advanced technology.

Warranties: If you have purchased a car from the dealer and is under factory warranty be cautious. Dealerships offer great warranty plans and most are good about honoring the warranty in most situations. Read paperwork carefully about the warranty and what is covered, also think twice about servicing at an independent while under warranty. Situations will arise such as "We will not cover that under warranty because you had it serviced at another shop". There has been cases at my INDEPENDENT shop where we have a car visited for no oil on the dipstick meaning the engine was burning oil and ultimately losing oil. The customer chose to have it diagnosed and we diagnosed worn piston rings.To people who are not mechanically in tune, have no fear! Basically what happened was the car had faulty engine components at 30k miles and was under a 60k mile full coverage warranty. Dealer has refused to warranty the engine and components because all the history oil changes etc. were done at Independent shops! There argument was that if you did not service the vehicle at the dealer and used the dealer supplied oil while being checked over by a dealer technician, you have voided the warranty. Whether that argument is valid or not, it does happen and I have seen it all! Read over the paperwork, Double check with the service manager and get things in writing. Cover yourself at all times and understand the policies.

Parts and availability: OEM which stands for (Original Equipment Manufacturer) are parts the dealer provides and is to be used to fix or perform maintenance on vehicles. It's what is used on the car out of the factory is being used again on your vehicle when it comes time to do repairs. OEM parts are usually always available at the dealer and there is no time wasted trying to get prices from other vendors. Parts department has a good supply of every part big or little that fits on your car. Most guys in the parts department have a good understanding of what you need due to repetition, which causes an easy in and out operation. OEM usually stands by their part by a standard 1 year warranty and dealerships will usually stand by their labor if serviced at a dealer. You are paying for quality parts but just because it is OEM does not mean every part is better quality than that of independent vendors. These parts are promised by the Manufacturer to be an exact fit and to work as exactly as the part you are replacing. With OEM, the downside is you are limited to buying parts only at the dealer, unlike independent vendors that are spread throughout town.

Independent Chains / Mom + pop

Independent shops have sort of a different feel to them than dealerships. Our customers have a more relaxed feeling to them when you see them drop off their car (in most cases). Don't get me wrong we have customers that are simply mad at the world all the time 24/7 and it doesn't help that they have to bring their car in because it is broken or needs maintenance done. Here are some reasons why I think Independent may be a better choice for some.

Customer Service: Receiving feedback from customers, family, friends etc, most of them seemed to have the same comments in common. Customer service at the dealer was a joke, very arrogant, mean, and i did not trust them. Independent shops tend to have a more personal relationship with their customers and it gives people a piece of mind when dropping their car off for service. Its not just "give me your keys, it will be done in an hour" type of deal. My advisers work very hard in gaining customer trust and care about that relationship and loyalty that is between the customer and the shop. Independents are usually smaller than dealers with a smaller customer base, which i believe gives them more of a personal experience. They don't have 30 technicians in the back trying to get the current car out and next car in and the adviser up their butt the whole time. My company has regular training schedules and the advisers are sent out for to a place to improve customer service, selling techniques and working with difficult customers. Even us Technicians in the back are able to have a conversation with the customer, show them whats up with their vehicle and have a chance to gain their trust. If you are looking for a more personal experience and want to have a trusting relationship with shop, independent might be right for you.

Used Cars: In my opinion the best place to have a used car service is at an independent shop. Your car is no longer in warranty, it has 105,000 miles do you still need to go to the dealer? Remember these car dealers I speak of are NEW car dealers. They sell and service mostly new cars. I am not saying that dealer technicians will not or cannot work on older cars but its less common than new cars due to new cars flooding the service center with recalls and warranty work, new car inspections. It may be wiser to bring to an independent, reason being that 90% of our cars that we see are used cars and i would say about 70% of them are 100k+ miles. Independent technicians have more experience with every car brand and usually have more tools in their collection due to needing specific tools for all brands. If warranty is up and don't feel the need to spend extra money on dealer services and perks than you should find a trustworthy independent shop.

Mom and pop shop: Another form of an independent shop would be a mom and pop shop. These shops are normally small but very busy. They usually have a guy in the shop that has been wrenching for 40+ years that knows the ins and outs of how a car operates. Independent shops use multiple vendors for parts and can usually get them on time but may take longer than that of a dealership. They are being driven by parts drivers and most parts are not on site. Get in good with a mom and pop shop and they will treat you like family if you continue to give them service. Unlike independent chains and dealerships, Mom and pops tend not to upsell so much! Upsell meaning they are not trying to sell you extra services. There is no corporate coming down on them to get their numbers up and try to sell as much work as possible. Don't let the small size and look of a Joe schmoes shop on the corner turn you away. These shops often do good work and focus mainly on the reason you are there, to fix your car and get your back on the road.

Some tips

I understand that everyone may have different experiences when it comes to Dealership vs independent. Some like one or the other better and I am not necessarily saying one is better than the other. I just wanted to provide some personal experience and what I see and have seen to help people think twice or maybe help them feel better about where they are spending there money. Before ending I would like to offer some tips for people when going in for service.

Research: Not familiar with whatever the guy at the front counter is telling you? Feel like what hes saying is not even a real thing? Write down what hes telling you, and check his facts. Go online and pull up service interval recommendations and make sure that your spark plugs are actually due at 100k miles like he said.

Ask to see: Adviser says your brakes need to be done. If you trust him than that's great but if you are a little concerned then ask to see! Show me that my brakes need to be done. If it is an honest shop they should have no problem bringing you out to the car for 5 seconds to take a look. As a technician i encourage people to come look, it shows you have nothing to hide and it builds trust. Whether you understand what they are showing your or not, if they are showing you that tells you that they do not have anything to hide. Remember, they don't know you and what you know.

Be patient: If you are in a reputable shop chances are they are not ripping you off. They sell you a diagnostic charge to figure out a check engine light, there are thousands and thousands of reasons it could be on. Automotive is not just nuts and bolts anymore! It is a lot of computer based diagnostics and takes time to get info and put that all together.

Always diagnose: If you have a problem with your car and the shop just wants to throw parts at it, STAY AWAY! Properly diagnosing a car is important. It is not always the actual part that fails, it could be wiring or a computer issue! Pay the diagnostic and get status updates on what the tech is actually doing. Diagnostic will make sure its the right fix and its a permanent fix.


The average tool expense over the course of an auto technicians career is 30k-70k. All must be bought and provided by the technician. Very few shops if any, supply techs with their own set of tools.

Dealership Vs Independent

What do you prefer, Dealership or Independent?

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