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Dealership versus Aftermarket Repair: Is one Better than the Other?

Published on February 6, 2012 under Humble Mechanic

I know this debate comes up alot. I have been doing a little research on the subject and found that most if not ALL the articles are VERY bias on the side of aftermarket shops. Now, I really don’t have a problem with folks taking their cars to a good mechanic, whether it is at a dealership, or an independent shop makes little difference to me. There are GREAT mechanics at independent shops and dealers, and some not so great.

I do work at a dealership, so OF COURSE I think its the best place to get your car serviced. Dealers spend tens of thousands of dollars every year on training mechanics, buying specialty tools, and advanced diagnostic equipment. Does that mean that a dealer will fix your car right the first time, every time? The short answer is NOPE! That is just not possible. That goes for aftermarket shops too.

The big point that I got from some of the articles I read are

Aftermarket shops are cheaper

Now, if you compare labor rates, and parts prices on paper, that can be true. Aftermarket shops can charge less. Aftermarket parts can be cheaper. Quality may or may not play a part in that, it all depends on the part. As for labor, the dollar amount is not that much different. One post said it could be $20-$40 cheaper per hour. That may be true, but I think $5-$10 is much for accurate.

Something that needs to be considered is overall cost. If an indy shop is cheaper for a repair, but doesn’t fix the car right, customers will spend more in the long run.  I have heard on several occasions people say “I only bring my car to the dealer when my mechanic can’t fix it”. Well, in my mind, you have paid someone to NOT fix your car. Now you are paying someone to fix your car. Wouldn’t it be cheaper just to pay once?

Customers will not get personal time with mechanics at the dealership

CRAP! I don’t really want to say much more than that is CRAP! I think that my perception of that statement is slightly skewed. I say my perception is skewed, because I know that a lot of dealership mechanics HATE talking to customers. That doesn’t make them bad mechanics, its just that talking to customers is not their thing. I on the other hand really enjoy talking to customers. I have always enjoyed talking to folks when they are in the dealer. My dealer really excels when it comes to personal relationships between customer and mechanics and service advisors.

Dealership mechanics are better trained

DUH! I could just leave it at that, but let me say just a little more. I do think that dealer mechanics are better trained. My dealer spends a lot to keep us as up to date as possible. We all go to training at least once a year. Dealership mechanics also work on only 1 line of car. So we tend to know the cars better.

The thing about aftermarket shop are, the mechanics have to be good. They work on every car, from every line. They usually do not have access to the level of special tools that we do at the dealership. That means they have to be more creative in the way they work. I have a lot of respect for the great mechanics at indy shops.

After all that, it really boils down to 2 things.

  1. What type of car you drive
  2. The person doing the work on the car
If you drive a Honda Civic, taking your car to an independent shop is great. There are so many Civics on the road, so more mechanics know how to work on them. Not only that, Hondas are easy to work on. If you drive a VW Touareg, take it to the dealer. They are hard vehicles to work on, there is not a lot of repair info, and almost every job needs a special tool.(Not just the mechanic) 😉
The more important thing is really the mechanic working on the car. If the mechanic is good, it doesn’t really matter what the front of the building says. Taking the time to get to know your mechanic and your service advisor is critical.
I think this will be a topic I will tackle again. There is so much to consider when talking about dealer vs aftermarket. There is also places like Meineke, Jiffy Lubes, and Walmart. Oh, and what about the shops that do only tires. –Side note, I find it funny that Just Tires, does more than “just tires”!
If you guys have any ideas for topics, or questions that you want answered, go ahead and submit them HERE.

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15 Comments

  1. Kevin

    I have to bite my tongue a lot when it comes to this. Here a classic situation. Customer comes in and say my car is having a problem and my “mechanic” told me to bring it to the dealer. Then we tell you what’s wrong wih your car and you either don’t believe me or take it back to your mechanic. If he is such a good mechanic then why are you bringing it to me? I can’t say that but have wanted to a lot. Truth is a lot of cars( German more so than others ) are special and require specific special tools, training, and diagnostic equipment that can only be found at a dealer. I may be a pretty good vw tech but you wouldn’t see me trying to diagnose a driveability issue on a Prius. All in all I think your car will last longer and run better if properly maintained at a dealership regardless of make or model. My last Passat is a good example. 1999 v6 Passat with almost 300,000 miles and ran/shifted perfect. Only serviced at the dealer until it was totaled. Good post Charles

  2. Tom H

    From my perspective reliability and convenience are my focus. I drive a beat up ’91 Toyota pickup. If I can keep that guy running I’m a happy camper. I’ve got a buddy that’s a traveling mechanic. He seems to love it. He can work as much or little as possible. If a dealer could offer the house call service at a resonable price I’d be game.

  3. Matt

    I have had some bad experiences with those oil change places.

    At one, they forgot to put the cap back on the engine after pouring the oil. My car almost ran out of oil and the whole engine compartment was splashed with oil. The way I discovered this is when I noticed my grill had oil on it.

    At another, they didn’t reinstall the air filter correctly. The installed it backwards or something, but the end result was that my car stalled on the highway a few miles away because it wasn’t getting enough air in the engine.

    Little things like forgetting to put the caps back on the tires after checking the air pressure also really annoy me. How careless can they be?

    I stopped going to these places and now I just go to the dealer. I don’t have time to deal with that crap!

      1. Matt

        It was actually different places at different times.

        When I had the air filter problem, I was stuck along the highway. The cops asked me where I wanted it towed and I asked to have the car towed to the Infiniti dealership. I made the Jiffy Lube pay for the expense of the tow and the dealership repairs… over $700 in total if I recall correctly. The dealership showed me the damaged air filter and I was relieved because I had been expecting something worse.

        I think I got a free coupon at Firestone when they forgot my oil cap. I didn’t use it though because I didn’t want to go back there after that experience. They left the cap lying upside-down on top of the engine and somehow it didn’t roll off even after I drove miles, so it didn’t really cost me anything except a bottle of oil.

  4. Gary

    I had a quick lube place do an oil change 2 week later It starts leaking
    they did not tighten the oil filter. this could happen a the dealer too.
    think of the number of people that die every year from medical mistakes and all the training it takes to become a doctor. all people screw up.

  5. Kevin

    I agree. It can and does happen at dealers, just a whole lot less. We all know no one is perfect. I’ve double gasketed a filter myself, but when you have dealership training and experience it happens a whole hell of a lot less. A lot of oil change places hire people with no automotive experience, would you wanna get brain surgery from a Fast food place employee? Prob not.

  6. cliff eberling

    I feel if a dealer says only thing wrong is abs light is on, will fix it
    but drove it about 2 miles no air who should fix that ??
    just have motor and trans warranty

  7. Chuck

    Hi, Charles! First of all would like to say I am happy to accidentically come across your blog – a ton of useful information for me.

    About this particular post – all in all can agree with all of what you have written, except one small issue. Would never take my car or suggest anyone to take theirs to a dealership to repair/remove dents/dings etc on car body if the paint job has not been damaged. There bunch of pdr professionals that will do it for less than a 1/3 what a dealer will charge for same quality work.

    1. Kevin

      We have a onsite paint and pdr guy at our dealership that does better work for half than your average pdr guys. We offer his service to all of our customers. All depends on the dealer and management team in place. I’m sure most dealers do not offer this service.

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