Deciding where to have your automobile serviced can be a tricky balance. We depend on them to propel us to and through our days, so when it comes to service, we want to know noises are identified, issues are fixed with quality parts, and the car will start when we turn the key. We also want automotive peace of mind without breaking the bank. Where is the best place to take a vehicle for service? Is the high price for dealership maintenance worth the cost? What’s the best strategy to give your vehicle complete service without paying for extra things we don't need?
The answer to these questions can be complicated. Often, where you decide to service your vehicle will depend on the type of vehicle you drive, its age, and how easy it is for mechanics to get parts to service it. While exotic foreign cars offer peak performance and turn heads on the street, owners of these vehicles have relatively few choices but to go to a dealership for service. This means not only are the cars themselves expensive, but their maintenance bills will be steep as well, with specialized parts and trained mechanics required to service them.
On the other hand, drivers of more common models from major manufacturers enjoy the benefit of choice, with dozens of repair and service options to suit their needs, and quality replacement parts widely available from multiple outlets. Plus, due to the prevalence of these vehicles, service and parts are very reasonably priced.
Where you take your car or truck for service will also depend on the type of service you need. If you're looking for tires, new brake pads, or similarly routine work, you can often find significant savings at chain stores or independent repair shops that you may not see at a dealership. Let’s take a look at the various options for automotive service and weigh some of their pros and cons.
WHEN TO USE A DEALERSHIP
There are many benefits to taking your car or truck to a dealership for service. For one thing, dealerships will provide technicians specifically trained to work on your car—repairing and replacing parts with OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) quality parts—and doing everything by the book. Due to their training and service level, the hourly rate of most master technicians at dealerships is much higher than you’d find at a big-box repair shop. Parts and service provided by dealerships is also backed by premium guarantees that cover not just the parts themselves, but also the work done by technicians. In other words, you know that when you take your Honda Civic to the dealership, they will only use Honda parts specifically designed to fit your vehicle. The flip side is high-quality parts and service come at a premium cost. By paying for the technicians’ trained service knowledge and OEM parts, you also get to drive away with the peace of mind that you’re covered if anything goes wrong.
WHEN TO USE A CHAIN REPAIR SHOP
Chain repair shops, while having a reputation for cutting corners to keep prices low, are great options for routine car care, particularly if you like the people who are running your preferred location. Tires, oil changes, brakes, and even some engine work are perfectly fine handled by chain auto service centers. Once vehicles reach a certain age and warranties have expired, the savings chain stores can deliver to drivers is too attractive to pass up. Look for an ASE-Certified logo to be posted prominently, check for a clean garage and engaged service technicians, and you should be good to go.
WHEN TO USE AN INDEPENDENT REPAIR SHOP
Independent repair shops can be a fantastic resource and with the right folks steering the ship, cementing themselves as fixtures in a community. If you drive an exotic or uncommon foreign vehicle, independent repair shops that specialize in repair and service are often your only option. If you do your homework, though, you are likely to find some of the most passionate and motivated service professionals ply their trade at these shops.
THE BOTTOM LINE
In the end, your decision will come down to trust, particularly the further away you move from a dealership for service. For those of us who depend on our vehicles for daily transport, trusting that repairs are done right, with quality parts, and in a way that doesn't nickel and dime us with things we don't need, all comes down to having a good working relationship with a mechanic we trust. Don't be afraid to vet locations with phone calls or visits to meet the staff and ask questions. A good service center will be happy to have you and will be eager to earn your business.