Dealership vs. Independent Repair Shop

Dealership vs. Independent Repair Shop

Typically, one of the first questions you ask yourself when your vehicle needs repair or service is if you should take it to the dealership or an independent repair shop. Is there a cost difference and if so, how much? Is there a difference in the quality and availability of parts? Difference in the technical knowledge of the mechanics? Difference in the convenience and amenities? Let’s take a closer look at some of these common questions:

Differences Between an Auto Repair Shop and The Dealership

If cost-efficiency is a priority, a local repair shop is typically the best way to go. Overhead costs of a dealership are much higher due to larger facilities, more employees, utilities, insurance, and overall higher operating costs. Dealerships must charge more for service to cover their costs. End of story.

Independent repair shops also have more flexibility in the parts they can order for your vehicle (more about parts in a minute) but dealerships must purchase only Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) parts, which are typically more expensive for the same reasons listed above. The car manufacturers have much more overhead than a parts-only manufacturers, which translates into higher cost for the dealership and ultimately, you.

Lastly, a dealership has certain ways on how they must relay information about your vehicle set forth by the brand. Dealerships are going to want to fix everything at once, versus independent shops, which are more likely to give you feedback on which repairs are necessary and which ones can wait.

While the dealership approach is not necessarily bad, if you’re looking to keep your car running safely and at a reasonable cost, an independent shop is going to be your best bet.

The quality and brand of parts you want used in your vehicle is completely up to you. OEM parts (as mentioned above) are typically more expensive but they are not exclusive to the dealership. Nearly all independent repair shops have access to purchase OEM parts, the same parts a dealership is going to use. In fact, if an independent shop does not have direct access to order from the manufacturer, most will call a local dealership and order the part from the service department (if that is what you desire). The availability of OEM parts at an independent repair shop is a non-issue.

The main difference with parts is the quality and price. Independent shops can usually find a part that fits your quality AND cost requirements. Most parts, whether made by the auto manufacturer or a parts manufacturer, function exactly the same. Independent shops are able to have an honest conversation with you about the quality of OEM versus non-OEM parts, so it is always best to consult with your mechanic on the specific part in question.

Knowledge and Expertise
Automobile technology, while intricate, is consistent with not many variables from brand to brand. There ARE differences between the way a BMW is made and the way a Honda is made but the overall physics of how a vehicle functions, is the same.

A dealership technician will be trained and specialized in that specific make, will usually be the first to learn of recalls and/or updates, and will most likely have already seen and repaired your exact issue many times before. Independent repair shop technicians are more varied in their experience but that does not mean their technical knowledge and ability is inferior to that of the dealership; it just means the independent technician may perform additional diagnostic testing to identify the issue. Many independent repair shops, especially ones with deep roots in the community, will employ technicians with dealership experience.

Additionally, and most notable on this topic, most repair shops require their technicians to have formal certification from a national accrediting institution that govern what knowledge someone needs to have to work in the field. This sets a standard across the industry, dealership or independent. While a dealership technician may have more experience with one make, independent mechanics are just as knowledgeable in the mechanical systems of any and all vehicles due to the certifications they must also have.

Convenience and Customer Service
In today’s world, it’s all about convenience. How fast can you get this done? How advanced is your technology? How frictionless is the customer experience? How little will my life have to be affected by this? Dealership service departments used to be at the forefront of industry technology because they had more money to invest in it…back when the technology was more expensive. The truth is, with this technology more mainstream, there isn’t much a dealership can offer in terms of convenience that independent shops aren’t also offering. While dealerships will mostly always have bigger, more luxurious waiting rooms, independent shops can also easily offer text or e-mail updates on your service, provide complimentary transportation for longer repairs, and offer electronic payment options through text or e-mail.

Additional services, such as warranties and roadside assistance have been common practice for dealerships for some time but most independent shops have also jumped on that train and are able to offer the same (if not better) warranties and faster roadside assistance because of the fewer corporate hoops they need to jump through to get a tow truck and a ride out to you.

Independent repair shops typically are more customer friendly, as they rely on your satisfaction and loyalty more than a big box dealership does. A dealership service department can acquire customers from their sales department, whereas an independent shop relies solely on their service and their ability to keep their customers happy, therefore, you will most likely experience more personal and friendlier service from an independent shop.

Is an Auto Repair Shop or Dealership Better for Service

The ultimate decision to go with a dealership or an independent shop is a matter of personal preference. Each one offers something the other does not. If your vehicle is new and still under warranty, the dealership is usually your best bet (although independent shops ARE able to service a vehicle and keep the warranty intact). If budget is of no concern, you’re looking for a big comfy waiting room and make-specific expertise, the dealership is also your place. If you want to keep your car running safely and efficiently within a reasonable budget, and you don’t have a preference on OEM or non-OEM parts, an independent shop will be your go-to.

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