After a candid conversation with Ethan Rogowski of Autobahn Performance, we get an in-depth insider look at the differences between dealership car services and those of independent mechanic shops.
Post Warranty Car Service – Dealership vs Independent Mechanic
When your warranty has expired and your car breaks down or needs servicing, it’s already a major inconvenience. Now, comes the decision of whether you should take it to a dealership or an independent shop.
To aid in this process, we sat down with an automotive insider and prepared information that will be helpful in making an informed decision about servicing and maintaining your car.
Insider Secrets From an Ex-Dealer & Independent Mechanic’s Perspective
Ethan Rogowski of Autobahn Performance has worked on both sides within the industry. He agreed to share his insight on what the dealerships won’t tell, or don’t want you to know. Let’s get into it:
Q. Why do car dealership Service department always seem to charge so much?
A. “Because the dealership runs only retail prices on OEM (original equipment manufacturer), the prices you find at independent shops are always better because they are able to shop around several different suppliers for parts that meet or exceed OEM requirements, and in most cases for much less money.”
Q. What is another aspect of a great independent shop that is often overlooked?
A. “Besides the financial aspect, you aren’t dealing with layers of employees. You are able to build a relationship with a mechanic that enjoys his work, is not simply an employee number, and knows in detail what is happening with your car.
One bad review hurts an independent shop much more than a hundred for a dealership. We have to get it right the first time.”
Q. We know dealerships are motivated to sell new cars, what is the independent mechanics’ motivation?
A. “An independent shop is not there to upsell you on buying another car, our goal is to create loyal customers by doing great work, educating customers, and keeping your car running and on the road.“
“Car maintenance is inevitable and we have plenty of consistent work; but more importantly, we value integrity, our customers trust and relationship, so we are always upfront about what needs to be done and why.”
Q. Why is the dealership service priced higher than most independent mechanics?
A. “Most people don’t realize that (in a dealership) they’re paying a lot more for the repairs because of the nice waiting room, retail location, and fancy building, along with the hierarchy of investors that are never present. Prices reflect increases to cover all these expenses.”
Q. Why do most ‘gear-heads’ and car enthusiasts bring their cars to independent mechanics?
A. “They prefer to build a connection and appreciate the personal relationship and service they get. Also most dealers won’t install aftermarket parts, which we are happy to do if the customer wants it.”
Q. What is the last thing you would tell a retail customer about independent mechanics?
A. “We are car enthusiasts that love, are passionate about the cars we work on, and customers we create relationships with during that process. You are more than a number, and we value your trust and long-term business.”
We learned a lot from the sit-down conversation, but have tons more info on the topic of dealership repair services versus independent mechanic shops.
What Happens in a Dealership Service Department?
First and foremost, a dealership exists primarily to sell cars. While they will, their priority is not to fix your car; they ultimately want you to trade in your car and have you buy a new one.
A great example is when you have a thousand miles on your tires, the dealership will tell you that you need new tires. This is how they treat repairs.
Increased Prices – They will frequently overcharge for their work and find things that are not truly in need of service solely to bill for more hours.
Older Car Service and Repair – For those who take care of their cars over many years, it is important to understand that most dealerships will refuse cars over 10 years old, nor will they service or install aftermarket parts.
Dealership Communication Sucks – When you enter a dealership, you typically are greeted by a valet, then you see a secretary, and a service advisor to hear “what brings you in” and your description of the issues.
They then communicate what they understood to service management, who passes their interpretation to the actual maintenance and repair service technician.
Your explanation of the issue changes hands multiple times. The actual mechanic that is working to fix the problem has gotten instructions passed down – similar to playing the game telephone – and is at the mercy of and hoping your problem was communicated effectively.
Watch this video to see the most commonly reported dealership complaints to the Better Business Bureau.
What Does A Mechanic Make at A Dealership – While salaries and commissions vary from dealer to dealer, there are two principle questions that you ought to consider:
- “Are Dealer Mechanics Better?” The average dealership mechanic has 1-2 years experience. Another startling point is that it’s unlikely the same mechanic works on your car twice, and consequently they certainly don’t know who you are. Thus, it’s not a personal experience, so they are far less likely to care or go the extra mile. Much like your landscaper or dentist, you should know the person working on your car, and they should be familiar with its history.
- “Do Car Dealerships Fix Cars?” Dealership mechanics don’t care as much to fix problems because they get paid based on how many hours they log and bill. So they essentially just want billable hours, and are less concerned with getting your issues fixed correctly or efficiently.
Advantages of Independent Car Shops and Their Mechanics
Independent Mechanics depend on quality work, speed of service, and their ability to keep competitive prices so they can grow their clientele and earn a stellar reputation. In addition to the aforementioned, the following are some advantages of using an independent car shop mechanic.
Better Investigation of the Problem – Independent shops typically ask a lot of questions, while the dealership valet usually doesn’t know what to ask.
In order to diagnose and best solve a car problem, you have to ask the right questions. Then that information is used to gain an understanding of the situation that will be investigated. You may find mechanics ask more prying questions like, “What is it doing?” and “What was it doing beforehand?”
In addition, it is common in an independent shop to find the receptionist is the mechanic that will be working on your car; or at the least he communicates directly with the mechanic that will, thus reducing chances for errors or breakdowns in communication.
This means the person hearing your issues can immediately ask the right questions, get to the source of and resolve your problem faster than is possible in a dealership that’s playing “telephone”.
Better Assessment, Price, and Turnaround – You will usually get a better diagnosis and upfront assessment from a certified mechanic. A better assessment translates into more accurate pricing, and getting your vehicle repaired and returned quicker.
When the problem is difficult to identify, it is usually the independent mechanic that has previous experience and the expertise to identify the otherwise hidden cause behind the problem.
It’s an inside secret that dealerships often bring cars they cannot fix to these specialists for their more experienced mechanic to fix.
Personalized Service and Customer Care – In the dealership, there are rarely accommodations or the “personal touch” available at a local mechanic shop. Say you need to take your child to a baseball game the following day, you will simply be put in line and become a number in their system.
In a smaller independent shop, because it’s personal and they actually know you, your mechanic will typically stay later when possible to try and accommodate your needs.
Note: Some dealerships do provide a courtesy vehicle when a repair extends beyond a reasonable time. There are usually a limited number of loaner cars, but this is a benefit that a dealership can offer.
Moreover, one of the greatest advantages of the indie shop is that the mechanic can bring you into the shop and show you damage parts, reasons for necessary repairs, and ask questions about your preferences, such as:
- What do you want this car to do?
- How do you want it to run?
- Is this your work car?
- Do you drive more in the city?
- Is this vehicle used for weekend driving?
The independent shop is able to apply personal tuning and modifications to fit your lifestyle, and the way you drive your car.
Experienced Mechanics Leave the Dealership for Independent Shops – The last point to be aware of is that mechanics typically want to leave the dealership and go to work in an independent shop. As a result, they use a dealership and your car repair work as a stepping stone, and their opportunity to learn how to work on cars.
The reason being, at an independent shop, they find better pay, a less hostile work environment, and no competition – no one is trying to steal hours from them.
Quality Car Service and Your Independent Auto Shop
Ultimately, the decision of where to take your car when service or maintenance is needed is up to you. However, if it is a more personal touch with mechanics that care about your satisfaction and your car’s performance, an independent auto shop is the way to go.