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Should you get your car serviced at an auto shop or a dealership?

By: Dominic Licorish on May 22, 2018

As far as I’m concerned, cars are magic. I know they have transmissions, drivetrains, horsepower, and all those other things they say in commercials, but as to how they all fit together and work? Don’t know, don’t care, and I’m sure many people who own cars don’t either.

If you don’t know how to fix your car, someone else is gonna have to do it. Generally speaking, that means finding an auto repair shop, and those come in two flavours: independent and dealership.

Which one is best for you?

We got in touch with Mark Whinton from the Carquestions Youtube Channel and asked him for advice to help drivers make a choice on whether they should go to a dealership or mechanic (and summarized the answers in a chart below for you lazy folks).

“In most cases, you’re going to go to the independent mechanic. It’s just more financially viable. Dealers have higher targets, so prices are usually higher. That’s just how it is.” said Whinton. On top of that, he told me that those higher prices don’t necessarily come with higher quality service.

“No matter where you go, you’re likely to get the same quality of service,” he said. Though, he did also acknowledge that dealerships can be a better solution for luxury models like Mercedes-Benz and BMW because, they’re most likely to have training, as well as access to parts and equipment that are specifically meant for your car.

So, here are a few questions Mark Whinton says drivers should ask themselves when deciding where to take their cars for service.

1. Has there been a manufacturer recall for your vehicle’s issue?

2. Is your issue covered under your vehicle’s warranty?

3. Does your vehicle require special parts, repair tools, or techniques?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, chances are you should go to a dealership.

Dealerships cover recall and warranty repairs at no cost to the owner and therefore should be the first solution to consider if your vehicle has an issue. Whinton says he’s seen people spend thousands on repairs they could have had done for free if they’d known. If your vehicle has a problem, verify if the problem falls under your warranty and go to the Transport Canada webpage for a comprehensive guide on checking for vehicle recalls.

Some independent mechanics go out of their way to be able to service luxury and/or rare vehicles, but it’s not very common. So if you answered yes to question #3, you’re most likely going to have to go to a dealership (but there’s no reason not to check the options in your area).

If you answered “no” to all of these questions, chances are you’re better off going to an independent mechanic. Whether it’s general maintenance (brake job, oil changes, tire changes, etc.) or a special issue (leaks, rattling noise in engine, dashboard warning lights), independent mechanics generally offer better prices than dealerships.

 DealershipIndependent
There has been a manufacturer recall for your vehicle 
Your vehicle is still under warranty 
Your vehicle needs hard-to-find/proprietary parts 
Your vehicle has a special issue (leaks, rattling noise in engine, dashboard warning lights) 
Your vehicle just needs general maintenance (brake job, oil changes, tire changes, etc.) 

“I don’t think this is a binary question”

That’s the first thing Zain Manji, co-founder and chief operating officer of mobile auto service company Fiix, told me when I asked where drivers are better off getting their car serviced. In his eyes, either one can be good options depending on the professionalism, expertise, and transparency of the person working on your car. The right choice, he says, is to go the shop that can best meet all of those qualities while still fitting your budget.

“Many shops and dealerships don't always have the most qualified individuals working on your car. Many actually utilize apprentices to do the majority of the work, since apprentices need practice, hours, and are a lower cost option for them. At the same time, there are many shops who aren't transparent with their customers and who use fear tactics in order to up-sell their customers.”

Whether you choose a dealership or an independent shop, you can still get bad service. You never really know what’s going to happen to your car when you leave it with someone. A driver in Mississauga recently figured this out after mechanics at a dealership took his Mercedes out to get coffee.

Manji says the key to finding an excellent mechanic is to look for:

  1. A great track record and glowing reviews.
  2. Transparency from the company on who the mechanics are, what their qualifications and expertise are, and why they are great.
  3. A customer base which they've formed great relationships with. Strong word of mouth and loyalty is a great sign.

 

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