Dear Car Talk:
Until recently, I have had my new Toyota Avalon serviced every 5,000 miles at the dealer for free. Now that it is 2 years old, the 5,000-mile services will no longer be free. What is your thought on having them done by an independent mechanic, if I can find one? I recently moved to a new town, so finding a reliable independent guy could be a chore. What does the dealer provide that others cannot?
Better coffee and a cleaner waiting room. And People Magazines published after 2007.
But that's not all a dealer can provide. One thing you can get at the dealer is software upgrades. Transmissions and engine-management systems run on software these days, and to fix reported drivability problems, the manufacturer sometimes issues updated software. Most independent shops won't have those updates.
The other thing a dealer sometimes can do is solve an unusual problem. While your independent mechanic may have a handful of customers with 2014 Avalons, the dealer sees a ton of them.
So let's say every time you turn left while it's raining, your car makes a noise that sounds like Alex Trebek sighing during Double Jeopardy. Well, chances are the dealer has seen it on someone else's Avalon and knows what to do. That can save you money on diagnostic time and get your problem solved quickly.
On the other hand, the prices dealers charge for routine repairs usually are a lot higher than what independent shops charge. Especially since they want to make up for all those free 5,000-mile services they gave you, Pablo.
It's not unusual for someone to walk out of a dealership with a "15,000-mile service" that cost $500. An independent might do the same work for half that amount. Or less.
And for routine maintenance and repairs, like oil changes, regular service, brakes, shocks, exhaust work, check-engine lights and the like, a good independent mechanic will do just as good a job. And he can even get the same Toyota parts from the dealer.
Sure, you'll have to wear your hazmat suit if you need to use the restroom, but that's the tradeoff.
Since you're new in town, I suggest you head on over to www.mechanicsfiles.com. That's a database of mechanics that our listeners and readers have personally recommended over the years. You can search it by ZIP code and read the reviews of shops in your area. That should help you find a good shop quickly.
And you can always call the service department of your dealership and ask if there are any software upgrades for your car. You'll need to give them the vehicle identification number when you call. If there is one, you can go to the dealer for that. Or have them do the software upgrade while they're fixing the Alex Trebek thing. Good luck, Pablo.