Are there any good reasons for having a dealership garage maintain your car?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Oct 01, 2000

Dear Tom and Ray:

I just bought a 2000 Ford Focus. The dealership is bugging me to start making appointments for maintenance. I have been going to an independent garage that I trust, and I'd like to let them take care of this car. Are there any good reasons for having a dealership garage maintain your car? Do their mechanics have access to manuals or training that the independents don't have? I believe that the warranty is protected if I keep records. -- Bob

RAY: If it's really just maintenance -- like oil-and-filter changes and stuff required in the 7,500- and 15,000-mile services, for example -- then you certainly can go to your independent mechanic. He'll do a fine job with that stuff. But you're right to save the receipts in case the manufacturer tries to sleaze you out of some warranty coverage in the future.

TOM: And the major upside of avoiding the dealer is that you'll save money on all this stuff. We've seen regular service (e.g., the 15,000-mile service listed in your owner's manual) cost hundreds and hundreds of dollars at dealerships, whereas independents tend to charge -- on average -- 75 percent to 50 percent of what dealerships charge.

RAY: And the dealer prices are even more galling when the car is new and doesn't need any repairs. So you're just paying hundreds of dollars for them to check stuff -- most of which is covered by warranty if it breaks, anyway.

TOM: But the downside of avoiding the dealer is twofold. One is that the dealer DOES have more information than the corner gas station has. In addition to getting factory training for its technicians on new models, the dealer gets technical service bulletins directly from the manufacturer and will know about the so-called silent recall campaigns. There are instances where a defect is known about by the manufacturer, but cars are only fixed as they come into the dealerships for other service or as people complain about the problem.

RAY: The other downside is that a lot of stuff on a new car IS covered by the warranty. So if the door handle falls off and you say to your independent mechanic "by the way, can you reattach the door handle," you're going to pay for it. Whereas at the dealer, they'd fix it for free under warranty.

TOM: And we've also heard stories of unscrupulous independents charging people for larger repairs that surely would have been covered by warranty at the dealership.

RAY: So where does this leave you? Sort of between a rock and an SUV bumper, huh, Bob? It would appear on the surface that the best thing to do would be to go to an independent for purely maintenance work and go to the dealer on a semi-regular basis whenever there's an actual "problem" with the car. But if you only visit the dealership occasionally, it would only be human nature for it to put you at the bottom of the priority list. So don't expect red-carpet service.

TOM: So it's up to you, Bob. You can take your chances at the independent shop, or you can go to the dealership and probably pay a little more. There's no absolute answer here. Good luck.

Get the Car Talk Newsletter

Got a question about your car?

Ask Someone Who Owns One