A dealer believes that independent mechanics are no longer cheaper than dealerships.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Mar 01, 2001

Dear Tom and Ray:

Recently, you wrote about whether the guy with the new Ford Focus should go to a dealer or to an independent for his service. I think your answer might have been correct 10 or so years ago, but I think you need to update your information about what dealerships are currently charging. I run the fixed operations of three domestic dealerships, and we pride ourselves on being competitively priced -- and, in a lot of cases, lower priced -- than our independent competitors. About six years ago, the "big three" decided to lower the prices of maintenance items, which allowed the dealers to lower their prices and be more competitive. We are now very competitive. I think you'll be surprised if you check out today's prices. I'd like you to look into it and then dispel the myth that maintenance done at a dealership is more expensive, because it's not anymore. -- Jay

TOM: You make a fair point, Jay. And we got a TON of hate mail on this topic. Most of it was from dealers and dealer service managers pointing out that their maintenance services are very competitive these days.

RAY: And they're right, to a point. In the early to mid '90s, dealerships found themselves losing business to the "quickie lube" places. The quickie lube places pulled customers in the door with $19.95 "oil change specials" (on which they often lost money) and then actually made money by selling the same customers exhaust systems and brakes.

TOM: And, at some point, the dealerships decided they wanted some of that action, too. So now, many dealerships offer competitive and inexpensive basic maintenance services, like oil changes, lube jobs and tire rotations. So you're right, Jay. But I still find that when you go beyond these maintenance items and other advertised specials, independent shops generally charge less. And in some cases, it's still a lot less.

TOM: That's not to say that people shouldn't go to their dealers. Dealers offer some services that the independents absolutely can't, like factory-trained technicians and lots of experience on your particular make and model, which can be invaluable for difficult-to-diagnose problems.

RAY: But it's still my opinion that, for most actual repairs -- radiators, clutches, water pumps, timing belts -- you'll pay less at an independent shop. Do you disagree with that, Jay? Write back and let us know. We'll give you some space.

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