Who Should Repair: The Dealer, Or An Independent?

November 9, 2010

When independent garages hit the wall in a repair process, and frustration gets the best of them, there is a refrain that they hate to utter to their customer: “Take it to the dealer.”

But what are the advantages and shortcomings of each of these repair operations, and who comes out on top at the end of the day? There isn’t an easy answer to this question. It depends what you’re driving and what is wrong with your car. So here’s a look at what is at stake which may lead you to the right place to have your vehicle repaired:

What are you driving? At the risk of being accused of playing the class card, I think it does matter if you are driving a Jaguar XJ or a Honda Civic. Not only is there a substantial difference in the two investments, but there are also a lot more Civics on the road than there are XJs. Repair quality and efficiency often depends on the technician’s exposure to specific problems in specific vehicles, so who would see more Jaguar problems than the dealer?

What is the repair problem? Now, if the top hose of your 2010 Chevy Cobalt started leaking, you could feel confident having it changed on the side of the road if need be. But if the sliding door of your Toyota Sienna is off the track, the dealer is possibly the place to get it closing again. Once again, it is a function of the complexity of the repair and the likelihood that the repair facility has faced it previously. That’s not to say that a visit to the local garage might not be the place to go first in case a quick fix is all that is needed.

Is your needed repair a specialty? Sometimes the dealer is not the best place to go for a highly specialized repair like a transmission. The dealer does not always have trained personnel in specific disciplines and actually sends the work out to independents for repair. Confirm that the dealer will be performing a non-warranty repair on site before committing to the dealer.

Is this repair time crucial? There are horror stories told about both dealers and independents having cars that were waiting for parts forever. You might think that the dealer’s access to OEM parts channels would give them an advantage over the small garage, but that is not always the case. The best story that I’ve heard about a delay in finishing a customer’s car involved a lift that failed while the car was elevated. The customer had to wait until the lift was repaired to get his car back.          

Will the repair depend on proprietary information? A battle continues to be waged over the ability of independents to access information from the car makers. This controversy is over what is known as the Right To Repair legislation. The car makers have the information and the independents need it. AllCarAdvice reported on this proposed law in Will Right to Repair Become Law?

For most types of repairs, the independents perform as well as the dealers. In general, the dealers are less accessible and most likely will have higher labor rates. Aftermarket replacement parts used by independent garages are generally less expensive that the OEM parts sold at dealerships.   

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