Can I go to an independent garage or is dealer service the way to go?
February 15, 2011 3:11 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking to have maintenance done on a 2.5-year old Nissan (40,000 mile tune-up and addressing a little tire/front-issue that probably stems from my wife running over curbs recreationally). Is a dealer absolutely my best option? If so which one?

I'm cheap, but if going with dealer service is by a good margin better than an independent garage then I'm for it.

We live just north of Boston and I'm not going back to the place in Woburn that sold us the car-- even if they didn't share a name with the accepted acronym for the Irish Republican Army, they seriously wronged me with a wait time and will never see another penny from me.

So should I go to a Nissan dealer? Do you have positive personal experience with one convenient to Lexington/Arlington MA that isn't the one I mentioned?
posted by Mayor Curley to Travel & Transportation (7 answers total)
Have you looked at Car Talk's recommendations list?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:13 PM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

I really recommend you go with a AAA recommended place, not a dealer. I found a huge list of AAA-approved repair shops on the AAA website in your area. I wouldn't worry about finding a place that specializes in Nissan -- just an AAA approved location that is willing to tell you they are comfortable dealing with your car.

I do this myself for my Subaru and it is worlds cheaper and also easier and better quality work than my Subaru dealer was.
posted by bearwife at 3:25 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Within the first 3 to 4 years of owning a vehicle, I can see a couple of reasons to have dealer service see the vehicle for the major service intervals. First, the dealer network is still accumulating and feeding back warranty claim information, that is getting paid, nearly automatically, by the manufacturer. Any reputable dealer should be checking and applying any recall notices, or other manufacturer recommended service bulletins, in addition to owner service responsibilities, automatically as it is essentially additional service income to them, at flat rates for labor, and with full parts cost support. In the U.S., major recall notices are published by the NHSTA, and third parties can do the work, but not every third party shop is diligent about even checking for those, on newer models. And frankly, before an "issue" gets elevated to "recall" status at the NHSTA, the manufacturer may be quietly teaching dealer mechanics about "service recommendations" on particular models/engines/transmissions/bodies/option groups, in an effort to gather more data about vehicle performance in the market, and to head off bad publicity from headline grabbing "recall" situations. Ask any Toyota dealer what the "sudden acceleration" problem of the last couple of year's headlines has cost them in sales and goodwill, if you don't think this is something manufacturers and their dealer networks are constantly paranoid about.

Second, if you're keeping receipts of service records, with an eye to selling your vehicle for maximum retail value as a used vehicle, having a record of recommended dealer service performed as per vehicle maintenance schedule recommendations will only help you justify a higher price, based on condition and maintenance records, when you sell or trade the vehicle. While seeing records that services were performed on the recommended schedule by anyone is a value baseline for most used car buyers, a lot of used vehicle buyers still look for regular dealer service records for major service intervals, and will pay somewhat more for a vehicle that has them, or at least buy such a vehicle in preference to another with similar condition and features, that doesn't have such dealer service records.
posted by paulsc at 4:50 PM on February 15, 2011

For an out-of-warranty car, a dealer is probably your second-worst option, with the shady guy in the rough part of town that sells used tires being the worst. (exception: VW. German engineers pretty much make it impossible to fix their cars without thirty six special tools.) The dealer will charge 30% more per hour and have much more experience in hard-selling you things you don't need.
posted by notsnot at 4:52 PM on February 15, 2011

Have you looked at Car Talk's recommendations list?

That's how I found a mechanic for the ancient shitbox that I personally drive, and they're good guys with reasonable rates but huge time windows and other niggling issues that make me reluctant to bring them a car that has actual value and needs to be turned around fairly quickly.

And in finding the place I noticed that reading the CarTalk list with a critical eye suggests that it's been as thoroughly gamed as any other online ratings system.
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:30 PM on February 15, 2011

After decades of driving used vehicles because of plain common sense, for reasons I won't go into now, I just bought a brand new Jeep, and a 750 Honda Shadow in the same week, this Summer. ( Yes, I'm single, why do you ask? ) Asking this specific question of the dealers as I was shopping around, the universal reaction was to get the first two recommended services at the dealer, and after that to simply fill in the form properly, and attach copies of the work orders.

My Honda dealer actually stamped my book with the last oil-change I had at the local motorcycle shop, and recorded the service in their data-base. ( It's why I've purchased 3 motorcycles from this dealer in the last 5 years)

I always recommend that everyone develop a relationship with personal non-brand-specific mechanic, who then gets most of your business. Everyone I've ever sent to my auto mechanic raves about him, and tells all their friends. A $30 oil change at Frank's is going to be the same as the $80 change at the Jeep dealer 60 kilometers away. Been using him for twenty years now. I usually pay 1/2 or less than what a dealer charges for identical (or often inferior) work. How did I find Frank, you ask? He was recommended by my retiring German car mechanic. Make the effort to find a good independent mechanic, and then stick to him or her like glue.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 6:30 PM on February 15, 2011

Depends. I tend to believe in dealer service until you run out from under warranty. It paid off for my old Tiburon, which went 101,000 miles without a serious problem and then the transmission died. I went in, complained, they called Hyundai and said they'd take care of it, gratis because I'd always taken the car there (for repairs anyway-- regular maintenance stuff, who cares?).
posted by yerfatma at 1:35 PM on February 16, 2011

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