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December 20, 2007 12:53 PM   Subscribe

AutoFilter: In your experience, is it worth the higher price to take your vehicle to the dealer for routine service than a third party?

My question is basically, is there any measurable difference in the quality of work or service that would make the higher price of taking a vehicle to a dealership for service rather than a third party place like a Midas or Pep Boys, etc. I know it's rather subjective, but any experiences you can share on either side is appreciated.

Bonus points if you have any Saturn stories.
posted by Industrial PhD to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You can be sure the dealership will use the correct parts for your model of car. I took my car to a Jiffy Lube sort of place once and they jammed the wrong oil filter onto my car and things were never quite the same.

The best option is to find a place that specializes in your sort of car but isn't a dealership. (I take my Toyota to a Japanese imports shop.)
posted by adiabat at 12:56 PM on December 20, 2007

Agreed on the Jiffylube front. I've had some pretty shady experience at the one by my house before I stopped going there. I had all the change stolen out of my change cup. I had the guy offer to sell me a filter that fell off the truck if I slipped him a $5. Yeah. I stopped going there after that one.

But for simple things like tire changes, rotations, oil changes, I'd take it to a local, non-dealer that I trust to save on the charges. Or better yet, DIY. You can take it there for something more complex and mechanical, but if they ever flinch or say something like "We're not sure what it is. Let's try A and if that doesn't work we'll do B", then I'd seriously think about a trip to the dealer.

That being said, I used to have a Saturn and took it to the dealer most of the time. Mine had a pretty good coupon rotation, so I could get oil changes and routine maintenance at competitive prices, but I always had to make an appointment almost 2 weeks ahead of time. Luckily they were near public transport so I could just drop it off and let them have it all day while I took the train to work. I almost always had good experiences there, so I kept going even when it was a little higher.
posted by Jeffy at 1:08 PM on December 20, 2007

Oil change? - only take it to the dealer if you drive a Porsche. (leaving your vehicle for an oil change is nuts, unless you own one of the aforesaid Porsche's which require some disassembly to get to the oil filter etc.)

Tune-up - a good reputable local mechanic is going to be a lot cheaper with no real difference in quality.

Weird, difficult to diagnose problems - the dealer has an edge here as the mechanics see more of your type of car than a plain vanilla mechanic.
posted by caddis at 1:14 PM on December 20, 2007

Dealers are almost always $30 dollars more expensive for an hour of shop time. The only time I use them is when it is an electrical deal, as many times they are the only ones who can buy those parts.

Find a local place that is locally owned. They will treat you correctly as their business will rely on word of mouth, and know the implications of negative publicity.

That being said, I would stay away from the chains, not just the ones you mention. Find something local that looks busy. if people comes, and continue to use that place, that is where to go. They will take the time with your car and the time to be honest. I had an experience with a chain place that showed me a disgusting air filter and told me that I needed it replaced. If they weren't so lazy, and had actually looked, they would have known that I had a K&N air filter and new what was up. I just laughed and said no, i like my dirty one. then I told everyone I knew.
posted by Amby72 at 1:23 PM on December 20, 2007

IMO, stay away from chains (Midas, JiffyLube, etc) and Dealers.

Talk to your friends and see what is reputable around you. Also, the Car Talk guys on NPR have a listing of independent shops that listeners have reviewed here
posted by ijoyner at 1:26 PM on December 20, 2007

In my experience, no. For major service, I might go to the dealer, but I've never had problems going to local places or Jiffy Lube for tire or fluid replacement-type maintenance.
posted by ignignokt at 1:31 PM on December 20, 2007

Jiffy lube etc have a bad rep, but just because of poor quality control and lazy workmen; you could also get a fine job there. At the dealer you can also get screwed, though less likely - lots of specials about dealerships not replacing parts when they claimed to, or charging for parts you don't need; plus you pay like triple labor.

For major service on the engine on a fancy car I'd go with the dealership, but anything else go to a local self-owned mechanic that you can trust (ask your neighbors) - someone who has their life invested in one operation isn't going to risk losing it all over some $10 part, and it's always nice to support the little guys - plus you save a whole bunch of money.
posted by lrodman at 1:39 PM on December 20, 2007

Yeah, it really is shop specific. I understand why people are averse to the chains, but I also know of a few shops in this area that are chains but provide good quality service. (one even fixed a small quick problem for no charge). Dealership for warranty repair. Check the Car Talk site for a fairly reliable recommendation database
posted by edgeways at 1:46 PM on December 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Dealers and chains both rely upon a certain amount of information asymmetry. If you don't know the good local independent mechanics, then you'll either go to the dealer, or to a JiffyPepDas.

Local knowledge is key: independent mechanics who want ongoing custom rely upon word-of-mouth. That can mean going to a different shop for different services, but you'll still be dealing with people who want you to come back, and to tell your friends.

Others have mentioned the exceptions at the top-end, where dealer service makes a difference -- at very least in having a service history for resale -- and for complex electrical/onboard computer problems where parts, specs and experience are an issue. But for common jobs on common cars, a good independent local is your best bet.
posted by holgate at 2:02 PM on December 20, 2007

If you own a Saturn or any kind of American car, yes. If you own a German (or European) or high-end Japanese car, no.
posted by wfc123 at 2:06 PM on December 20, 2007

Saturn has free donuts, TV, internet access and a kid-friendly playroom. Plus, their dealerships are generally clean and nice places to be in for long periods of time if you have to wait.
posted by drinkcoffee at 2:45 PM on December 20, 2007

My family has owned a mechanic shop for over 25 years. My dad has had guys work for him that have worked for dealers and it is a fact that they charge more than is average for labor. Simply because they can! Some people are so entrenched in the idea that no one but a Ford dealer can fix their Ford that they'll pay the price regardless because they don't believe they have an alternative. Depending on the size of where you live, maybe you could ask friends/relatives for recommendations? Or there's a shop you've seen that has been there forever? Start with an oil change and work up from there as you gain confidence in them would be my suggestion.

PS Don't go to some dude workin out of his house. :) Good way to get your car torn apart and sitting in his driveway for months...
posted by CwgrlUp at 4:10 PM on December 20, 2007

my 2 cents if I may - I usually do both, simply because if there happens to be a Technical Service Bulletin (TSB) out on my car - If I understand correctly, this is a repair that needs to be done, but is not crucial so a recall is not required - only the dealer would know about it (correct me if I am wrong!)

So, like a lot of the suggestions above - I go to a neighbourhood garage for the oil change and tire change, go to a trusted non-dealer mechanic for the tune-ups, and then once in a while (i.e once a year or two) I will go to the dealer to see if there are any special TSBs that have been issued for my car.

That being said - check out my post on my latest experience at my dealer and the hive-mind's thoughts and insights.
posted by bitteroldman at 5:53 PM on December 20, 2007

Oh, I have a fantastic Saturn story. I just helped a friend buy a Saturn, which came with the full dealer records for servicing. I saw on the list of records that they had paid $500 to have this done (story title says it all: A $.30 bushing on a $375 cable).

In short, a shoddy plastic part on a large, expensive assembly breaks often.

I first found out about this problem on a Saturn bulletin board in which one poster said they paid for this repair, only to have it break 20k miles later. Tons of other posters chimed in as well that they had to pay for this, or that they had just opened up their car, and improvised a solution that worked. Like this guy.

One technically adept person with a machine shop developed a $25 kit that can be installed with no tools in minutes, that does not require replacement of the $375 linkage assembly.

So, going back to my personal experience, I only ever had the chance to view the full service records of one Saturn, and it happened to be one that required this repair. Done by the dealer. Who certainly must be aware by now of the proclivity of that $375 part to break. And, the dealer also did not seem to be aware that a much cheaper fix existed.

The Saturn in question needed a clutch replacement at the time as well, and the quote from a well-regarded independent mechanic came in $600 lower, and the man did a fine job. We were referred to that mechanic by the International House at a large university, who compiled reviews of all the local mechanics to keep foreign graduate students and post-docs from being taken advantage of. That list was a great help. The other great resource was The people there first alerted me to the bushing problem, and can give great estimates on prices for common repairs, as well as help you do the repair yourself if you are inclined in that direction.
posted by Maxwell_Smart at 6:16 PM on December 20, 2007

Some people are so entrenched in the idea that no one but a Ford dealer can fix their Ford that they'll pay the price regardless because they don't believe they have an alternative.

I think many of these people know there are decent independent mechanics out there, but they don't know who is good. They just assume the dealers have competent and experienced mechanics. They are not necessarily the best, but they usually don't suck. Some minority of people really do think as you suggest though, I know some of them.
posted by caddis at 6:18 PM on December 20, 2007

I've owned three Saturns and I usually take them to the dealer because I've had extraordinary bad luck when I've gone elsewhere, and usually ended up at the dealer so they could fix the mess that the previous mechanic made. In the long run, it ended up being cheaper for me to just go to the dealer and get it done right the first time.
posted by whatideserve at 8:23 PM on December 20, 2007

it's been my experience that a really good mechanic is as intelligent and creative as a good doctor. they do it because they LOVE it, and learning to be an expert diagnostician takes years.

you won't find these people at jiffy lube, or at a dealer. find a good local shop based on recommendations, and get to know the mechanic. reward them with your patronage if they're good.

knowing whether your mechanic is any good sometimes requires you to do some homework. you have to know what he/she is talking about to know if he/she knows what he/she's talking about.
posted by klanawa at 11:29 PM on December 20, 2007

My advice (from my father, so you know its good) is to pick one place and try to stick with it. For me, thats the dealer even if its a little bit more. The logic here is that if anything ever is done incorrectly, broken, etc. you can tell them with certainty that you take it nowhere else so they can't try to blame a 3rd party for the damage, making a resolution to the issue that much simpler.
posted by zennoshinjou at 4:53 AM on December 21, 2007

For the record, we're on our second Saturn, and my mechanic loves them. He's found them to be very easy to work on. There's no witchcraft about them; they don't need specially trained mechanics to work on them.

I would recommend a locally owned place that's been around for a while. Unless it's a warranty repair, you don't need to go to the dealer. Take it to someone who depends on repeat business to survive, and who treats you accordingly.

What kind of Saturn? S-series, L-series, Vue, or Ion? If it's one of the latter three with the four-cylinder, learn to do the oil changes yourself. The cartridge filter up top makes it sooooo easy.
posted by azpenguin at 7:27 AM on December 21, 2007

Response by poster: thanks for all the responses. i will probably scout someone local first.
posted by Industrial PhD at 8:46 AM on December 21, 2007

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