Why You Should Do Your Maintenance At The Dealer
This week’s earlier story about Tundra air induction pump problems highlighted a common concern that many vehicle owners have: Where do I take my vehicle for maintenance and repairs? If your car or truck is 8 years old or newer, often times the best answer is the dealership. Here’s why:
Manufacturers keep secrets. Manufacturers are legally allowed to keep status codes and repair manuals secret, and often times a vehicle that’s just two or three years old can’t be diagnosed by an independent shop because the independent doesn’t have access to the manufacturer’s documentation. On vehicles that are less than 5 years old, independent shops don’t always have the right equipment to diagnose your car correctly (especially for the more complicated problems).
Dealers have tremendous resources. Answer these two questions before your next oil change:
- If your independent shop screws up and forgets to tighten lugnuts, or forgets to put your drain plug in your engine, can they write you a check for a new vehicle? Do they have insurance to cover any accidents their mistakes might cause?
- If your independent repair shop can’t figure out what’s wrong with your truck, can they call the engineer in charge of the system?
The answer to question 2 of course is ‘No,’ and often times the answer to question 1 is ‘No’ as well. While every shop carries some sort of liability policy, a lot of the smaller shops don’t have the best insurance, nor do they have a lot of cash on hand. Auto dealers, on the other hand, are required by both the manufacturer they represent and the state they do business in to carry comprehensive insurance, and dealerships are significantly more likely to have cash to pay for their mistakes.
Dealers aren’t any more expensive than independents. OK – the guy down the block that changes oil for $30 cash is definitely cheaper, and if you want to take your $20k-$50k vehicle to a guy that changes oil in his driveway be my guest. However, if you compare pricing at your typical independent chain (like Midas or Jiffy Lube), often times the costs are the same as those you would find at a dealership. Dealerships might be a little higher on some things, but often times they provide services that Midas and Jiffy Lube do not (like free loaner cars and high-quality waiting areas with free capuccinos, etc.).
Dealers are less likely to lie to you. A lot of people believe that independent shops are more honest than dealers, but a comprehensive study conducted by AutoMD.com found that independent shops change their pricing from day to day. In Chicago, for example, AutoMD found that every shop they contacted changed their price quote for the same service over the course of a few days.
Think about it – who has more to lose by lying to customers? The guy who works out of an abandoned gas station, or the corporation that owns a $25 million dealership complex? If an independent shop gets a bad reputation, they can always close and move somewhere esle and start over. However, if a Toyota dealer gets a bad reputation (for example), Toyota (or any other manufacturer) can take their franchise away and bare them from ever owning a Toyota dealership again.
To be clear, all shops will lie to some customers sometimes. At worst, dealers are no worse than the independents.
After warranty assistance. A lot of consumers don’t know about it, but After Warranty Assistance (AWA) can be a life-saver. Every new car dealership has the discretion to “warranty” a portion of repairs that aren’t actually covered in the interests of customer service. For example, if your Tundra loses an air induction pump and it’s no longer under factory warranty, your local Toyota dealer has the discretion to pay for some or all of the repair as a sign of goodwill (known in the business as AWA).
This, obviously, is a tremendous benefit. Even if the dealership charges you a little more for your normal maintenance (and they often don’t), all it takes is one repair covered by after-warranty-assistance to earn back your higher expenses.
Dealers don’t just hand out AWA, however. They have a limited amount of funds that they can give away, and they usually don’t grant AWA to people that don’t do all their service at the dealership. So, all the more reason to do your vehicle maintenance at your local dealer.
The dealer specializes in your car. Can it be any simpler? They see hundreds of cars just like yours every month. Your independent? Maybe…but most likely no. He or she probably sees a different make and model every day, and as a result they don’t know as much about your vehicle as your local dealer.
Reasons You Might Not Service Your Car At A Dealership
1. It’s more than 7 years old or has more than 70k miles. After 7 years, your dealer can’t provide AWA. Also, enough time has gone by that the independents now have access to full diagnostic info and notes. On older vehicles, independents are a lot more likely to have the knowledge they need, and often times they’ll use cheaper parts and have lower labor costs. Once a vehicle is 7 years old, it’s on the downhill side of life anyways, so OEM parts aren’t as important, and you’re not going to lose as much if the independent shop screws up your vehicle.
2. You have to. If you can’t get your car serviced at the dealership because it’s too far away, or if you just can’t get to the dealer because of a schedule conflict, it’s better to get your truck serviced by an independent than not serviced at all.
3. You’ve found a great independent shop. This isn’t intended to be a slam of all independent repair shops – there are a lot of great ones out there. If you’ve found a good one, then by all means use them. Just understand that you’re choosing not to work with the manufacturer…which means they may not work with you when something goes wrong.
Bottom Line: When you weigh the risks associated with independent repair shops against the benefits of working with your dealer, it’s very hard to justify servicing your newer vehicle anywhere else. Toyota’s problems with air induction pumps are just a recent example of the importance of AWA, and when you sit down and compare the price of an oil change and tire rotation at Jiffy Lube to the price at your local dealer, you might just find the dealership’s pricing is pretty comparable. Maybe even less…
Filed Under: Maintenance Tips