Change sparkplugs: dealership or small shop?

If your V6 needed its sparkplugs changed, where would you take it, to a dealer or a private shop?

My 2011 Venza has almost 90K miles. The sparkplugs are original, and though the engine (V-6) is smooth as silk, I know it’s getting time, maybe past time, to change them.

At 71, I can remember when changing spark plugs was an annual event. (Along with a distributor cap, rotor, points, capacitor…good times, huh.)

Almost 20 years ago I had a Ford Taurus with a V6 that required, or so I remember, the plugs to be changed at 30K. Access to the front bank was easy, but the back bank was so close to the firewall that I gave up on doing it myself. (Speaking of back, my own told me not to spend too much time on those plugs if I knew what was good for me.)

The Taurus, though bought used, was the newest car I’d every had, so I took it to the closest Ford dealer for the plug change. I was willing to pay more to have the job done right.

Driving the car home from the dealer, I heard pops on the radio that increased in speed along with the engine RPMs. It didn’t take long to see the gas mileage had dropped badly. I took the car back to the dealer, described the symptoms and said it hadn’t been the case before the plugs were changed. (I thought one of the sparkplug wires or caps had been damaged during the plug change, causing arcing, but didn’t tell the dealer how to do his diagnosis.)

When I picked up the car the next day, the pops were quieter but still there. The gas mileage never got better. I was happy to sell the car a couple years later.

Now it’s time for the Venza to have its plugs changed. No, I won’t do it myself, again to save my back and because I probably won’t have access to the back bank. (Or is it easy on this car?)

But San Antonio is full of small auto repair shops. Should I use one of them, or should I use the much more expensive dealership?

Maybe what I’m really asking is if this is such a simple job for a competent mechanic that I’d be throwing money away by going to a dealer.

Dealership cost a little more but they know your car inside out…take it there. Coil over spark plugs are a little bit more difficult to replace than standard “spark plug wire” type.

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An independent shop has the same service information/tools to replace the spark plugs.

And can do it cheaper.

The only time you bring the vehicle to the dealer is when the vehicle is out of warranty, and it’s for a recall issue.



I was going to do my own, opened the hood, and could not even see the plugs. I had bought them, but had no worries about my regular shop replacing them as I provided OEM Parts. A dealer will use OEM parts, non OEM parts would be my only concern with an indie. Do not be afraid to ask about oem and compare prices from both.

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I believe patronizing an independently owned and operated shop (not a “chain”) is your best bet. Dealerships will be a lot more expensive and many will try to scare you into getting a lot of work done that you didn’t request and don’t need. In many years I don’t think I’ve seen an older car leave a dealership without at least $2,000 worth of “recommended and needed” work that wasn’t needed.

As Tester said, all shops now subscribe to computer services that provide them with all the same information that the dealer has. The days of the dealer having more or better information about your car better are long gone. The WWW is here and has taken root.

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Either one as long as they use the same OEM plugs. I had a small shop do mine last time. It was the first time in 50 years that I ever had someone else put plugs in, but like you said access in the back was a problem. The time before that I had a real problem getting the wires back on on two of them. I don’t know what it cost but somewhere around $100. I’m 69 and just don’t have the strength or ambition like before plus I’m not driving 30,000 miles a year anymore so it doesn’t come up that often.

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Bing, was happy to read your comment. Add two years to your age and I could have written it. Reassuring that I’m not the only one who’s stopped changing his sparkplugs for lack of “ambition.”

What he said! I could have written that, all except the ambition part. I have that, but the rest I could have written, even the age bit. I have the will, but those rear plugs… I had trouble even wriggling a hand in back there just to follow the wires to the plugs which aren’t visible. This isn’t what I’d call a fun job even for a seasoned professional. On top of that it’s been too cold outside for a task like that to go well in my driveway.


Last month I decided to do a few things to my Grand Prix to prepare it for a 1,500 trip and a second life. It was time at just over 100k miles. I didn’t have unlimited time because I was timing a departure and driving schedule between winter storms moving across the country. So, I decided to jack up the car and I put brake rotors and pads on in below freezing temps (no lack of ambition there… strength? My ribs hurt for three days.).

Experience (and competence & confidence) is what you’re looking for on a job like this one. It’s fairly straight-forward for an experienced technician and could be a bear for somebody who hasn’t done it on that make/model/engine. I had asked around about paying to have the plugs changed. I inquired at a GM dealer and a couple of independents I have used. What I asked was "Do you ever have trouble changing plugs on a _________ (make/model/engine/miles)? The plugs were in there a looong time. If the answer was “Yes” or “Sometimes” then I would NOT go there. If the answer was “No, those aren’t a problem, do them all the time,” then that’s where I’d go. So, I did.

An independent shop got the job for just $77 labor charged. I furnished the factory OEM iridium plugs. The mechanic had done many of these and knew just which tools to use and exactly what to do. Poor guy spent considerable time perched up on top of the engine (Customers can watch through glass and my back hurt just watching him!).

It took him a while. It’s tedious, but he pressed on and had no problems. I got my old plugs back and the threads came out nice and clean. Probably the best 77 bucks I ever spent, besides the 84 bucks to have them change the transmission filter and fluid with my stuff that I supplied so I could depart ahead of approaching weather.
CSA :palm_tree::sunglasses::palm_tree:

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Methinks that you’d be better off with an independent shop, and that seems to be the regular consensus of the regular posters. However, in your particular town there may be dealer shop or a chain shop that is competent and honest.

One of the regular posters outlined a good process, which to ask a bunch of your contacts about who they use that has done good work for them. Hopefully, you’ll find at least a couple of shops that show up on a couple of folks’ lists. Those are the ones you consider first. Of course, I’m assuming that you’re not just looking for someone to do this sparkplug job, but you’re also evaluating for future work you may need.

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Don’t dismiss a dealer without checking on prices. My local independent mechanic would have charged more for plug changes in my Avalon. The local dealer had the better price and the advantage of knowing the ins and outs of that particular engine layout. I go to my independent mechanic for just about everything else, but in this case it worked out differently.


A LITTLE more expensive? BULL…A LOT more expensive. The spark-plugs alone are 2-3 times what I can buy at my local parts store…and they are THE EXACT SAME PLUG.

This crap about dealer mechanics knowing more about your car then a local independent is total BULL. They don’t. And in many cases - FAR FAR LESS. A good local mechanic in many cases is vastly superior to 99.995 of dealer mechanics, Many independents use to be THEE Master Mechanic at the dealers. And believe it or not - with the exception of less then .001% of all vehicles sold…changing spark-plugs is completely identical from one vehicle to the next.

For a novice who’s learning about car maintenance - this is one area they could easily learn to do themselves (at least on most vehicles). In fact - look at owners manuals from 30+ years ago. They actually had in the owners manual how to do simple maintenance items like changing oil and changing spark-plugs. Besides a jack and tire wrench most vehicles back then also came with a spark-plug socket and wrench so you could change your own spark-plugs.

For ALL mechanical work - If you can’t do the work yourself, then find a good local mechanic. It’ll be cheaper and in most cases BETTER then the dealer.


Yeah, let’s see…who’s seen more Venzas, the dealership that sells them or an independent that services all makes and models. It’s rhetorical BTW.

And all vehicles are the same regarding plug changes? Again not true. I only have 5 vehicles but they each have their own nuances. And a dealer mech that sees them day in-out will know what NEEDS to be disconnected or removed versus what can be shifted aside or only partially disconnected to gain access. Probably done that exact vehicle numerous times already before seeing your car. The independent is going to look it up in a service manual and follow that- feeling his/her way through the process maybe for the first time on that particular vehicle. Likely they will both be successful in the end but this notion that there’s no difference in experience level is bull IMO.

Cost? I’ve seen dealership costs actually come down in a lot of areas involving routine maintenance as they vie for business. Of course, like any business, they hope you will return again and again so may have attractive pricing or incentives on certain maintenance items to get you in the door. I rarely use anybody to work on my cars but the local dealer had the best price on oil changes so I used them while under warranty on the last car.

To the OP, it pays to shop around. IMO, the least risk is with the authorized dealer but if price is primary consideration why would you not get an estimate from all worthwhile options?


Oh Please…Nuances are NOT the same as different. You still need to either remove the plug wire or coil over, then use a spark-plug socket wrench and an extension attached to a socket wrench to remove a spark-plug. The basics are the EXACTLY the same. If a trained mechanic can’t figure it out - I hear McDonalds are always looking.

I’m just a backyard mechanic…and I won’t have any problems changing plugs on 99% of all vehicles. It’s NOT rocket science. And then I’ll give the independent a HUGE edge in seeing a vehicle for the first time. The dealer tech would either have to consult a fellow mechanic or several manuals to do certain jobs. An experienced independent may not have seen this particular vehicle, but has vast years of diverse experience that he can probably draw on to figure it out.

If you need to be shown how to do a specific job on each and every vehicle…you’re not much of a mechanic. You’re just a wrench monkey. I’d rather have someone working on my car who can think, then someone who has know way of figuring something out.

What happens when the mechanic accidently strips the thread on plug. Or removes a plug that was cross-threaded? I want the THINKING mechanic to be working on my vehicle when/if that happens.

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Not what I’m seeing…not even close. The first year I owned my Highlander I had free oil changes at 10k and 20k. At the 20k the dealer tech offered me great deal…they’ll change my cabin air-filter for only $75…It’s normally $100. A savings of $25. I declined. On the way home I bought a Wix filter for $15 and installed it myself in less then 10 minutes. I get flyers from the Toyota and Lexus dealers with coupons for oil changes for $90. But they’re using genuine Toyota/Lexus oil.

CSA – Wish your mechanic was nearby.
Liked your idea of asking shops if a problem changing the plugs.
You’ve convinced me not to try it myself with “Poor guy spent considerable time perched up on top of the engine (Customers can watch through glass and my back hurt just watching him!).”
Thanks for the feedback.

If it were me, I’d be willing to take it to an independent shop where I know and trust the mechanic doing the work. However, if we’re talking about a small shop where you don’t have a relationship with the staff, I’d go to a Toyota dealership.

Considering the experience you had from the Ford particular dealership, I wouldn’t go back to them, but I would consider taking the Toyota to a Toyota dealership.

I don’t know if it’s a Ford thing, but every Ford my family ever owned and had serviced at a Ford dealership ran terrible afterward.

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That’s the situation. In the 2+ years I’ve owned the car, it’s never needed anything but regular oil changes, which I had done at the dealer when they had a special running. I had radiator and brake flushes done at the dealership, too; too important (but what isn’t) to screw up.

I checked my local dealer and independents. The dealer labor for the plug change was only nominally more than the independent where I took the car. Was it the price that made the difference? NO. The independent could do it the next day and the dealer the day after and I wanted to get out of town to beat the weather.

Another independent mechanic I use, who’s excellent, is “retired” with 30 years experience at a GM dealership in town that I’ve used a few times over the last 3 decades. Who is better at changing plugs on my old car, the dealer or independent? In this case IT’S THE SAME GUY! He is less expensive because the over-head at the shop behind his house is considerably lower, I’m sure.
CSA :palm_tree::sunglasses::palm_tree:

EDIT: Oh, I left out one detail… my local GM dealer hand washes and vacuums all the cars following any service work, free of charge. I suppose that perk made up the difference in labor cost differences between dealer and independent.

Here we go again. This is a business decision, not a car decision. Approach it like you would for any business deal. First, don’t rule anyone out, including the dealer. Then see what independent shops are available in your area. Check out the shops through the BBB and with friends and coworkers that may have used them.

An independent shop can rip you off just as fast as a dealer, faster in most cases. They can easily find that magic $1000 worth of work just like the dealer.

Now once you have three of four shops that you think you can trust, and that may or may not include the dealer, then get quotes for the job. Make sure that they are all using the plug called for in your owners manual, yes it is in the owners manual and it is NOT a Toyota plug. It will be either an NGK or Denso plug with an Iridium tip and a platinum disk on the ground (anode). These are the only plugs Toyota uses and they are good for 120k miles. BTW, Toyota uses both brands and the correct plug of each brand will be in the maintenance section of your owners manual.


My 05 4runner came from the factory with NGK on one bank and Denso on the other bank of the V6. In the 4runer forum I was in…several posters 4runner came that was from factory.