Dealer or not for repairs

I have been taking my car to the dealer for all service and repairs since I purchased it in 2005. Since it is no longer under warranty, I wonder if I should look for a less expensive repair shop.

I never take my 89 MB 190E to the dealer (except for a free inspection where they tell me about thousands of dollars worth of work my car needs. I ignore this and keep driving.)

If you live near Minneapolis, MN then I’ve got a good recommendation for you, otherwise you can reserch the Mechanics Files here at

Yep, use the ‘mechanic finder’ under ‘actual car info’ on this web site, or ask around, to find a reliable independent MB mechanic.

  Dealers are no better (or worse) than independent mechanics for almost anything you might need done on your car.  They will almost always charge more per hour and often more for parts and supplies.  They also tend to look at repairs a little different than the independent. 

A dealer may well recommend work that strictly may not be needed, but could be connected to the problem or maybe replace a part when a little repair would fix it ALMOST as good a new.  

There is no need to bring your car to the dealer for any service other than service that is going to be paid for by a recall or original warrantee.  During the warranty period be sure to have all required (as listed in the owner's manual) maintenance done and to document all maintenance work.

I suggest that most people would be better off finding a good independent (Not working for a chain) mechanic. 

Note: Never ever use a quick oil change place. They are fast cheap and very very bad.

By the time a car is six years old, most good independent shops have had experience with the cars. As soon as my car is off the factory warrranty, I go to my independent shop. In fact, I am not even certain that dealers want to see older cars. Once in a while when I am looking for entertainment, I drive my 1978 Oldsmobile to a GM dealership. The mechanics all go hide in oil drums and the service writers suddenly take a coffee break.

I will say a few things in favor of a dealer.

If you have a little knowledge of cars, then you can talk it over with the dealer’s people to know if a repair is a necessity, mildly advisable, or something that will bring your car to a level of perfection that you may not need.

Along your way to finding a skilled independent mechanic you may need to endure a bungler or a parts changer or a cheater and…

… your dealer is more likely to have needed specialized equipment and tools, people who are more familiar with your brand as they have daily contact with it, other mechanics in the shop also familiar with your brand for your mechanic to consult with and a connection to the factory for consultation if needed for a difficult problem, and the latest service and recall information.

One of our cars has an outstanding recall that I am postponing until Spring as it is not a threat to our safety or the car’s reliability. I seriously doubt that an independent mechanic would know that the recall is not yet done but a dealer would certainly call it to my attention. That could be important for someone with a used car.

Joseph called it, with one caveat:

A good old-school mechanic is better than modern dealerships by a country mile. Dealerships tend to be parts-replacers and computer-dependent. If you come in with a complaint, they look for a trouble code. If there’s a trouble code, they then replace whatever part their flowchart says to replace when that trouble code pops up. This becomes a problem when 1) the flowchart is wrong, they replace the wrong part, and you’re out the money and 2) the flowchart says to replace something that might simply need repair or adjustment. It’s a whole lot faster, and therefore more profitable, for a dealership to replace something than it is to take it apart and fix it and then put it back together. And since you’re the lucky guy paying for the part, nothing comes out of their bottom line when they replace rather than repair.

If there isn’t a trouble code, they often sit there staring blankly at the car wondering what to do now.

Classic example: I had a bad hub on my TL. The surface wasn’t smooth, and that was making the rotor attach at an angle rather than plumb like it’s supposed to be. And THAT was making the car shake whenever I hit the brakes. It was under warranty, so rather than just swap out the hub, I had the dealership do it. Only they didn’t. They resurfaced the rotor. Then they resurfaced it again. Then they replaced it. Then they replaced the brake pads. And then they fiddled with the caliper. Then they tried another set of wheels. Then they blamed the tires. Then they kept the car for almost two weeks while “researching” it - -all this, even though I had told them when I brought it in that the hub surface was obviously bad (I’d noticed it when having new tires put on). I wasn’t the computer, and I wasn’t their flow chart, so I was ignored. Finally, after dealing with the issue for several months and multiple trips back to the dealership, they listened and replaced the hub. It’s been perfect ever since. Had I not been in-warranty I’d have spent a freaking fortune letting them fool around like that, whereas a competent mechanic would have looked at the hub after I told him it was bad, and then replaced it.

You may be destroying any chance of a “goodwiil” repair if you move on.

Definitely find a good independent. A LOT cheaper then the dealer. Here in NH…the average dealer rate is $120/hr…A good independent is about $70. Good will repairs are RARE…And they usually only happen when the car is just off warranty…2 years past warranty…forget-about-it.

The dealer may or may not offer repair costs different than an indie. In troublesome cases I like the dealer, as they may have previous information, tools or parts to fix a problem. My best mechanic is not significantly cheaper than the dealer, but getting estimates first can help you decide.

I like the dealer, as they may have previous information, tools or parts to fix a problem.

Actually for a troublesome problem I’d take it to a good experienced independent any time. In fact I knew a independent in upstate NY who all the dealers in a 50 mile radius sent their cars to for any troublesome electrical problems. Didn’t matter the model or make…He was the man who you wanted working on your car.

Our mechanics at times throw up their hands in an I don’t know, and off to the dealer it goes. If you have a great guy with all the tools go there for sure.

There is nothing wrong with taking it to a good independent shop and I would recommend this to anyone. However, I think dealers get bashed a bit too much over things like this; often by someone who has never been on the inside and actually sees what goes on.

Are there problems? Yes, but there’s a point to be made and ask yourself this.
If your car has an odd problem, requires a special tool(s) to perform a certain task, or a task requires a specific procedure who do you rely on; the dealer who has seen this or the independent who may not have seen the odd problem/task or who does not have that very expensive multitude of special tools to perform that task with?

Dealers often see cars brought in on the hook after an independent has whaled on them almost to the point of their being scrap metal.
There’s a lot of examples but one could be a Subaru that was brought to us on a wrecker with the engine in boxes. An independent shop a mile away was going to do some engine work and they could not split the engine block.

They swore that every bolt was out but they were not aware of that one 10MM bolt that is hidden in the lifter galley; way deep and way out of sight. The pounding they gave it with a hammer and chisel pretty much assured that engine block was scrap aluminum.

I use both just depending. Personally the shop I used for years, I won’t let them even rotate my tires anymore. You never know who the mechanic will be. I’ve got another guy I’m trying out but only me and the dealer has touched my Acura so far.

Another example of the dealer over the independent could be one that was posted on this forum 4 or 5 years back. An ind. shop had allegedly overhauled the manual transmission on her Subaru. This trans had problems and was returned to the shop. The car was given back to her and not long after the transmission trashed itself.

At the time I made the point to her about how could this shop properly overhaul the transmission when there are a number of expensive and Subaru only tools that are needed. The ind. shop of course had none of these tools and the cause of the failure was actually not even due to the lack of spec. tools; it was sheer carelessness.
It mattered not because the trans was doomed anyway. The carelessness took it out before the impending lack of tools problems got to it.

(On a positive note, I actually gave this lady my email address and told her I would try to help since she was apparently going to sue this shop and due to the fact they were really hammering this lady with utter BS. I mailed her some pics of the internals of a Subaru transmission along with a description of what went wrong and never heard from her again. Lo and behold, about a year or so ago she mailed me out of the blue and said she had sued these guys and won with the info provided. They had to refund every single dime including court costs.)

Dealers are no better (or worse) than independent mechanics for almost anything you might need done on your car…therefore if you feel the need to go to the dealer for repairs then go.

A dealer may well recommend work that strictly may not be needed, but could be connected to the problem or maybe replace a part when a little repair would fix it ALMOST as good a new…and independent shops are just as guilty, this cannot be denied.

Remember, it is not the name above the door that counts but the wisdom and integrity of the one swinging the wrench or the writer putting pen to ink.

There are plenty of good indie shops out there but just because they may have lower hourly rates does not mean they will be cheaper.

My criterion for choosing a place to have a car serviced is not the cost of the job, but whether or not the job will be done correctly. When I have a repair done correctly, I soon forget about the price even if it seemed a little steep at the time. On the other hand, if a job is not done properly, I’m unhapppy even if the price was low. I patronize shops that do good work and I think it has saved me money over the years. Sometimes the shop has been a dealer’s service department and sometimes it has been an independent establishment. I was very satisfied with the Chevrolet agancy when I owned an Uplander minivan and found the service to be top notch. On the other hand, I didn’t care for the work done on our 4Runner by the Toyota dealer and as soon as the warranty was up, they never saw me again. It goes to our independent shop.

One thing I learned is that the used car managers at many dealerships send the repairs to independent shops rather than the service department of the dealership where they are employed. Dealerships have several divisions: 1) new car sales; 2) used car sales; 3) service; 4) parts; and possibly 5) body shop. Each division manager is expected to make money for the agency. I know a good transmission shop that does work for the used car department for several dealerships in my community. When I needed transmission work, I went to this independent shop. The work done at this shop is top notch.

My recommendation is go where you get the best job performed.

I always look around the internet for good reviews at local shops. I also just try different places occasionally for simple things that cannot be messed up. I typically fix my cars myself but in the winter I cannot change my oil or do most repairs so I do need a shop from time to time. I have found a couple awesome places and once have gotten totally screwed but I never use the dealer. Out of the past three cars I’ve owned I have been to the twice. Once for a ten dollar oil change and second time was to get a bad o2 sensor replaced for free two weeks after I purchase the car.

You should. You should ask your friends and neighbors and complete strangers and look at reviews online to find a viable alternative service and repair shop. Avoid chains like the plague but see if you can find a local shop that knows what it is doing. It might be that it meets only some of your car’s needs. It might meet them all. There is always the dealer as a backup.
Don’t ever think you need to be in good graces with the dealer.You can have a good relationship with a knowledgable and honest mechanic.

However, I think dealers get bashed a bit too much over things like this; often by someone who has never been on the inside and actually sees what goes on.

Dealers can be good or bad. The place I bought my 98 Pathfinder from was GREAT. They knew what they were doing. I had warranty work done there twice and they were very accommodating. Never tried to sell me extra service. I also took it there for front-end alignments when they were running a sale (usually around the time I needed one). But…in general their prices were a lot higher then a good independent I used…Example…