Dealer versus Local Mechanic

My 1998 Suburu Forester needs a 150K check-up. Live in Taos, NM. The nearest dealer is 70 miles away in Santa Fe. I’m wondering whether the trek to Santa Fe is worth the trouble? Do I get more peace of mind with a dealer or with a local shop, where I can return if there’s a problem. Thing is I don’t have much experience with either, since we just moved to the N. New Mexico area. Bythe way the car is in good shape for its age. No apparent major trouble.

That’s difficult to say because much depends on the compentency of the mechanic.
With most maintenance and wear type items any good, established independent shop should be able to handle it.

The difference comes in when you veer off from those mundane items and get into the things that require special knowledge, publications, special service tools, etc.

For scheduled maintenance, brakes, timing belts, and so on the local guy should be fine; all assuming that he’s not a hack.

A poster on this board a couple of years ago was ranting (severely) about every mechanic in Taos being an incompetent thief of the highest order. A check of the BBB shows there are a number of shops in Taos and that only one seemed to have any complaints. You might recheck the BBB records on-line and avoid that one, and then deal with one that has been around for a while.

What dealers are usually best at providing are: 1) inflated parts and labor prices; 2) unneeded services; 3) really bad coffee while you wait to have someone who knows nothing about cars (like a “service writer”) conjure up which unneeded, overpriced services you’re most likely to fall for.

So if you call that peace of mind, by all means have at it.

That said, the hard part is finding a competent and trustworthy local, independent. You just have to start asking around for reputation. For the small number of things that might require some special Subaru-dealer guruship the competent & trustworthy shop will advise that you go there.

You say that you only need 150K servicing. You may not be experiencing any problems, but you can be sure that any place you go to will indeed find some!

There is the obligatory brake flush, power steering flush, change the air in your tires, ball joints, etc. I hope you have your owner’s manual handy, which will list the recommended services for 150k. It will also pay you to consult a car-knowledgeable friend or neighbor beforehand. Or you can check with us.

Dealer or local, know in advance what to expect.

Look for an independent shop in your local area, a few Subaru’s in the lot is a good thing to observe. Then do some research and decide what your 150K service should entail. Best guide is the maintenance section of the owner’s manual. also can provide service schedule as per the mfg’rs specs. You should also look over your past records for a service history.

If it has been 3 to 5 years since a fluid has been changed, I’d get it changed now. Coolant, brake fluid, trans. fluid, differentials and transfer case, power steering. Have all the drive belts checked. Are you due for a timing belt job? New plugs? New air filter, cabin air filter, fuel filter? Any of these things done within the last 2-3 years?

If you just go to a dealer and say give me the 150K service you’ll be looking at a huge bill with lots of “padding” for unneeded items. An independent shop would be less aggressive in up-selling unneeded items, but your best bet is to have a to do list to present based on the maintenance schedule and past services performed.

Two very helpful comments. I will check the BBB for reviews and get recommendations for local mechanics.

There is one other advantage of using a dealer that hasn’t been mentioned yet, although it doesn’t apply to you. If you stick with one dealer for your service, you have a better chance of getting some goodwill assistance if a major problem comes up out of warranty. I wouldn’t stick with a dealer for that reason alone, but it’s a factor to consider.

The only things I would say about the local guy, is to use caution about the fluids. I can’t say for certain about your vehicle, but I do know some Toyota’s require a specific ATF, some Honda’s require their own flavor of ATF, etc. I’m sure I read something about Subaru, but I’m not sure what.

Other than that, a dealer may very well just be an extra place to lose your money. Most of us aren’t flush with it, so we tend to shy from those.

Ah, yes, but you can build (almost) the same relationship with your local mechanic, too.

Two very helpful comments. I will check the BBB for reviews and get recommendations for local mechanics.

I do NOT recommend the BBB to give you any reliable reviews of any business. As long as the business pays their yearly dues…there’s very little chance of them ever getting a bad review from the BBB.

Dealer would add whatever possibly he could in this service and you would be looking for a bill of $ 700+. I keep an eye on the fluid changes on my own and get them changed separately from time to time. As few people said, if you have got any of these fluids changed in last 2-3 years then really don’t worry about it and let local mechanic make a decision.

I’m still wondering which two comments were deemed helpful

The 150K service is not hard and any good general mechanic can handle it. We owned a 1999 Legacy wagon. We are talking basic fluid changes, spark plugs and filters. At that time, the fluids were not special: regular antifreeze, Dexron III for the ATF,etc, all reasonable avaialble after-market.

I would consider a Subaru ATF filter if you have the spin on type and it has never been replaced. There is some discussion on the Subaru forums that the more expensive Subaru ATF filter is specially engineered. Your choice on that one.

Try to find a mechanic on CarTalk:

My dealers suck. Years ago, I had a diesel Rabbit that wouldn’t stop, and the dealer told me it was fine. It had a bad master cylinder and damn near killed my wife and me. More recently, we complained about a headlight shining on the shoulder, and they shoved it back in, but didn’t even twist it. My local mechanic fixed it n/c. I think I’m lucky having what I consider to be a top-notch shop, where the owner actually listens to me. SO FAR I’m staying clear of dealers and sticking with my shop. They don’t charge any more, and their work has been stellar. Of course, it took me ten years or more to find them. OTOH, the dealer washes the car before giving it back to me, and will work while I wait. I’d rather have a properly running, but dirty, car, though. That;s just VW. I won’t even drive past my Ford dealer, his work was so poor.

I used to go to a local whose work was really bad - he didn’t even see that my CV boots were shot, even after I complained about noise and other problems. He’s now closed. GET RECOMMENDATIONS FROM LOTS OF NEIGHBORS.

Regarding the BBB, the point in doing a BBB search is that any complaint made against a company will be on their record whether they’re accredited or not.
The only thing “Accredited” means is that the business pays a yearly fee for a door sign and the use of a flowery word for PR purposes.

A company can have 2 dozen complaints against them on their BBB record and still not be an accredited business.
The point in checking the BBB report is that it’s a tool that can assist someone in determining if a business is fairly straightforward. If a business is listed as being around for 10 years and has never had a complaint one can assume they’re doing a decent job.

JMHO, but I wouldn’t bash all dealers. There are good and bad dealers along with good mechanics in bad dealer shops and lousy mechanics in good dealer shops.
If a customer takes his 15k miles/1 year old car into a dealer and the service writer is pushing all kinds of flushes and whatnot then that’s bad but by the same token this does not mean the mechanics in the shop are.
Any mechanic who goes along with this policy is either crooked or mechanically uninformed.

On the other side of the coin, a mechanic checking a car over for other needed work is not a sign of a crook.
The majority of cars that come in need something, be it minor or major. The majority of those cars do not even have the correct pressure in the tires so if this minor chore is overlooked it’s easy to see that many other things that are discovered come as a complete surprise to the customer.

I trust both of my 2 vehicles to my local guy. One is a GMC pkup,and the other one is a Honda Accord.

He uses fluids and parts on the Accord from the Honda. He’s the kind of guy that shows you the parts he has to replace,and why.
I know enough about the American pkup to know if i was being snowed on service and repairs.

My local guy has taken good care of me without having to pay the inflated dealer prices.

Can i be fooled,you betcha’

Call a few local mechanics.

Subaru’s are not complex to work on and any competent mechanic can do it.

There is little that a local competent repair shop can’t handle in the way of a 150k mile check up…and save you money to boot.

We had a local car dealership that I know for a fact had several people complain to the BBB about them…The dealership was a complete sleaze outfit…But if you called the BBB to find complaints…not ONE showed up…I wonder if it had to do with the fact that the guy who owned the dealership was also the president of the BBB.