Dealer versus local repair shop

When should I stop taking my car(2001 Passat) to the dealer repair shop and start shopping around for lower rpair rates at local srepair shops? please share pros and cons if you have any.


  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.

Volkswagens require special care and many small shops may not have the right tools or skills to properly fix one, especially a diesel or a turbo unit.

Having said that, IF you find a good independent mechanic, start going to him yesterday. I have a number of relatives living in small towns, population 3000 or so. The local dealer keeps getting the business for difficult to repair cars. My relatives use the GM or Toyota dealer, for better or worse, until the warranty is up. Many small shops have not kept up with the changing technology and skill rquirements.

It’s not necessary to take your car to the dealer for maintenance, even when it’s new. As long as you document the maintenance work the warranty will remain in force.

I avoid dealers like the plague. I suggest you look around for an independent mechanic, preferably one who specializes in VWs.

I would hunt around for one that works on VW/Audi on a regular basis. Dealers are priced very high and service work varies from well below average to good, it all depends.

Remember the majority of items like brakes, suspension, cooling system, oil changes, fluid changes do not require a dealer and any mechanic can perform this.

The hard part with VW are occasional difficult to diagnose Check Engine Light(running) and electrical issues. That is where VW independent or dealer comes in as a great choice.

From my dealership experience, I would place pros and cons here.


Techs tend to know the vehicles much better since thats all they work on rather than a variety of vehicles.

Techs have better access to repair info for their vehicles.

They use genuine manufacturer parts. Some independant shops use the cheapest parts they can find, this has their plusses and minuses.


Price of course. You can just about guarantee the dealerships labor rates will be much higher than independants. I have seen independant labor rates just as high as dealership labor rates.

If you can though, I personally would recommend finding an independant shop that specializes in your particular vehicle and stay away from those large chain shops.


Out of warranty if I can’t repair the car myself, I’ll bring it to a dealer. I reason that although a dealer might charge more per hour, he might also know the car better than an independent and can repair it more quickly. I also reason that dealers have the latest service bulletins, the best of equipment and might have more than one mechanic well versed in a particular model for handling difficult problems. They can consult with each other. We recently had a very difficult problem with an OnStar unit in a GM car under warranty. The mechanic was able to consult with people at GM for help. This can be helpful out of warranty as well.

I’ll admit to limited experiences as our cars have not broken very often.

If possible, get quotes next time your car needs work.

There’s another possible consideration to the question of whether the dealer or an independent is better. In my experience, techs in dealerships are very familiar with the latest generation of their vehicles, because they get training and they end up maintaining the great majority of in-warranty cars. Independents, for the most part, deal more heavily in out-of-warranty cars, so they are often more likely to know older models better than dealership techs do. I own a 21+ year old Mercedes of a chassis that hasn’t even been produced for 14 years. The dealer techs often don’t understand the electronics in my car (it has a lot less than today’s rolling computers), and diagnosing driveability issues is way out of their leagues. Of course, you still have to find a competent, reliable independent, and that’s not always easy. Fortunately for me, my indy was a dealership tech right at the time that my model car was introduced, so he got all of the factory training on that particular chassis, so he’s right at home under my hood.

When you stop going to a dealer is up to you and nobody should make you feel guilty or make you feel stupid for going to a dealer. The first 7 posts on this thread gave you their opinion in an informative manner but there are some who use this forum who will call you every name in the book for even thinking of a dealer, that’s not good. Both have their pluses and minuses.
IMOO for this vehicle I would try an independent that specializes in imports.

Let it be known that I have always been treated better at dealerships than at independent shops who really tried to ream me. At dealerships I simply tell them some ground rules, i.e. call with a price or I will not pay, do not tell me you think this is the problem, I want to know what the problem is. Etc.
I also tell them what I expect from them, “I have been in the auto business for some 24 years, don’t feed me a line of bull, I expect you to be honest and conduct yourself with integrity.” I always say this with confidence and with a stern voice all the while staying pleasant. My kids say I being scary when I do this but in reality I get a quality repair and I am teaching the kids to be stern when needed.

Transman, you missed to Pros:

Good coffee and soft chairs in the waiting area.

When should I stop taking my car(2001 Passat) to the dealer repair shop and start shopping around for lower repair rates at local repair shops?

When the warranty ran out.

I have to disagree with the people who say that the Dealer techs know the cars better. I know some independent mechanics who are far more knowledgeable then ANY dealer tech. Maybe some special vehicles like Land Rovers the dealer may be better.

And the problem I have with some dealers is they themselves are large chain companies. We have a few dealers in NH that are owned by a big national chain with over 100 dealerships across the country. They’re just as bad as places like Pep-Boys or Midas. Always trying to sell you a service that ISN’T needed.

I’ve found that a good independent with years of experience is the BEST place to take your car for service. Although I really haven’t used one for any major service in 20 years…Never needed it.

I have to disagree with the comment about “volkswagons need special care”. If you’re going down that road, “audi’s need special care” as do “toyotas” and “hondas” etc. If I found a competent mechanic I trusted, I would bring my vehicle to him/her regardless of the make. Sure there are a few special tools required on a volkswagon, as there are on every other make of car. “You have to take your volks to a volks dealer” is a urban legend that works quite well in keeping volks owners returning to the volks dealers. Since 1996 and the onset of OBDII, all emissions related diagnostics equipmeht is standardized, so most experienced shops should have 95% of all tools required to repair almost all cars out there. Good shops, when they find a tool they don’t have, will purchase that tool so they will have it in the future. Sorry, but that bit about having to use dealer service shops because “my car is special” is old school (no offense Old school) and has been a thorn in my saddle for the past 10 or so years. (There, that’s off my chest, and I feel better)

Yea Joe, and probably cleaner restrooms.

The Chevrolet dealer charges me less for an oil change than does my independent shop. Of course, warranty repairs must be done by a dealer. A friend of my purchased a used car with a warranty from a new car dealer. The car developed a transmisison problem. The dealer sent the car to an independent transmission shop for the repair. I had some work done by this independent shop and discovered that the shop did repairs for a lot of the new car dealers. I also was a customer of an independent alignment shop. This shop did a lot of business with new car dealers. If the dealer couldn’t get the alignment right and the customer screamed loudly enough, the dealer sent it to this shop.

For specialized repairs, I go to a independent shop that specializes in the repair that is needed (e.g. transmission work). I’m also convinced that new car dealers don’t like to see old cars. When I take my 1978 Oldsmobile to a dealer, everyone disappears and the agency is so big I don’t know where to look for them. When I take the car to an independent shop, the technicians also disappear, but I can usually turn over an otherwise empty oil drum and a technician falls out who was hiding there. The point is that dealers may be best for knowing the problems and procedures for repairing new or almost new cars. After a couple of years, the independent shops learn the problems and procedures for repair for a specific car.

Five new car dealerships have brought cars to me for diagnosis and repair. These and other dealerships have referred car owners to my shop and others when their shop couldn’t satisfy the owners. I wwould certainly suggest anyone compare the reputation and history of all available options. It is my observation that dealership shops make it difficult for even the best ‘technicians’ to make difficult diagnoses because of the flat rate pay structure.

My point was that the local mechanic in a small town may never have worked on a modern Volkswagen. Having said that, I take my Toyota, still under warranty, to a local independent mechanic, but this guy sees Toyotas every week.

The guy in the small town will also not buy all those tools needed if he is only going to se one VW that years.