Dealer vs. garage: what's the dealio?



So I’m curious: What is the real difference between taking a car to the dealer vs. taking it to an independent garage? What is their motivation? What is the upside or downside to sticking with one or the other? These probably seem like obvious questions, but I’m new to car ownership & could use some guidance.


Mostly cost. The dealer will cost substantially more. As for the quality of the work, that comes down to the experience of the individual mechanics at the dealer/shop. Both can hire good and bad tecks.


As stated above, the single biggest difference is price. That’s the effect of (usually) higher labor rates at a dealer, as well as their insistence on using only OEM parts, whereas independent shops will use universal parts that do the same job without the same cost. You also would go to a dealer for warranty or recall-related work.

I’d suggest that an good independent is the way to go for most things, as the price difference on some things can be substantial.


Price is the big difference. The upside of going to the dealer is that they are more likely to use parts, fluids etc…that are made specifically for your vehicle. A dealer will in theory, also have the most experience working on your vehicle. You save a lot of money though if you can find a trustworthy independent shop. Also, you will usually have a better experience of the independent shop is brand focused, for instance Japanese focused, or European focused. If you have a truly “American made” vehicle, most do-it-all shops will be fine.


Thanks! We have a problem that may be related to a Service Bulletin, but we won’t know for sure until they take the engine apart. So I guess we’re playing the odds, in a way. There is no guarantee they will care about the Bulletin, but hope springs eternal…

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.


IT ALL depends if your vehicle falls within the bulletin guidelines.


Xebadaih, your post reminds me of a chuckle that I get when I see shop signs that say, “We specialize in import and domestic”. I have seen several.

To the O.P. Dealerships are required to have their techs current on training. Indies may or may not be. If they don’t know how to fix a particular problem, they will have to learn. They should not charge you for this, but it might take longer for you to get your vehicle back. It is more likely a couple of hours, but it could be a couple of days.

As others have written, an indie can use a wider variety of sources for replacement parts costing less. They can also deviate from prescribed repair and Maintenance procedures more than a dealership, though in the latter if they can find a faster way to fix something they usually are allowed to do it.

In choosing a repair shop, rely on recommendations either way. Talk to everyone you can about their experiences. If someone recommends a particular shop, ask them what kind of work they had done there. Maintenance is pretty simple stuff. Sometimes diagnosis and repair are tricky. For a few years now, I have a guy that really enjoys novel and difficult problems. Once I called and described a sound my wife?s departed Honda was making and his response was something like, ?Really, bring it in. I would really like to hear that!?

If you find an indie shop that you like, be good to them. Go there for oil changes and buy your tires there if their prices are reasonably close. They will return the favor by spotting incipient problems before they blow up into big ones. In addition, remember that no one is perfect. If a mistake is made, give them a chance to make it right. I lot of people very easily forget when money is going out of their pockets, that everyone has a right to make a fair living.


find a new reply PLEASE! copy and paste is getting old.



The dealer normally has a higher labor rate due to necessity. A dealer has many, many expenses an independent shop does not. It’s not always a given that the dealer is higher in price even with a higher per hour rate. On average a dealer may stick closer to the flat rate time book than an independent shop. An hour at 70 dollars per at the dealer or an hour and and a half at the independent shop’s 50 dollar per on the same job example.

The dealer will be more up to date on service bulletins, will have on hand many specialty tools that the independent will not, and the techs will be more familiar with various little proprietary quirks that are common to any car.

If this is in regards to the tight valve business on your Honda then simply ask them to perform a compression check. If the comp. check verifies the low compression you were told about by another shop then the valve covers should be removed and the valve lash inspected. If the lash is tight as suspected then simply ask them up front to hold off on any further repair at your expense if it leads to this. Contact the regional office of Honda Motor Co. and get them involved in this since they will be the ones paying the bill for any good will warranty situation.

Keep it courteous/professional and hopefully they will cover this for you. If they say yea then there is nothing to worry about. They will authorize the dealer to carry out the entire repair at Honda’s expense.


mmsamma returns…again…


Again with the specific and useful advice… OK, if you are not a moderator already, you should be. Thank you.


Thanks Hardly, we’ll find out when they open the engine, I guess. Y’know, if they’re honest… haha… gulp.


It’s not only price. The dealership has more training availible to them. The indie does also but not as much. But with that said it also has alot to do with having a sharp tech.
Dealerships do not always insist on using thier parts. One qouted me a price on thier brand and I asked them to qoute aftermarket. They said they only use O.E. and so I asked them “you want to make a sale or not”? Aftermarket was installed.


it depends on what you are talking about. it took you several posts and replies to even mention an ‘engine’ problem. you should state the whole story, and some relevant details.


Like the others, mostly cost but I’ve had good and bad luck with both. If it is a possible recall issue though, I’d be inclined to go to the dealer. They have a better knowledge of the particular type of car, have seen it before, have specific training, tools, and support. For a newer car, or complicated issues, I go to the dealer. For most others a regular garage. I’d have to have a lot of confidence in a regular garage to let them tear an engine down.


sure cappy, here is the backstory:


Thank you Bing, that sounds like very balanced and logical advice.


you don’t HAVE to go to a dealer. but you should find one who specializes in japanese imports.

ask friends neighbors co workers for recommendations for a different shops near you.


Dealers in general tend to be more pricey in both labor and parts.

I use dealer mostly when car is new and if they satisfy me I stick with them. Recently though my dealer service managers changed and now recommend unneeded by maintenance. Fortunately a really experienced in my car make indy shop opened who I really like.

One advantage of dealer though is the occasional unpublished warranty. For example my wife’s 96 Honda Civic at 140k was stalling after driving high speeds and Check Engine light was on. We did not have a good shop so tried the local Honda dealer. Got a call of good news and it was going cost $1500 for new cat converter and two oxygen sensors! But they said Honda had an extended warranty and it was all covered and cost us $100 for an exhaust component that was rusty and not covered. I think an indy shop would have cost $750-$1000+ in this case.