Is there an advantage to having maintenance performed at a dealership?

My '03 Toyota Avalon has approx. 190,000 miles and Toyota recommends some maintenance that I intend to have performed on my car. I have already had the timing belts replaced but still need to do the following: new spark plugs, new air filter, pcv valve (cleaned? I can’t remember.), throttle body cleaning and have the fuel injectors cleaned. If I have a nearby Toyota dealership do all of this it will cost around $550.00.

I have taken my car to a local mechanic several times and as far as I know he has always done a good job. I am considering having the local mechanic perform all of the above needed maintenance items. I think it will likely be less expensive (but I haven’t asked for an official quote from him yet).

Is there any reason to have this sort of maintenance done at a dealership over the local mechanic? [For some reason I realize I feel more confident in paying more at a dealership for this service, but I realize I have no good reason for that.]

There’s no advantage for using a dealer over a trusted mechanic for simple maintenance like this. I quickly switched to a mechanic when the dealer tried to load on unneeded work.

Why do you want the throttle body and fuel injectors cleaned? Any problems? Or is this just something recommended by the dealer? I would not spend money on those two items unless there was a clear problem (rough running, etc.).

Get a 2nd opinion from your local mechanic. The Spark Plugs and air filter might be due for a replacement but the Throttle Body and Fuel injection cleanings aren’t needed if the car is otherwise running well.

The only time I can see an advantage in using the dealer is, it is a new car purchase and you want to be sure all maintenance is recorded to avoid any problem with warranty work later.
If the warranty is up…go to the independent.
Even using an independent mechanic while under warranty, could be ok…if you keep records and ask that they put any details on those records that might help you if a problem occurs.

I’m, a firm believer in sticking to one place to have work done. I feel that if you frequent, Mobil for your oil changes, and ammco for your transmission fluid changes and then to, Midus for a new muffler, you are shooting yourself in the foot when you need the independent guy for the timing belt.
You come to his place and it’s $1500 for the timing belt change. Mind you, he has not seen your face for 2 years since you needed a new headlight, because you keep taking your car to all those other places.
Had you gone to him for those last 8 oil changes, 2 transmission fluid changes, the new muffler last year, and the headlight replacement …he then would look at you as a “Regular Customer” and that bill may be only $1200 for the timing belt change. Regular customers are what keeps his business going and you always want to keep those faithfull customers coming back.
He may have liked to have that simple tranny fluid change instead of all the intense jobs where half the engine has to be torn apart.

I worked for a mechanic like this, and I saw a lot of work go out the door at NO-CHARGE and he’d always say…“they are regulars” . He felt that his replacing that tail light bulb was little to pay for your repeated business.
Had you never been there it was $25, which is fair for taking him away from his work, replacing it and taking the time out to write the bill out. Many of those people were also local and he knew them by name, but they were not “regular customers”.


There is no reason what-so-ever to go to the dealer. Not ONE.

Find a good independent and have them do the work.

The only time I can see an advantage in using the dealer is, it is a new car purchase and you want to be sure all maintenance is recorded to avoid any problem with warranty work later.

The dealer does NOT have to record the maintenance. All you need is a notepad and a place to keep your receipts.

TRue @MikeinNH, but most people save the receipts with the owners manual…that they can never find.

Though I agree, put a folder in the trunk and file every receipt you get.


I let the dealership do two things: Timing belt on interference engines, and transmission fluid changes. Not that I think they do a better job (although my dealership does not hook the transmission up to a flushing machine, which most mechanics do, so that is better) but because if you screw up those jobs, a very expensive thing needs to be replaced - either the transmission or the engine - and I suspect I’m more likely to get that done with less fighting through a dealership than through an independent.

Otherwise, I do all the work myself, or have an independent do it.

Timing belt on interference engines, and transmission fluid changes.

Timing belts are NOT difficult. I’ve done dozens and never screwed it up. Most interference engines…and I’m NOT a mechanic.

There’s a local transmission shop near me that has contracts with a few local dealers to do their tranny repairs. They know more about servicing the transmissions then the dealer does.

Dealerships will generally cost a lot more for the same work and, frankly, since they have to support poor sales, will generally cut you a $4,000 list of “recommended maintenance” actions 95% of which do not need to be done.

Once a car is out of warranty it’s time to find a reputable local independently owned and operated shop.

Timing belts are NOT difficult.

I know. But it would be my luck that I’d get the guy who doesn’t know what he’s doing, or is coming off a bender or something, and then I’d have to fight to get a new engine.

That’s why I don’t do the job myself, too - if I screw up a brake job, I’ll find out about it when I test them at slow speeds in my driveway after the job. And I won’t damage anything overly expensive. I muck up the t-belt job, and I have to buy myself a new engine, which isn’t a pleasant thought. I want someone to blame if the job gets bungled. :wink:

When I do a timing belt it takes me a lot longer then a professional mechanic because I check and recheck my work. I make sure I didn’t screw it up.

A good independent didn’t get there by making mistakes. A good independent does it right damn near 100% of the time. And dealers don’t have their most experience mechanics doing timing belts.

“good independent”, “dealers cost more”

These phases all have to be taken with the following caveat. Not all independents are as well trained in your particular car or have the resources and not all independents are any cheaper. Many people resort to a dealer under the assumption they are better which is not necessarily true either. I treat every repair job separately rather then evaluate each in general.

The best independent, the one I trust the most, will walk you through each repair and occasionally admit, you should have a dealer or specialty service provider do a particular job. If the guy you go to will do that, that is a step in the right direction.

Independents in my experience depend upon satisfied customers. IMHO, that makes them a little more service conscious . It does not always make them the best equipped for a particular job. As consumers, it’s good to know the difference.

The Honda dealer charged less than the two independent shops would have for a timing belt change. The closes Indy was 10% higher. I agree that dealers can be more expensive, but they can also be competitive on some jobs.

Vehicle repair is a BUSINESS TRANSACTION. What would you do if you needed a new roof on your house? How about a new water heater? You check for reputable businesses, then get quotes and select the quote that best fits your needs.

I believe that you should give the dealer a shot at the deal by getting the quote, as you have done. Since you have an independent mechanic that you feel provides you with good service, give him a shot at the deal too. Compare all the proposed work and if there are differences in recommendations on needed work, discuss them with the mechanic.

But in my opinion, I would not do the fuel injection cleaning. Modern gasoline keeps the fuel injectors pretty clean. If you are getting a sticky feel when you first step on the gas, then you need a throttle body cleaning, otherwise skip that too.

I go to the dealer when items that need diagnosis for proper repair need to be done. Routine maintenance or repair done at a trusted mechanic.

I realize I’m usually the odd man out here, but I don’t think that the dealers are the devil incarnate.
I’ve worked for dealers and consider myself competent and honest and also have known guys for a long time who are excellent, honest mechanics who still work for dealers today.

The way I look at is is that the percentage of crooked mechanics at a dealership is equal to the percentage of crooked mechanics at independent shops and which are equal to the number of crooked customers who try to pull fast ones on both dealers and independents.
The percentage is the same; only the sum totals are different.

As to independents being more competent and trustworthy than a dealer, I have to respectfully disagree with that blanket statement. As both a dealer tech and self-employed tech I could fill a thick book full of examples of utter hack jobs and downright thievery I’ve seen committed by just the independents in my area alone.

As a mechanic, some of the stuff I’ve seen embarasses me to the point of being ashamed of the profession. Some of it was deliberate; other cases just bone-headed tilting at windmills to pirate a phrase from Cervantes… :frowning:

I don’t think ALL dealers are dishonest or incompetent. They are just usually more expensive. Around here their hourly rate is double what a good independent is.

I’ve really only met two completely dishonest dealers. And I stayed far clear of them when I bought a new vehicle.

@MB made a good point about dealers. When sales are down they try to make that up with their shop service. Sometimes that leads to dishonest practices. Independents rely strictly on their shop business. They don’t have to keep another part of the business afloat.

O.k., based on the comments so far it sounds like there really is no reason for me to go to the dealership for this specific service. I will check with my local mechanic today to get a quote.

In response to: “Why do you want the throttle body and fuel injectors cleaned? Any problems? Or is this just something recommended by the dealer?” … Both of these were recommended by the dealer, so I thought I should go ahead and have them done. I actually already had the local mechanic clean the throttle body a few days ago because my car was idling a little too high and wouldn’t start (it did start after I gave it a lot of gas and it has been fine ever since). The local mechanic charged me $30.00 for this and the Toyota dealership would have charged $70.00. That price difference is actually what got me thinking about have the local guy do all of the service.

The local Toyota dealership has a recently remodeled waiting room with cable TV, leather couches, coffee and donuts and soft music. We have 4 patio chairs, some old National Geographics, and the din of hoists and air tools. The Toyota dealer has loaner cars and shuttle service. We have a bus stop out front. Some people value these things more than others.

A good independent didn't get there by making mistakes.

Sometimes an independent that you think is good turns out to be not so good at certain jobs. I had one like that back in college before I knew anything about doing the work myself. He replaced my clutch with no problems. Replaced my CV axles, no problems. Did some other miscellaneous work with no problems. And was reasonably priced. I thought he was great, until the car started stalling.

You need a new distributor. $800. Oh, that didn’t fix it? You need a new ECU. $400. Oh, that didn’t fix it? Let’s try a new fuel pump. Still no? Well let’s try…

Finally a friend diagnosed it as a bad fuel injector. This good independent mechanic who had literally been there since before I was born working ONLY on Hondas, hadn’t had a single clue how to diagnose the problem and instead decided to take a broke college kid’s money over and over again while throwing parts at the car hoping something stuck.

Taught me two things: Even when you think you’ve found a good mechanic, you’d still best know about car work because it might turn out that they suck in a crucial and expensive area. And learn to do the work yourself, because you’re the only one who cares about your bank account as much as you do, and you’re the only one who cares about your car as much as you do.