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Service Work at Dealership versus Third Part Repair Shops

My question is when is it best to use a Dealership for repair or when can one use a third party repair shop? I bought my Hyundai Elantra new in 2008. Originally I had it serviced at the Dealership. I then moved to a third party shop.

I just took the car in for recall work and the Dealer did a multipoint inspection, telling me that I needed to change the engine oil, carry out flushing of the transmission, power steering, cooling system and power steering. The cost from the dealer for this work would have been around $550 including sales tax. I opted to have the work done at a third party shop, which saved me around $200.

My feeling is that for fluid changes, flushing and possibly brake work, the third party shop is the best option. I would restrict work at the Dealership to that which is very specific to the manufacturer and model. Simple things like changing air filters I do myself. However, I am no expert on cars. May I please have some input from someone with more experience of car work? I have experienced that it is important to watch what is going on at the third party shop. I don’t know about the Dealership. Thank you in advance.

You have the right idea. Most repair work is generic is nature and can be handled quite easily by any independent shop – often for considerably less money.

In general, the only times I recommend using the dealer are warranty work, recalls, and puzzling problems that may be unique to your model. All else goes to the independent.

Of course, both types of shops will suggest bogus flushes and similar nonsense. That seems to be standard practice. Find a reputable shop by word of mouth and get to know the owner.

It’s six of one, half dozen of the other. Generally speaking, you will save some money with an independent shop as compared to a dealer.

It’s possible that your car could use those services the dealer recommended but it depends on the mileage, which you have not provided.

After 3 years and if the car has in the neighborhood of 30-40k miles then I would say the transmission, cooling system, and brake fluid (not mentioned) is a need.
Stick with an independent if you prefer and it’s what I would recommend for things like this.


I just want to add that if the dealership’s inspection turned up the need for an oil change, that makes me wonder about how this car has been serviced over the past 3 years or so.

OP–Just how many miles/months had you driven the car since its last oil change?
Is the car up to date with all of the maintenance specified in the mfr’s maintenance schedule?

There are no absolute rules. If you can find an honest, and competent independent, by all means have him do all the non-warranty work. In McAllen, there are a very few really good mechanics. They are in such demand they want you to leave the car for several days. With only one car, the small amount of work I need done has not broken the bank yet. I take it to the dealer, so far for my 2002 with 176,000 miles, I drop it off, they give me a ride home, and in a few hours they send the courier to take me in to get it. And, no bad repairs yet. Do what is rational in your circumstances. Not all dealers are that good.

I know I will take some heat for this… The dealerships service department is specifically oriented to make money for the dealership. Each and every car that comes in they will try to maximize profits for the dealership.

The key to understanding this is to really read the service writers sheet. It will invariably say two words: Required and Recommended. For you to understand the difference you only have to jot down the mileage and then look up in your owners manual for the recommended service interval. The items that are appropriate for your mileage, time interval are what is required. The items that they recommend may (or may not) be time, or mileage appropriate. A good service writer can convince you to change the transmission fluid on a standard if you aren’t smart enough to catch them. Once you sign the estimate, you have legally agreed to pay for these things, even if they weren’t really necessary, thus letting the dealership off the hook for accountability if you find out later that they weren’t really necessary.

I would be willing to bet dollars to donuts that you were not even close on some of those things by the manual, but the dealer is being unscrupulous trying to tell you: ‘We recommend this,’ When in fact it is not ‘required’ by the manual.

I try to go by manufacturer recommendations on most service items with the exception of oil changes. I usually do my oil changes before their recommended service interval. I would also go to a reputable independent garage if I didn’t do 98% of my own work.

Cappy is right. The dealer preferred to make $500 rather than nothing for the recall work. “change the engine oil, carry out flushing of the transmission, power steering, cooling system and power steering” What a coincidence that all these things needed doing at the same time on a 3 year old car.

 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.

I think some posters are dead wrong in their comments. Of course the service dept. is supposed to maximize profits and make money, yada, yada, yada. The only issue would be if they’re fraudulently trying to sell parts and services that are not needed.

As an ex-dealer mechanic I can tell you for a fact that even during a simple oil change I always went over the car with a fine tooth comb while it was on the rack and the oil was draining. A good tech can cover a lot of ground very quickly.
Finding problems did help both my paycheck and the dealer’s bottom line so what’s wrong with that?

I will also add that most cars need more than their owners think. The majority of cars I’ve brought in for even basic maintenance services, oil changes, etc. did not even have correct tire pressure. Given most car owners don’t even pay attention to this most basic of car maintenance procedures why should one think they’re going to go deeper than that?

While doing a lowly oil change a mechanic often notices old trans fluid, dry rotted accessory belts, worn tires, oil leaks, and any one of a number of other flaws. Should the mechanic change the oil and filter and send the owner down the road while keeping his mouth shut?

There is also too much reliance on factory owners manuals as being the final word on
maintenance habits and I totally disagree with that premise. Too many things in there are “extended” and often that “extended” procedure means problems down the road (both figuratively and literally) but by that time the warranty is up and the customer then turns their venom on the dealer because of a failed (fill in blank).

I agree with Joseph and OK and Cappy. Heh, heh.

I don’t mind when the dealer recommends something. I just check it out, and most of the time if something needed done, I already had it done.

What I did hate, for a period of time when our community had no recycle path for oil, and I had it changed at a quick lube place, was when they came into the waiting room with their arms full of my perfectly good car parts, waving them under my nose, telling me I needed new ones. I wanted to punch their nose.

Now, I do it myself, and it is done right.

Once, the dealer told me the rear brakes needed adjusting. I really doubted it. I asked, and I think I posted here on that topic at the time. Turns out they didn’t check the brakes, they are adjusted by using the parking brake on my Sienna, since most folks never use the parking brakes, they simply assume they needed adjusting.

I live in the mountains in Mexico, and I assure you it is very rare my car is parked without the parking brake being secured before it goes into PARK. I saw a runaway, driverless truck fly down the hill and kill a man, Francisco Palacios, who was my wife’s distant cousin. After that, you simply do not forget things like parking brakes.

The only thing I haven’t done that probably should be done is have the valves adjusted. We had some considerable discussion on that in the past, and I have chosen to drive it as is, if it doesn’t make noise. If it blows up on me, I will pay; I am responsible for my decisions.

They could have simply ran the VIN and seen it hadn’t been in for servicing of those items and recommended they be done. Not because you needed it, but because the computer came back and said that XYZ wasn’t done at their shop according to the miles on the last visit and the miles on the current visit.

OK, I agree with you to the extent that a good technician can cover a lot of ground during a short time at an oil change, but you do not need to go to the dealer for a good technician. My personal problem with the dealer is when they come up with $1200 - $2000 worth of repairs and bring a salesman out to relate the ‘bad news’ to you and they follow-up with ‘we are good guys and we will put you in a new car for $400 today.’

My issue is not that they get paid more, but why should I pay more. It is also not that they do bad work, as said by others it is hit and miss. My problem is that to me there is more incentive for the dealer to sell you a new car then to actually fix your car. This is a conflict of interest in my opinion and is similar to hiring the prosecutor to defend you in a criminal case.

I agree with most of the posters here if it is warranty or recall work take it to the dealer, but otherwise avoid the dealer like the plague.

All I can say is that I’ve worked for 5 dealers over the years and have never seen an incident where the sales department was steered into the service department so a new or used car deal could be done. That would be a new one to me.

I HAVE seen a fair number of times where someone has some pricy issues with their car and the customer will ponder whether they should trade it in or not followed by the customer approaching the sales department.

The only 2 times I can remember the sales department vultures circling was when the dealer would promote a “free service clinic” after hours. People were invited to bring their cars in for a thorough going over from stem to stern and this was done for free with the mechanics being paid hourly by the dealer.
Mechanics were generally not very fond of this idea. It’s not that work could not be generated this way by finding problems; it was salesmen swooping down on someone whose car had not even been looked at yet and laying a high pressure pitch on someone whose intent was never to trade cars anyway.

A couple of those incidents are the only ones I can think of and like most mechanics, I detested the idea because I knew what it was all about. This was a sales dept. idea, not a service dept. one.

I’ll admit that I am a bit jaded because I have the the sales vultures circling the service department many times at different dealerships and I personally find it despicable. So many people get emotional about their cars and even more so when they see dollar signs add up for repairs. This is one of the main reasons I do not trust dealerships at all and favor independent mechanics.

To clarify, I do not think that dealer mechanics are bad, I look at them as I do doctors. They are not bad people, but they work in a broken system which breeds distrust and some resentment between the service provider and the customer. The customer might be happy with the results, but getting to the end can cause a lot of pain and discomfort. Especially when you check the tailpipe.

Well… I knew I would start the fur flying. To condense, It is always more economical AND more professional when the guy who is doing your auto repairs is THE guy you talk to about the ‘Need,’ ‘Requirement,’ ‘Recommendation’ of such repairs.

I have never had a good feeling about a ‘service writer’ being the middleman.

OK: All the reasons you mentioned about a mechanic looking around while he’s doing an oil change are valid. BUT, ANY competent (NOT jiffylube, Pepboys EtAl) mechanic can and will do these things too. The difference is I TRUST my mechanic if I have something that I can’t do. I DON’T trust service writers. And anytime I see a "Transmission flush’ I am immediately suspect. A fluid replacement and filter change are thre order in my book. The extra 100 bucks for a flush sounds vaguely like a wallet flush to me.

Thank you all for the excellent input. To respond to one of the questions posed, the mileage on the car at the time of writing was around 30,000 miles. I generally get the engine oil and filter changed each six months, and use synthetic oil (this last time regular oil was put in by mistake - the mechanic went ahead without asking me).

I have had excellent work by both independent shops and dealers and I have had shoddy work done by both independent shops and dealers. We bought a new Toyota 4Runner back in 2003. We hadn’t had the car a week when the serpentine belt started chirping. The dealer changed the belt. Two days later, the problem was back. The dealer changed the belt again. Two days later the problem returned and the car was leaking oil. The serpentine belt had been installed incorrectly and had pulled out the crankshaft oil seal. The dealer’s service manager said he would put his best technician on the car. Well, the oil seal was repaired and the belt replaced. Two days later, the chirp was back. My wife wanted to take the 4Runner to our independent shop and just pay for the repair ourselves. I went back to the dealer and asked for them either to buy the 4Runner back or give me a car to drive while they made a repair and tested their work. The dealer furnished a car and finally discovered that the belt tensioner was bad. After this repair, we never went back.
I had an independent shop put on new shock absorbers. I paid for a good quality shock, but the shop installed the lowest quality shock. The shocks were noisy. I finally convinced them to just give me two of the quality I had paid for and I took them home and replaced them myself.
On the other hand, I have an independent shop that does excellent work and we have a new Toyota dealer whose work seems to be top rate. I had very good experience with a small town Ford dealer and the Chevrolet dealer that is a mile from my house. I seek out shops, either an independent or dealer that does quality work. As long as the price isn’t outrageous, I’m satisfied. I usually forget about what I had to pay if the job is done right, but I never forget a shoddy job, even if the price was low.

There are no universal rules. I also think if you can find a good independent mechanic who can actually work on your car, and will install new OEM parts, that is the best deal. However, in McAllen, there are a few really good mechanics. They are so swamped they want you to leave your car until they get to it, sometimes for several days. We have only one car, and are not going to rent a car every time we need something done.

We call the Toyota dealer, make sure they can do the job needed, take the car in, the courier takes us home and picks us up when the work is done. And, all repairs are done properly using genuine Toyota parts. I have had my fill of rebuilt parts. When the dealer tells me they need to use rebuilt parts, I will junk that car and buy another one.

Of course, we haven’t needed many repairs in the last 177,000 miles. I might change my view when/if it starts needing a lot of repairs. That is my point here. Make your decisions based on all the actual facts, not just blindly based on the belief one does not take his car to the dealer except for warranty work.