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Your trusty minivan needs maintenance, and you’ve been having it serviced at the dealership for years with no problems. But your neighbor swears by a local mechanic and promises you’ll save a fortune on car repairs.
Which is the better option? A dealership will have factory-trained technicians and use OEM parts, but an independent auto shop can offer lower prices and often get your car back to you more quickly.
The answer comes down to your priorities and preferences.
The differences between dealerships and independent shops
Despite providing similar services, there are some differences between dealerships and independent auto shops. Here’s a rundown of how they compare when it comes to what customers can expect.
Auto repair shop
Specialized technician training
Availability and ease
Parts and inventory
Representatives and service advisors
Dealership service departments have a variety of staff that move a car from drop off through service and repairs and back onto the road. Depending on the dealership and what you need done to your car, several people could have had a role in servicing your vehicle, including technicians, service advisors, lot porters and more. This means that you might not be able to speak directly with the person who worked on your car.
Independent shops are likely to have fewer staff that tend to double up on duties. For example, rather than multiple service advisors explaining what services were performed, a small shop is likely to have one person who speaks to every customer, or to have customers speak directly to the technicians.
Technician training and experience
Dealerships often require their technicians to have extensive training and specialize in their brand of vehicle. This allows technicians to potentially diagnose issues more quickly and repair problems more accurately.
Technicians at independent shops likely will have industry training and hold some certifications, but they may not have specialized training in certain car models. This means they might take longer to diagnose an issue or repair a problem.
Because they work with a lot of customers, dealerships often require appointments to have services or repairs done to your vehicle. You might be able to drop off your vehicle at any time, but the wait for a technician to be available to work on it could be several days or more. Independent shops may have more availability and get to your vehicle sooner.
Because of their large overhead and operating costs, dealerships tend to charge more for services and repairs than independent auto shops. Dealerships’ technicians are also more specialized, which often demands a higher fee. This can come in the form of hourly labor rates as well as markup on parts and materials.
Parts and inventory
Dealerships use original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts, which are the same parts that came installed in your vehicle when it first came off the assembly line. And because dealerships work directly with a specific brand of car, they are more likely to have the parts your car needs in stock.
Some independent auto shops offer OEM parts, but not all of them do. The alternative is aftermarket parts, which can work as well as OEM parts but vary in quality. They also tend to be cheaper. If you do want OEM parts from a small auto shop, you might have to wait for them to get the parts in stock.
Which one is better?
It depends on your situation and priorities. Which one you go with can make a difference in how much you pay, how quickly you get your car repaired and the experience you have.
Here are a few situations where going with a dealership might be the better option:
You only want OEM parts.
You want a technician who is trained on your specific car.
Your car is still under warranty.
You need a loaner car while your vehicle is being serviced.
If you fit into one of these categories, though, you may prefer an independent auto shop:
You’re on a tight budget.
You want your car repaired immediately.
You want to be able to speak directly with the people working on your car.