For decades, the de facto assumption has been that dealers are the experts on the car you’re driving. After all, they sold it to you. They have you as a captive customer during the warranty period. And they have factory-trained technicians with factory scan tools who install genuine OEM parts.
Sound familiar? Now let me turn all this on its head. I’ve been in this industry for nearly 40 years and can tell you, without hesitation, that you’ll almost always be better served at an independent auto repair shop likes ours than you will be at the dealer. Here’s why:
1. The notion of “factory-trained” technicians is outdated.
Dealers don’t have a monopoly on diagnostic scan tools or training programs. Independent shop owners who are serious about staying in business invest the hefty sum of money required to buy the same factory scan tools that the dealers have. Not to mention, there are several companies like Bosch, Snap-on and Autologic that make diagnostic tools that are every bit as good as the factory scan tools.
When it comes to training, many dealers require entry level technicians to “pay their dues” before they ever send them to training beyond what they’ve learned in school and in their apprenticeship. Most independent auto repair shops willingly send their entry-level and experienced technicians to multiple training courses every year. To us, it’s not a rite of passage but a basic requirement to stay in business.
2. Technicians at independent shops are more well-rounded.
Because technicians at independent shops work on all makes and models, as well as newer and older cars, they actually understand how the vehicles operate and how to fix them. A lot of dealer mechanics identify pattern failures and simply walk to the parts room and drop a new part in the car. They don’t necessarily understand the whole machine. And that’s fine if it’s a newer car with a common problem. But when the car is out of warranty or develops an unusual problem, you’re going to need an ace diagnostician on your side, not a parts changer.
Pair our above-average technicians with equal access to diagnostic tools, and you have a much better chance of getting your car fixed right the first time and of making a pesky problem go away.
3. The OEMs don’t have a monopoly on the best parts in the market.
Because we’re independent, we can source the best replacement part for your needs, regardless of who makes it. In some cases, it may be an OEM part, or more often, it’s a superior aftermarket part that we know will get you down the road another 100,000 miles. In other cases, we may choose a lower-priced part to help get the job done today. There are a number of aftermarket companies that manufacture only replacement parts, and they tend to be better quality than the parts your car is built with. We have the option to pick and choose what’s best for you. The dealer has less flexibility.
4. We offer better repair warranties.
A lot of aftermarket parts manufacturers offer substantially better warranties than the OEM parts suppliers. For example, dealers offer a standard 12-month/12,000-mile warranty on shocks and struts. Most of the shocks and struts we install come with a lifetime warranty against leaks, and even if you’re not happy with the ride, we can warranty the parts for you.
We’re also able to offer a lifetime warranty on the brake calipers and brake pads we use. If you buy brakes from Auto Lab and come back again in 40,000 miles, we will warranty those pads. You’ll pay only for the labor.
5. Our loyalties are to you, not to the carmaker.
Because we aren’t tied to any of the auto manufacturers, we serve you—not them. In addition to choosing the best parts for the job (See #3 above), we can make you aware of a warranty issue if we see one. Many dealers have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. They’re only permitted to tell you about a warranty issue if you have a specific concern or complaint. They can’t randomly see an oil leak while they’re rotating your tires and make you aware of it.
6. You’re working with real people who live in your community.
Most independent repair shops are family-owned and operated. You’re dealing with real people who live in the community and whose business is their lifeblood. They are going to make sure you’re happy because they intend to run that business until they retire. In the case of Auto Lab, the plan is for Sherman, my son, to take over when I retire.
Conversely, the staff at the dealer is at the mercy of a corporate culture. They’re much larger organizations where it’s typical for employees to feel like a number or a cog in a wheel. And yes, many dealer owners are local, too, but they’re not typically on the front lines.
7. We know you by name, not your VIN number.
With an independent shop, you typically deal with one person—the owner, the manager or service advisor—from start to finish. Think about your own experience at the dealer. How many times have you talked to one person to make the appointment, the service advisor to check in, a cashier to check out and a porter to find your car?
At shops like Auto Lab, we know you by name. Your VIN is only important when it comes to ordering the right parts for the vehicle, not for basic common courtesy or good customer service.
8. Dealers are still all about new car sales.
Despite razor thin margins on new car sales, dealers are still all about sales. Service is the proverbial red-headed stepchild by comparison. But when you step into an independent shop, service is what we sell. That’s the only thing we take to the bank everyday. We have to be better at it than the dealer.
And did you know that when you pull into the service lane, many dealers will use your license plate or VIN to check your credit, see how much you still owe on the car, and see if it’s worthwhile for their sales team to entice you with a new car?
9. Independents are easier, more convenient.
Typically, when you call an independent shop, you can get an appointment with a free loaner car within a day or two. And when you arrive, you pull in, park and walk inside. It’s easy in, easy out.
For many dealers, you have to schedule much farther in advance for a rental or loaner. And when you pull into the parking lot, it’s a maze of aisles, parking spaces and doors. You navigate through hoping that eventually stumble upon a sign that points you in the direction of the service department.
Obviously, I’ve made some strong, blanket statements in this article. I recognize that there’s an exception to every rule—that there are good dealers out there and bad independents. But by and large, the notion that the “dealers knows best” is simply not true. If you’re looking for a trustworthy, capable and personable place to have your vehicles serviced, you’ll win nearly every time by choosing an independent shop in your community.
—Kevin, Owner & Founder