getting a car fixed: dealer or independant mechanic?

Your Ford car is making an odd noise when you first start it. It needs to be diagnosed and fixed.

Which is a better deal: the local Ford dealer or an independant mechanic?

What about for routine maintenance?

I worked in auto parts for several years. My recommendation for customers was to learn to do it themselves or take it to an independent mechanic for routine work.

Some cars have special problems unique to their model. For those kind of things, I would tell them to take it to the dealer.

No hard and fast rule about it though, a lot of dealers suck and a lot of independents do outstanding work. Local word of mouth will help you choose more than anything else.

Dealerships generally do good work. They have factory training, factory tools, factory information, and top quality parts in-house. On the downside, they tend to have high prices (though not always the highest), and they often have a manner that puts many people off. Certainly some are better than others, but if you feel comfortable with a particular dealer, I have no reason to advise against using them.

I don’t care for the chain operations. They often have entry-level help, and I believe they train their people to sell rather than to develop good mechanical judgment. While they typically advertise very attractive prices, probably less than 5% of customers who go in for, say, a 79.95 brake job leave having only spent that much. Often their prices for the upsold services are pretty high. There are some good individual stores out there, but in general the best quality and the best value is not found at the chains.

Independent shops run the gamut from large to small, excellent to lousy. The very best of all types of shops are the top-notch independents. The very worst are the scum independents. The good ones tend to offer more personalized service than the dealerships and more competent service than the chains. For many people, developing a relationship with a high-quality independent shop yields the best overall value and the least hassle in servicing their cars.

How to find a good shop? Use a multi-pronged approach. The first thing is to check their reputation. Customers are the most obvious source. Just be aware that some people may be delighted with a shop that’s scamming them some, and some may deride a good shop that they simply didn’t click with. Another avenue is to check industry sources. Ask at parts stores that deal with the shops. See if you can find a tool wagon-vendor (Snap-On, Mac, etc.) on his route. Check with a specialty shop (e.g. auto electric). These people have an insider’s perspective, and usually know which are the good shops and which are best avoided.

Look for mechanics’ certification. This is through an organization called ASE (Auto Service Excellence). They provide written tests which, while not perfect, pretty well identify those who know what they’re talking about. Don’t just look for the logo, but go inside and look at each individual’s certificate. There are eight areas of testing in general auto repair, but a person who passes just one test can wear the patches and be called certified. And a shop with just one certified mechanic can display the ASE logo. Ideally, all personnel at the shop will be certified Master Technicians (passed all eight tests).

Look for training and seminar certificates. To be proficient on modern cars requires a fair amount of ongoing learning. While intentional fraud makes great TV exposes, it is actually rather rare–most problems with auto repair are rooted in lack of competence, and unwillingness to own up to it. A high level of expertise is a good thing.

Look for membership in trade associations. Different ones are strong in different parts of the country, but three I’m aware of are ASA (Auto Service Association) and ASP (Auto Service Professionals) for general repair, and ATRA (Automatic Transmission Rebuilders Association) for transmission repair. Belonging to an association usually indicates an interest in the reputation of one’s field and the welfare of one’s customers.

Use your “people skills,” along with the shop’s reputation, to assess their honesty and integrity. Most of us have a feel for when people are being straight with us. If you’re young and still developing these skills, have a more experienced friend or relative go along and counsel.

Satisfy yourself that there is a good rapport between you and whomever you’re dealing with (this might be a manager rather than a mechanic–that’s OK). If you ask a question, you should get an answer that is useful to you. It may take a few tries to effectively communicate, but they (and you) should be trying to make it work.

Don’t focus on price. We all want to be good consumers, and it’s great to get a bargain. But most of the time, you get what you pay for. Good service is supported by top-flight help, comprehensive information resources, study and training, and special equipment. These things cost money, which has to be reflected in a shop’s prices. I wouldn’t necessarily make a point of going to the most expensive shop in town, but I’d be downright scared to go to the cheapest one.

basically, There is no better deal. If its covered under warrentee, then I would use the dealer. At any rate, they should give an estimate & tell you what it is & you can take it wherever you want or even do it yourself now that you know what needs doing.

Shucks, take it to the auto parts store & ask them what the noise is if you want. They don’t charge me.