Should You Get Your Car Serviced at an Auto Shop or Dealer?

Your car’s check engine light turns on, and you’re faced with a decision — do you opt for the dealership or a local auto shop? We’ve outlined the benefits and drawbacks of each choice and when one option may be better than the other.

The Biggest Difference Between Dealerships and Auto Shops

Long story short, the biggest difference between the dealership service department and auto shops is the price. Because of lower overhead, independent auto shops cost less for services than a dealership. If price is your main priority, then you’re better off going to an auto shop.

Of course, there are also a lot of other differences worth considering. Dealerships specialize in one brand, meaning the technicians are trained specifically in your make and model of vehicle. Because they are so familiar with the ins and outs of your car, they’ll be able to quickly diagnose unusual issues. Dealerships also usually have loaner cars and waiting rooms with a lot of amenities to make it comfortable while you wait.

Independent auto shops, on the other hand, are a great place to develop a long-term relationship with the staff. The techs there have lots of experience across a wide range of makes and models, so they’ll be able to think outside the box and help you find creative (and affordable) solutions to problems. And bonus points if you become a regular customer; the techs will grow familiar with your particular vehicle and will be able to diagnose any issues quickly and easily.

Questions to Consider Before Choosing

Before booking your appointment, consider the following questions to help you decide whether an auto shop or a dealership is right for you.

Is your vehicle under warranty? This is the second most important consideration after price. If your car is under warranty, it’s almost always better to take it into a dealership for maintenance and repair, since most or all of the cost will be covered (depending on the details of your coverage.)

If you don’t have the option to take your car into a dealership but your car is still under warranty, look for a shop that honors your warranty so you can get the same benefits and cost reduction.

If you drive an older model or don’t have coverage, then you’ll be better off going to an independent auto repair shop. The prices will be much better than the ones at the dealership, which can often be much higher in general.

Where are the shops located? The next thing to ask yourself is, where are the shops located in relation to you? If the dealership is clear across town, it might not be worth it for something like an oil change. A conveniently located auto shop will make it easier for you to stay on top of maintenance and take your car in for repairs instead of avoiding addressing problems until the last possible moment.

Again, this one is dependent on warranty. Many dealerships offer free or cheap maintenance for newer cars, so you’ll always want to take advantage of that before transitioning to an independent shop once your car exceeds the warranty.

What kind of repair or maintenance do you need done? If you’re in need of massive repairs, like engine or bodywork, and you have an older car that’s not under warranty, you’re almost always better off going to an independent auto repair shop. They’ll be able to complete the work at a much lower cost than a dealership. 

However, if you’re under warranty, the dealership will be a smarter choice (and you may even get a loaner car while you wait.)

Tires are another purchase that are better done through an independent shop; the price and discounts will be much better than those offered by a dealership. It’s recommended to purchase at least two tires at once so they wear evenly, and shops will often offer incentives if you buy two or more tires.

Do you prefer OEM or aftermarket parts? Original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts are ones that are made at the same factory your car came from. Dealerships work almost exclusively with OEM parts, from spark plugs to brake pads, so if you want to make sure your vehicle is stocked with the best possible parts for its make and model, the dealership is your best choice.

If you don’t care as much about OEM parts, you’ll save money by going to an independent shop. They can source aftermarket pieces, which cost less, though they do have varying levels of quality. Some independent shops can source OEM parts if you request them, giving you the benefit of the best parts and cheaper labor.

Do you drive a European car? If you drive a BMW or other European-made car, you’ll be better off finding an independent shop that specializes in your brand — dealerships tend to be incredibly expensive if you aren’t bringing them the brand of car they are licensed to work on.

If you can’t find a specialized shop, just give the one you’re looking at a call and ask them about their experience with your make and model. Because independent shops tend to have deep benches of techs with a wide range of experience, you might find someone who is comfortable working on cars like yours.

Find a Shop You Can Feel Good About

Before you book an appointment at either the dealership or the auto shop, it’s worth taking a little time to do your own research. Look at online reviews and ask friends and family for recommendations. 

If you have any questions, give the shop a call and talk to the staff there. They should be friendly, professional and happy to answer any questions you may have. Ask about any deals or specials, and if they have anyone who specializes in your car’s brand.

Car maintenance can be a hassle, but finding the right shop, dealership or otherwise, can make the process of maintenance and repair much more enjoyable (and affordable).