When and When Not to Take Your Car to the Dealer for Repairs

Deciding where to repair your car is a difficult choice.

Car repair often is expensive and inconvenient. Deciding when to take a car to the dealership for repairs can be difficult. Auto dealerships often tout their mechanics’ expertise. Independent shops also have qualified mechanics, and specialty garages exist as well. While many repairs are easily performed at independent garages, it’s best that dealerships do certain repairs.


New car dealerships sell lots of cars, but a large portion of profits comes from the parts and service department. Many dealerships have customer service specialists whose job it is to make sure you are satisfied with the work done. Dealerships often pride themselves on having mechanics who are experts in specific car makes and models and for having the diagnostic tools necessary to troubleshoot and fine-tune advanced electronics.


Independent shops sometimes specialize in specific brands or types of cars. Mechanics are often just as qualified as those working in dealerships. According to a survey conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, a higher percentage of people using independent shops were highly satisfied than those using dealerships for repairs. Some repairs cannot be done at smaller independents; they might not have the necessary advanced computerized diagnostics and tools. Independent shops can be less expensive, but some high-end specialty garages charge the same price for repairs as dealerships. If you prefer dealing directly with a mechanic rather than with a sales representative, independent garages provide better access to the person fixing the car.


You may want to take a newer car still under warranty to the dealer. Any warranty-related problem could be looked at and fixed for free if the car is covered. A dealership needs to address a repeated problem involving one specific part or system. Some dealerships suggest that repairs made outside their shop could void certain warranties, but federal law prohibits the voiding of a warranty based on where repairs are made.


A dealership should perform repairs involving any factory recalls. The car manufacturer gives the dealers specific instructions and guidelines regarding recall repairs. The company covers any repair costs, so there is no reason not to take your car in. Technical service bulletins (TSB) list problems that commonly occur in certain models. All repair shops should have the latest TSB for your car model, and many dealerships will do TSB repairs for no cost.


Compare prices among repair shops. Large urban areas often have more than one dealership servicing the same brand within a few miles of each other; compare the two and determine which you think will do the better job. Keep track of routine maintenance suggested by the car manufacturer and compare it with what the repair shop says it will do — don’t get stuck paying for work you do not need. Getting a written estimate is a good way to avoid unpleasant surprises when you pick up your car.