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Choosing a Mechanic

Choosing a Mechanic

By Jeff Youngs, February 24, 2012
Making a decision about where to take your vehicle for an oil change or routine maintenance can be anything but routine. There are a wide variety of choices at varying price levels, including the local dealership, an independent garage, or a major automotive service chain. There are many factors that can affect your decision, starting with your vehicle and your budget. Let's review the options.

Dealership

Taking a vehicle to a dealership for routine maintenance is generally the most costly option, but there are several benefits. While you might be inclined to avoid the extra expense of going to the dealer, remember the old adage: you get what you pay for. Dealerships have invested a considerable sum of money in specialized machines, tools, and training. Their mechanics receive extensive and ongoing training to better understand the particular subtleties of the brand and your vehicle, as well as the numerous changes that accompany each model year. In general, this extra training should help them to complete your maintenance or repair more quickly and to fix it right the first time. Also, dealerships primarily use Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) replacement parts rather than aftermarket parts, which ensures consistency with regard to fit and performance.

As a result of their significant investment, dealer prices are often higher. However, many dealers offer regular specials on routine services to remain competitive. Also, the premium spent on service at a dealership often translates into perks that independent operations don't provide, such as comfortable waiting rooms, shuttle services, or even free loaner cars. These appealing extras can result in a more pleasant service experience.

The local garage

Independent mechanics vary widely in terms of expertise, price, and convenience. Some independent mechanics specialize in repairing one or just a few brands. Sometimes these shops have mechanics with a high level of expertise (many are former dealership employees) and have invested in the special, brand-specific equipment required for the brands they service. They frequently use OEM replacement parts, which may be preferred in some situations, even though they tend to cost a bit more than aftermarket versions. The hourly rate at some independent facilities can rival dealership rates, but they are worth looking into, especially if a dealer is not conveniently located.

Some shops specialize in older vehicles, and don't have the special diagnostic equipment or custom hand tools required for newer or higher-end models. This may appear to be an issue only for more involved repairs, but some vehicles require special tools just to remove simple items, such as the oil drain plug. A shop that does not have the proper brand-specific tools runs the risk of damaging your vehicle if they attempt to perform the maintenance or repair with traditional tools and equipment. Another drawback to independent mechanics is the lack of amenities compared to the dealership. These shops may or may not have a waiting area or offer transportation to your work or home. It's also unusual for them to offer loaner cars.Major chains

Taking your car to an auto chain or to a specialist is generally the most economical route for maintenance or small repairs. Technicians who work at these facilities, however, may have less training and therefore be less capable of handling brand-specific issues. This means that basic work that is similar on most vehicles can usually be handled quite easily, assuming they have the special, brand-specific tools required and that the technicians are reasonably careful about their work.

How to choose the facility

Choosing which type of facility to use is highly dependent on the type of work you need performed and the type of vehicle you have. Generally speaking, luxury-brand vehicles and recent model-year vehicles (less than 3 years old) are more likely to have features that require special expertise, equipment, or tools. As a result, it may be best to take those vehicles to a dealer or to an independent mechanic that specializes in your brand, even for routine maintenance. Also, if you are risk averse or want to play it safe, it may be best to go to a dealership or independent mechanic that specializes in your brand. For older and less expensive vehicles, these factors become less important. Therefore, service on these types of vehicles is more likely to be performed satisfactorily by a major chain.
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