Is it time for a tune-up? Car won’t start? Need a new water pump, or just an oil change? Welcome to the joys of car maintenance and repairs.
Next up is the question that car owners have been asking themselves since … well, since cars became our most common means of transportation: "Should I take it to the dealer, or go to an independent repair shop?"
Conventional wisdom reminds you that dealerships boast that their technicians are trained professionals with expertise in maintaining and repairing specific brands of cars. At the same time, conventional wisdom also tells you that independent shops are less expensive.
Perhaps the latest findings on the topic from Consumer Reports magazine will help. According to a recent survey of car owners by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, 71 percent of the survey respondents who took their vehicle only to independent shops for repair service (as opposed to routine maintenance) were "very satisfied" with their experience. That compares to 53 percent of those who only took their vehicles to new-car dealerships for repairs and claimed to be "very satisfied" with the experience.
While that’s an "overall satisfaction gap" of 18 percentage points, the numbers vary dramatically from brand to brand, explains Jim Travers, Consumer Reports’ associate auto editor. Among dealers, Acura and Lexus tended to generate the most satisfying repair experiences. Meanwhile, pulling up the rear, Volkswagen and Mitsubishi owners were less satisfied with their dealers’ repair service than owners of other brands.
The satisfaction gap between independent shops and dealerships dropped considerably when the topic turned to routine maintenance, as opposed to repairs — "probably because repairs can be more costly, more complicated", said Travers — and, often, more annoying, than simple maintenance.
For the repair category, Consumer Reports gathered data based on almost 100,000 vehicles taken to new-car dealers and almost 46,000 vehicles taken to independent shops in the 12 months prior to the spring, 2007 survey. For the maintenance-only satisfaction category, CR weighed data based on 286,000 service visits to new car dealerships and 94,000 service visits to independent mechanics during those same 12 months.
Travers said he wasn’t necessarily surprised by the 71 to 53 percent satisfaction gap, but noted that "many respondents told us they got better and more personal service from the independent shops than from the dealers." That was surprising, he said, since so many dealers stress customer service as a top priority.
"People also mentioned that they felt like, when they went to dealers, that they were getting up-sold on services they didn’t need, and that the cost was higher at the dealership as well," Travers said. That first bit of data is probably not surprising, given the other bit of conventional wisdom that is actually true: Dealers make a higher percentage of profit from parts and service than they do from new-car sales.
"The results of this survey seem to indicate that the overall rate of satisfaction was a combination of both the cost of the service …