Sometimes, a car dealer isn't the best place to go for repairs
. A common misconception is that a dealer is hands down the expert when it comes to make-specific service, and that they have complete access to the nearly unlimited resources and technical knowledge of the manufacturer.
In reality, car dealers aren't a direct extension of manufacturers - they are franchised points of sale that operate under their own management. As such, your dealer may have higher labor rates than local specialists, or less background knowledge of older, low-volume models.
Independent manufacturer-certified mechanics are the best alternative to dealer technicians. Manufacturers offer training courses to both dealer and independent mechanics, meaning any independent manufacturer-certified mechanic can be as knowledgeable as his dealer counterpart.
Some independent shops
are owned by former dealer mechanics who have since broken off to start their own businesses. Many of these shops specialize in either specific makes or types of cars (for example, a Japanese specialty shop), and have excellent technical knowledge in their area of expertise.
"Just because a technician doesn't work for a dealer doesn't mean they aren't properly trained for a certain make. Many independent mechanics are former dealer employees, and are fully manufacturer-certified," says Tony Beal, a Service Representative with Euro Motorcars in San Francisco.
Many independent shops also hold Automotive Service Excellence credentials, which ensure that they are kept up to date with the latest repair advances and techniques. While A.S.E. practices tend to be less make-specific in their nature, mechanics with this certification are guaranteed to have an excellent working knowledge of automotive maintenance practices and technologies. Furthermore, knowledgeable, multiple-make shops are convenient for people who own more than one make of car.
Possibly the most attractive aspect of independent shops is the relationship owners build with their mechanics and service advisors. The atmosphere of small shops provides customers with a reassuring feeling because they know who will be working on their car and who they can go to with questions.
"Small shops provide a direct point of contact to customers. I know most of my customers by not only on a first name basis, but by car, model and year," assures Beal. "My customers benefit from scheduling flexibility, ease of contact and price breaks that they would not receive at a large dealer, in my opinion. Plus, my reputation is on the line. If I mess something up, they know exactly who to blame."
If you don't have the option of going to a dealer or prefer the increased level of interaction offered by smaller shops, manufacturer-certified mechanics are an excellent choice. Not only do they offer the same knowledge and maintenance practices as dealerships, they are often more affordable and provide consumers with greater interaction and feedback.