Fix My Wheels! - Dealer or Indie Repair Guy?
By Bob McHugh
Chief Technical Services Advisor
It ranks right up there with those great philosophical questions. Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I? What is Spam?
And that question is: Do I have to take my new (near new, or new to me) auto back to the dealer for service or repair?
The short answer is: “No” but there is a very big BUT! - The thoughtful answer is: “Yes, you probably should.” And here are three BIG reasons why:
Life is complicated and there are many reasons why owners choose an independent repair shop. The logistics of simply getting auto back to the OEM dealer may be cited as a problem. But consider this: there is no obligation to return for service to the same OEM dealer where you bought the auto. There’s likely a same brand OEM dealer close to where you live or work. You should check to see if a free loan vehicle or a shuttle service is available.
- If your vehicle is still covered by a manufacturer’s warranty or an extended warranty, it simply makes sense to ensure that all replacement parts are OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) and repairs are done by OEM trained auto mechanics. Later you may well be asked to prove that regular maintenance was up to OEM standards, if later a major repair is necessary (or when you come to sell or trade it in!).
- Familiarity is an important factor. - An OEM trained auto mechanic, who only works on your brand of auto, will typically fix it better and faster than a mechanic who works on all types of brands. The OEM mechanic has access to specialty tools and diagnostic equipment designed specifically for your auto. The OEM mechanic is also more likely to spot and advise you on potential future problems, as they simply work on more of them and get to know common problems.
- They have instant access to recommended OEM changes to your auto. They know about safety recalls, TSBs (Technical Service Bulletins) repair notifications or software updates that may be recommended by the OEM. These are generally no-charge repairs or upgrades that can be performed while the vehicle is in an OEM dealer service department for routine maintenance.
Many modern autos are embedded with cameras, radar, airbags, dozens of computers and other high-tech equipment. Today, you don’t have to buy a luxury class car to get advanced stuff like autonomous braking, blind-spot detection, autonomous self-park systems, lane departure control or adaptive lighting or cruise control systems. If a problem develops, an OEM trained auto mechanic, has the right equipment to diagnose, repair or recalibrate the system.
Ah, I hear you say, what about that great retail equalizer - money? - Yes, hourly labour rates at your local independent auto repair shop are probably lower than the OEM dealer service department. Replacement parts may also be cheaper and sometimes they are just as good as the OEM equivalent. There’s no doubt, as out-of-warranty auto gets on in years and piles on those odometer kilometres, the allure of an OEM repair becomes less attractive to many.
That said, if you use your wheels for long-distance travel or if a home move might be in your future, here’s something else to factor in. An auto repair that’s done at an OEM service department is generally backed by a warranty that’s good anywhere in Canada or North America. That’s most unlikely to be the case if the repair is done by an independent auto repair shop.
In addition, as the official representative of a manufacturer, an OEM dealer service department is obligated to measure up to corporate standards of customer satisfaction. Most dealerships are secretly just as concerned about keeping the "supreme corporate one" happy, as they are with keeping their customers happy. And that gives a consumer additional complaint leverage, if they encounter a related auto repair problem down the road.