How to Pick a Good Mechanic
You have a couple of options when it comes to getting service on your car or truck--a dealership or an independent garage. When a vehicle is under warranty, the choice is easy, since the dealer will perform warranty service at no charge. However once a vehicle's warranty runs out, is a dealer or an independent mechanic the better choice for maintaining your vehicle? Here's an overview of some of the pros and cons of both options.
Here a dealership should have a distinct advantage. A dealership's service personnel work almost exclusively on only one make of vehicle and get to know it intimately. They also receive manufacturer sponsored training on the latest vehicle upgrades and service techniques. The people at independent garages are often well qualified themselves, since many started working at a dealership. Plus, they can stay current through A.S.E. (Automotive Service Excellence) training and certification. However, an independent garage will work on any number of vehicles and it's virtually impossible to have the same knowledge level as the people at a dealer.
Here again a dealer should have a distinct advantage. A dealer can offer warranties on their work that are valid at any dealership in the country while an independent garage can only warranty their work if you bring your problem back to them.
Here's where independents have some advantage. Often dealerships are located miles from where you live but you can probably find a good independent garage right in your neighborhood. Plus, at a dealer you may need to book ahead for something as simple an oil change while an independent can usually take care of it in an hour. When you need to have something done on your car you might be one of dozens of people waiting for service at a dealer, while you'll be one of just a few at an independent.
At a dealership, you're essentially a number on a computer printout to the mechanic who works on your car. At an independent you can usually talk directly to the person who works on your vehicle. The independent's mechanic not only gets to know you, he or she gets to know your vehicle and can often make suggestions to head off possible problems down the road. At a dealership you'll probably never even see the person who works on your car. You'll deal with a service advisor (actually a salesman) who will make recommendations based primarily on the manufacturer's recommendations.
From a pure price perspective an independent is usually less expensive than a dealer (in some cases approaching $50 per hour less). However, dealerships can reasonably say the price difference is primarily the result of the ongoing cost of maintaining their modern facilities and equipment as well as the cost of training their employees.
What to Do
Ultimately, the decision is up to you. While you will probably pay more and give up some convenience as well as the personal contact at a dealership, you can be assured your vehicle has been maintained according to the manufacturer's specifications.
Murray Anderson is an experienced freelance writer whose work has appeared on numerous web sites, as well as in newspapers and books in both the U.S. and Canada. He is a regular contributor to DoItYourself.com.