This post is contributed by Lindsey Brown, Shop Forman and Little Foreign Car Garage employee for 29 years. Read more about Lindsey on the LFGC website.
Are you happy with the shop which services your car? While few people are happy to spend money on repairs and maintenance, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t feel good about dealing with those who do the work. It’s no secret what the two biggest concerns of car owners are when it comes to buying service: cost, and quality of workmanship. I’m not going to waste any of your time or mine insulting your intelligence with something that reads like ad copy here; you need certain tasks performed on your car in order to keep it safe, and operating correctly, and we who are in the business of performing those tasks need to earn a living. You have every right to expect a friendly business relationship, in which you pay fair market value for the work, no more, no less, it’s done correctly by people you respect, and backed by a meaningful warranty program.
Quality of Workmanship: Dealerships and Independent Shops
Conventional wisdom for a long time has been that dealers are likely to do a better job than other facilities, because they know their particular brands of cars better than anyone else, and have access to factory training for their mechanics, and specialized tools and diagnostic equipment that’s specific to each car. Although factory warranty work usually needs to be done at a dealership, so all late-model car owners should at least know where their nearest authorized dealer is located, lately, many dealers have taken to reducing their payroll by eliminating those experienced individuals who are the best problem solvers. Believe me, given a choice, you definitely want an experienced mechanic doing the work on the vehicle to which you entrust your life, and those of your loved ones.
Factory Warranty Maintenance
Many people believe they must have their car serviced at a dealership in order to maintain the factory warranty. This is simply untrue. Any shop can perform the required jobs, and as long as the service book is stamped, and there are maintenance records, the warranty will remain valid. If the manufacturer or dealership that sold you your car offered a free maintenance plan though, of course you should take advantage of it, but it wasn’t really free, you just prepaid when you bought the car.
Most independent shops are a less pricey alternative to dealer service. If they employ accomplished problem-solvers, have an up to date set of scan tools, and an on-line service manual subscription, which gives them instant access to practically everything known about every car built-in the last twenty-five years, there’s very little they shouldn’t be capable of doing. When you’re dealing with a small business, you have the advantage of being a bigger fish in a smaller pool, and small businesses are more sensitive to having anyone out there saying bad things about them, so they’re highly motivated to try to keep you happy. The prospect of an unhappy customer really does keep us awake at night, and we do everything in our power to see to it that we don’t have any, which is one of the reasons why we lead the industry with a two-year warranty on parts and labor.
When Quality Trumps Price
While nobody likes to overpay, there are situations in which shopping price alone may not be in your best interests though. There’s definitely a down side to buying the least expensive running shoes, for instance, and it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to take your dinner date to the lowest bidder. This applies to several automotive situations as well, perhaps most notably with tires. A wise person once said that the disappointment of poor quality will be with you long after the joy of a low price has worn off.
Specialists Miss A Lot
Specialty franchises, chain stores, and department stores with an automotive division often offer advertised prices which are hard to beat, and the convenience of quick service, often without an appointment. While many franchises are independently owned and operated, so blanket statements regarding their service would be wrong, the majority tend not to hire accomplished mechanics. They may do a perfectly acceptable job on the few select systems on which they’ve been trained, but you’re driving a complex machine, consisting of many vital systems. An automotive “general practitioner” is more likely to notice potential problems with drive train, engine management, fluid leaks, and other areas which may not be obvious to someone who’s there to work only on exhaust systems or brakes.
A highly respected shop owner once told me that he would never speak ill of a competitor to a customer, because it looks unprofessional, and suggests ulterior motives. I have always heeded his advice, but having said that, in all honesty, I believe the quality of our work is superior to that of anyone who undersells us, and we’re at least the equal of those who charge more. No brag; just fact. At Little Foreign Car Garage, our motto is “We never run away from any job”. There are a few from which I’ve been tempted to walk away quickly, but where would the fun be in that?