Dealers vs. Independents
Illustration by Mark Matcho
When choosing an auto repair shop, is it better to go with a dealer or an independent? Checkbook surveyed customers and found that they were about two and a half times as likely to rate dealerships “inferior” for overall service as they were to give such ratings to independents. And that difference is not explained away, as some dealers claim, by differences between dealers and independents in the kinds of repairs made. Using data secured by a Freedom of Information Act request from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, Checkbook discovered that, for repairs on older cars that have failed emissions inspections, dealerships were about one and a half times as likely as independents to fail to get the repairs done right.
What’s more, in Chicago as well as the six other metropolitan areas where Checkbook surveys repair shops, dealers were generally more expensive than independents for the same repairs. For a repair that would cost you $100 at the average independent in the Chicago area, you can expect to pay about $116 at a dealer.
On the other hand, some individual dealers rate high for service. For example, local Acura, Lexus, Saturn, and Honda dealers were rated as at least “adequate,” on average, by more than 90 percent of the customers Checkbook surveyed—compared with Dodge, Mercedes-Benz, and Kia dealers, which on average got positive ratings from fewer than 80 percent of their surveyed customers.