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To fix or not to fix? Dealership versus private repair shops

The Automatic Transmission Rebuilder Association (A.T.R.A.), a 2,500-member trade organization recently did extensive research into why some consumers prefer the dealership and why certain consumers prefer independent facilities for service and repair.

The answer has certainly changed over the last 15 years. Traditionally, car dealers made their money selling cars and the service department was just something they had to do. Coincidentally, there was not a tremendous amount of focus on the consumer in the service department. The service was somewhat unresponsive and the “we’re the dealership” attitude pushed consumers away.

Today, cars are lasting longer and with the tight economy, new car sales weren’t what they used to be. The service department at the dealership has become a priority to drive the economic engine of the dealership, which boils down to the dealerships marketing much more to the independent repair facility consumer and the cradle-to-grave marketing approach for the vehicle. With a decade of this marketing come some implied notions about the dealerships service department.

Some of the latest focus groups now show first blush impressions about the dealerships service department are higher quality, with the availability of Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) parts, training and qualification of the technicians, a higher-priced, nicer product, and a felling of safety as the dealership and dealership service presents no threat to factory or aftermarket warranties.

I won’t just be biased on these points, but I do want to dispel these myths.

1. Original equipment parts and tools are readily available to all the independent auto repair shops. On the flip side, just because you’re at the dealer does not mean you’re getting OEM parts. Dealerships will, and do regularly use, “aftermarket parts” in their service departments.

2. Factory-trained technicians are again available at both the independent auto repair shops as well as the dealership. Just because you’re at the dealer, doesn’t mean you have a factory-trained technician. Some are, some aren’t. There is not a technician in our independent shop working today that could not walk in and get a job at almost any dealership tomorrow.

3. Service outside the dealership does not compromise your warranty. The federal government shut that down long ago because it prohibits competition and creates a monopoly. That implication is still given in advertising and some dealership service department’s conversations with consumers.

Whether you choose a dealership or an independent auto repair shop is up to you. There are pros and cons to both. It will always mostly fall on the quality of the people at the business you are working with. As an industry advocate, I am neither pro-dealership nor pro-independent. I simply like to educate the motoring public by dispelling myths that lower the professionalism of our industry.

We hope you can join Dave Riccio and Matt Allen on Bumper to Bumper Radio, every Saturday at 11:00 a.m. on News/Talk 92.3 KTAR for an hour of automotive talk that will lower your anxiety and put you in the know when it comes to automotive stuff.