Should I Service My Car at a Dealership?

Using a factory-authorized service outlet has its advantages, but cost likely isn't one.

Exterior of a dealership service entranceAdobe

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Seeing a dealership garage's gleaming floors, shiny tools, and uniformed mechanics can inspire confidence that your car is in good hands. But given that dealership service labor costs can be comparatively high, does it make sense to have your car serviced at a dealer for anything other than repairs under warranty?

Why Can Dealership Service Be Expensive?

While dealerships may offer competitive specials for basic maintenance such as oil changes and tire rotations, they have a reputation for high hourly repair rates. That's due to several factors.

Unlike a generalist shop, mechanics at a dealership have to take automaker-specific repair and service training courses. Not every mechanic will be qualified to work on every vehicle. And when it comes to new technologies and models, it's possible only one or two mechanics will have had the opportunity to complete extensive training.

Additionally, dealerships may pay for their mechanics to earn (and maintain) certification with the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, which regularly administers skill tests.

Automakers often mandate certain standards for their dealerships, which may range from something as simple as free snacks in the waiting room to ensuring mechanics use specialized (and potentially pricey) tools and diagnostic equipment.

Dealerships typically perform repairs using original equipment manufacturer, or OEM, parts, which have passed the automaker's tests but may have a higher price than a similar aftermarket part. All this requires money, and the dealership helps offset its own costs in part by way of a high hourly labor rate for customers.

What Are the Benefits to Dealership Service?

In addition to having specially trained mechanics and access to tools not necessarily found at independent repair shops, dealerships sometimes offer perks such as providing customers free loaner cars or a shuttle service to take them to and from work.

A dealership has access to manufacturer-provided service manuals as well as its factory-trained support staff. While this may not be critical for routine maintenance, it can help solve more complex problems. That direct line of communication with the automaker also means that a dealership might be able to advocate on your behalf should a repair fall into a gray zone regarding warranty coverage.

However, just because a dealership knows how to work on your car doesn't mean you have to select every option on their menu of recommended services. Trust your instincts and consult the service schedule in your owner's manual.

Can I Bring My Car to Any Dealership?

You do not need to visit the service department of the dealership that sold you a car. Consistency in service visits can work in your favor, though. Just as stopping by the same coffee shop once or twice a week can lead to a rapport with the baristas, regularly visiting the same dealership may lead to better service, thanks to the potential development of a positive relationship with the service adviser. That said, bringing your Toyota to a Honda dealer for major repairs may not be the best plan because those mechanics are less likely to have been trained on your car.

Anecdotally, automakers may also be willing to waive out-of-warranty costs on a case-by-case basis if the owner can show evidence that their car was regularly serviced by one of its authorized dealerships.

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Andrew Ganz
Andrew Ganz has had cars in his blood ever since he gnawed the paint off of a diecast model as a toddler. After growing up in Dallas, Texas, he earned a journalism degree, worked in public relations for two manufacturers, and served as an editor for a luxury-lifestyle print publication and several well-known automotive websites. In his free time, Andrew loves exploring the Rocky Mountains' best back roads—when he’s not browsing ads for his next car purchase.