We’re lucky we live in a time of choice and convenience, but too many choices often lead to confusion. Who do you trust, who will do a good job, and will your warranty really be affected? Ultimately, what is the difference between dealerships, workshops and mobile mechanics, and what is the most cost effective option?
I’ve experienced them all from both sides of the fence, both as a (female) customer and as an auto repair business owner who deals with mechanics every day. I get confused—that’s why I’ve written a book about it.
As a car owner you have a number of different options when it comes to car servicing and car repairs. Despite what dealerships tell you, you don’t have to use them and your warranty is not affected—the law says so. The reality is you can choose between the big, expensive dealerships that may have an extra level of expertise in your car, a cheaper local workshop, or a more convenient, personal mobile mechanic service. The choice really comes down to finding a mechanic that suits your needs that you can trust.
To help you decide, I’ve put together the pros, cons and myths about each.
Car Dealership Pros
- Usually the experts in the make and model of your car as they only provide mechanic services for a specific brand.
- Have access to the electronic scan tools specific to your make of vehicle.
- A loan car may be available while your car is off the road. However, you may have to wait up to two months before one becomes available.
Car Dealership Cons
- Usually the most expensive mechanic option.
- A basic car service will still take a whole day. Typically you will have to drop your car off at 8am and pick it up at 5pm. That’s a whole day with your car off the road. Depending on the work required, this could extend to two days and beyond.
- Dealerships are notorious for upsells (they aren’t nicknamed ‘stealerships’ for nothing) — more so than your local workshop. Additive companies provide the service advisers commissions for selling you flushes you don’t need. Service advisers are provided a commission for each extra they sell you. They will present you with a job card with all of these extras pre-printed, leading you to believe your car needs it. Always say no.
- Most dealerships will have transport, but they’re limited to times and destinations.
- You will likely never talk to the mechanic who fixes your car. All of your dealings will be with a receptionist and service.
Car Dealership Myths
Your car warranty will be void. Dealerships like you to think that your car must be returned to the dealership for mechanic servicing to keep your warranty intact. The fact is this is not true. As long as a licensed repairer services your car according to your car’s logbook, your warranty will not be impacted.
‘Fixed-price’ and ‘free’ servicing reduces your mechanic servicing cost. Not true as you’ll probably still be up for a big bill. Fixed price is often more expensive than your local mechanic. The dealership will also upsell you things like air-conditioning services, injection flushes and all manner of extras that won’t be included. Standard items such as batteries, tyres, wheel alignments and required repairs over the life of your car are often not included. Dealerships make the bulk of their money from servicing and repairs (not new car sales), meaning they need to make money from your ‘fixed’ or ‘free’ service packages.
In-car software is updated at every service. While only the dealer can update manufacturer-installed software, such as GPS, the reality is software updates happen rarely, certainly a lot less frequently than your services. So ask your dealer what updates have happened since your last mechanic service. If it’s nothing significant, then feel free to shop around for a better price.
Your vehicle is being recalled. Watch out for this one and do your homework. Supposed ‘vehicle recalls’ are becoming more and more common — yet cars are becoming safer with improved technology. In recent years manufacturers have been using very minor issues as a reason for a recall as a way of getting a customer back in to the dealership. At this point they will upsell you a car service and potentially add to the cost with other mechanic repairs. In other words, they will upsell you work that you may have otherwise had done elsewhere. This is just one of the marketing tactics dealerships use to stop customer leakage. If you do get a recall, by all means get it fixed. But you don’t have to agree to extra paid work. Feel free to go to your regular mechanic or shop around for a better price.
Mechanic Workshop Pros
- Typically cheaper than a car dealership.
- Typically more convenient than a car dealership. Mechanic workshops are likely to be closer to your home or work. They can usually book your car in sooner and, because they are often smaller, they may be able to fix your car quicker.
- Depending on the size of the mechanic workshop you may be able to deal directly with the mechanic who will fix your car. This allows you to better explain any issues you’re having and hear firsthand the cost of work that is required.
Mechanic Workshop Cons
- In a competitive market, most workshops compete on price. They will offer what appears to be a low cost car service to get you in the door (often as low as $120). The problem with this is they’re not making any money. This is when you’re likely to get a phone call during the day saying that your car needs additional work, with costs that you weren’t expecting. It could also mean they’re cutting corners and not doing a full service, or they could be using cheap oil and parts.
- You cannot see the work that’s performed on your car. They may tell you that a certain part needs replacing, but how do you really know that it needs replacing and they’ve actually replaced it?
- Workshops are known to be dirty places, often with cars and car parts scattered around the place. Some have old reception areas, and there are often dirty mechanics in overalls. (Some are, of course, better than others.)
- Can be less professional than a dealership, depending on the size of the business. Many will still issue handwritten invoices (some with illegible writing) and not have computerised records of work performed. Without proper records, many will replace the same parts at every service. They may also not have a professional booking system in place, meaning they work on your car when they get to it.
- Like a dealership, you still need to travel there and back and are likely to lose your car for a whole day just for a minor car service. Mechanic workshops are also less likely to have loan cars or offer transport (though a rare few do).
Mechanic Workshop Myths
- Mechanic workshops don’t have the same expertise and equipment as a dealer. Well, this really depends on the experience of the mechanic and the investment they’ve made in their equipment. Many mechanics have been trained at the large dealerships prior to going out on their own. Many workshops and mechanics are also now investing in the latest technology to keep up with the industry. Ask your local workshop what experience they have with your make and model.
- All services are created equal. There is a difference between an oil change and a minor service. An oil change is just that: the mechanic will drain your oil and potentially change your oil filter. In the US this type of service is becoming more popular as a while-you-wait lube change. While there’s nothing wrong with this in between regular servicing, or on new cars, the problem is car owners don’t know the difference. A minor car service should include a safety inspection of all major components of your vehicle, a check of all fluids and a tyre rotation. This is to ensure your car is in good working order, and is important if you want to know your car is safe.
Mobile Mechanic Pros
- This is usually a more convenient service. Mobile mechanics come direct to you and work on your car at your home or office. This saves you the travel to and from a fixed premises.
- Your car will be finished sooner as they are only working on your car.
- You can have multiple vehicles serviced at one time, such as motorbikes, boats, trailers and caravans (depending on the skill of the mechanic).
- You will deal directly with the mechanic on site and can watch them work on your car, or ask to see the parts replaced. Because they are not hidden in a workshop, it’s easier to see what they get up to and harder for them to hide anything that will add to the cost.
Mobile Mechanic Cons
- Beware mobile mechanics who are employees of a larger chain. Chains who employ mechanics still work under the same upsell commission incentives as the large workshops and dealerships. This means that you’re still susceptible to upsells that you don’t require and add to the total cost. Owner-operators, however, don’t work under commission incentives, and are instead incentivised to keep customers returning.
Mobile Mechanic Myths
- Mobile mechanics can only do small jobs and breakdowns. Mobile mechanics are fully licensed workshops. While they usually won’t work on very large jobs such as changing an engine, this is only a fraction of the day-to-day work required on any given car. In these cases, a mobile mechanic will partner with a workshop to perform the work. You still get the convenient service and one contact point. It’s also worth noting that many of these mechanics have come out of large dealerships with years of training behind them. Like a workshop, it’s worth asking what experience they have with your type of car.
- Mobile mechanics are more expensive. In most cases you’re not paying more for the added convenience, as mobile mechanics have fewer overheads that can otherwise add to the cost.
- Mobile mechanics can’t do registration checks. While registration checks do have to be done at a bricks-and-mortar licensed premises in most states, mobile mechanics will partner with a nearby workshop where they can carry out the check.
The Finish Line
When it comes to dealerships, workshops and mobile mechanics, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. What is right for you ultimately comes down to a choice you’re comfortable with, what will suit your lifestyle and budget, and finding a mechanic with a good level of expertise who you can trust.
You could find a great mechanic and build a great relationship at any dealership, workshop or mobile repairer in the country. The key is to find something that works for you and to not fall into the trap of returning to the same place (like a dealership) because you believe that’s the only option available to you.
As a rule, you will build a better and more direct relationship with owner-operators, versus being lost in the system of a big organisation where there are multiple touch points. However, the level of expertise that owner-operator has with your vehicle will come down to the individual’s background and training.
Find your local mechanic now with Blue Toro.