CONSUMER REPORTS article: Auto Service - Owners perfer independents PDF Print E-mail

Many drivers wonder whether to take their cars to a dealership or to an independent shop for repairs and maintenance. Dealerships tout that they're specialists and trained specifically for a certain brand of car. But independents are generally less expensive. How to decide?

New information shows that independent shops generate a higher level of overall satisfaction than dealerships. According to a recent survey of car owners by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, 71 percent of respondents who took their vehicle only to independent shops for repair service were very satisfied with their experience. This compares with just 53 percent who were very satisfied using new-car dealers for repairs.

While the overall gap in satisfaction between the two was 18 percentage points, it varies dramatically by auto brand. The difference for Infiniti and Lexus owners was eight percentage points. By contrast, Volkswagen owners preferred independents by a whopping 27 percentage points.

Among dealers, Acura and Lexus tended to generate the most satisfying repair experiences. Still, even those owners were happier with independent shops. At the other end of the scale, Volkswagen and Mitsubishi owners were much less satisfied with their dealers' repair service.

Respondents we followed up with cited better, more personal service from independents.

"When I first moved to the area, I went to the dealer and felt I was told I needed a lot of work that wasn't necessary," said Philip LaBella, of Stockerton, Pa., who participated in the survey. But when he drove his 2003 Jeep Liberty and 1999 Oldsmobile Intrigue to a small shop, he said he was given advice such as, "This is what you need. Maybe you can wait on that."

Michael Burandt, of Cleveland, another survey respondent, says he has been unhappy taking his 2003 Chrysler PT Cruiser to a dealership. "I think they charge a really high rate compared to other places." Burandt says he goes to independent shops but will make an exception and go to the dealership for recall or warranty work.

There were bigger differences in satisfaction between dealers and independent shops for repair work as compared with routine maintenance. That's probably because repairs can be more costly, complex, and aggravating than maintenance.



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The car as we know it is on the way out. To a large extent, I deplore its passing, for as a basically old-fashioned machine, it enshrines a basically old-fashioned idea: freedom. In terms of pollution, noise and human life, the price of that freedom may be high, but perhaps the car, by the very muddle and confusion it causes, may be holding back the remorseless spread of the regimented, electronic society. --J. G. Ballard (b. 1930), British author. The Car, The Future (first published in Drive, London, Autumn 1971; repr. in Re/Search, no. 8/9, San Francisco

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