Is an Independent Shop or a Dealer Better for Car Repairs?
Last updated May 2017
The best way to choose a shop is to check out the factors that appear on our Ratings Tables. But even without such detailed investigation, you can boost your odds of getting good repairs by selecting the right type of shop. Our Ratings Tables show which shops perform warranty work for car manufacturers, which indicates shops that belong to new-car dealerships.
As you can see from the figure below, when we compare dealers to non-dealers on results from our surveys of consumers and on price, non-dealers scored better on all measures.
Our advice: Unless the work you need is covered by a new-car warranty or manufacturer recall, use an independent shop, not a dealership.
Except for getting free in-warranty repairs, there’s little reason to use a dealer’s repair shop. Many consumers believe dealers have access to proprietary knowledge, sophisticated diagnostic software, and better tools than independent garages. That’s not true. Both dealers and non-dealers subscribe to the same databases—for example, Indentifix and ShopKey Pro—that provide repair instructions, diagrams, and news from manufacturers. Although many car dealerships feature spacious, nifty-looking workstations, independents have access to the same tools and equipment. Despite what dealerships would have you believe, local garages can access the same information, software, and equipment.
Dealers’ quality scores may suffer somewhat because they tackle harder jobs. They argue that they get blamed for manufacturing defects, tend to work on new cars (which owners are pickier about), and get jobs too difficult for independents to handle. But after analyzing actual success rates on emissions-related repairs (as evaluated by state inspectors), we find independents perform substantially better than dealerships.