Dealerships vs Private Garages
Most of us assume that work done at the dealership is more expensive than it is at the privately run garage around the corner. But the very fact that I have been assuming prompted me to research the facts so that I could finally make an informed decision. My findings were not black nor white, but certainly shed some light on the world of automobile service.
Commission on Parts
After a bit of digging, I discovered that employees in the Parts Department of a dealership are paid a commission on all items sold. Mind you, on average the bonus is minimal: 0.025%. That means, if (s)he sells $100 worth of parts, (s)he receives $0.25. That doesn’t seem like much to motivate an employee; however, the cents add up to dollars eventually.
Knowing that the same person who is recommending new parts for your vehicle also receives a cash incentive for the volume (s)he sells certainly plants a seed of doubt in the consumer’s mind. If the mechanic benefits directly from the amount of money you spend at the garage, who is to say that you are not being sold parts your car does not really need?
Bonus Pay for Service Hours
In addition to the commission on parts, mechanics receive bonus pay for service hours worked. Meaning, the more hours they work on your vehicle, the more bonus they receive in addition to their base wage. Again, this model makes it possible for mechanics to charge for more labour in order to accumulate service hours and therefore earn more bonus pay.
The balance here is that sometimes, when working on cars, the mechanic may be paid less than the hours (s)he worked. That is because most work is paid on the basis of the manufacturer’s book value. If the book says it only takes 2 hours to complete a job while in reality it takes 6 hours, the mechanic only gets paid for 2 hours. However, this also means that if the book predicts the job will take 6 hours but it is done in 2 hours, the mechanic will charge you for 6 hours of labour instead of 2 hours. Turns out that private garages also base labour hours on a generic guide, meaning that they can also benefit from an over-estimated job or can lose out an an under-estimated one.
Unfortunately, sometimes the mechanic will up-sell a service that may not be needed immediately in order to compensate for the inaccurate time estimate on a job. For example, a car comes in for a brake job, estimated to take 2 hours of labour but the mechanic knows from experience that it takes 4 hours to complete. He may recommend another service, knowing that the second job will take less time than the book estimate in order to be compensated for time lost on first task.
Quality of Service
If you were to go to a private garage, you may save $10-$20 per hour on labour. However, this garage may not be as specialized to work on your car as the mechanics who work for the dealership. Keep in mind that years of experience must be taken into account when coming to these conclusions. Nonetheless, mechanics who work in dealerships work on the same cars every single day. They are equipped with tools specific to the manufacturer and are more likely to provide quick tournaround, given the assembly-line nature of their work environment.
Moreover, dealerships are very focused on customer satisfaction, having to report to the manufacturer if any grievances are filed. Any complaints from the customer direct to the manufacturer reflect poorly on the dealer.
On the other hand, you may have found a very competent independent mechanic who has many years of experience with whom you have built a relationship based on trust. More often than not, the level of personal attention one receives and the confidence a customer has in the mechanic will cement the owner’s loyalty for the life of many vehicles to come.
Whether you feel more comfortable having your car serviced at the dealership or at a private garage, at least now you know what really goes on.