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Independent auto repair shops do better than dealerships, survey shows

BMW_3_Series_SedanConsumer Reports latest survey of repair service satisfaction found consumers will likely be more satisfied with an independent repair shop than with a new-car dealership.

However, Tesla, the electric carmaker, outscored the independent shops. It earned praise for its on-time repairs, courtesy, price, quality, and overall satisfaction. But, part of Tesla’s success might be it’s new to the market and has a small number of customers.

The survey found that independents outscored dealership for overall satisfaction, price, quality, courteousness of the staff, and work being completed when promised.

“To be fair to mechanics at franchised dealerships, our respondents also reported being very satisfied overall with their repairs despite being outscored by independent shops,” said Mark Rechtin, team leader, Consumer Reports Cars Content Development.

Luxury and upscale brands topped the chart among new-car dealers, with Buick, Lincoln, Cadillac, Lexus, Porsche, and Acura coming in behind Tesla.

The survey also reported some disappointments with expensive cars. The biggest gripe was about the cost of parts and labor. Mercedes-Benz drivers especially were much more satisfied with the price they paid at independent shops.

Consumers also complained about high prices at Jaguar dealerships – and Mini dealerships, which often share a service area – and high prices – with an affiliated BMW dealership

And if you own a BMW, Porsche, or Volkswagen, bargain hunting for a mechanic might not pay off. Owners of those brands were equally satisfied with the price paid at dealerships and independent shops.

The lowest overall satisfaction score came from RAM owners that went to franchise dealerships, but that score was still a 76, which indicates that those consumers are still at least “fairly well-satisfied” with the service they received.

It pays to haggle

Consumer Reports survey also found that only 19 percent of respondents tried to negotiate over repair work. But, among those who did, 60 to 82 percent were able to save some cash at dealerships, depending on the brand. Haggling success was even better with independent shops, with 71 to 84 percent of negotiators receiving discounts.

The median amount of money that consumers saved was about $120 for repairs at dealers and $94 at independents. 

Some luxury-car dealers were willing to bargain. Those at BMW knocked off a median of $187 from contested repair orders. Mercedes-Benz dealerships discounted $180 from successful hagglers’ final bills.

Among mainstream brands, successful hagglers saved a median of $152 for Subaru dealership repairs, $135 at VW, and $133 at Chevrolet.

“You don’t have to be a professional negotiator to be successful,” Rechtin said. “By simply getting a second opinion on a repair, you can pit repair shops against each other in a bidding war for your business. Also ask for an itemized estimate up front to avoid inflated charges. Dealerships will often lower their price to ensure that you come back the next time.”

The survey was based on subscriber satisfaction with repairs on more than 121,000 vehicles – 80,000 of which were repaired at dealers and more than 41,000 at independent shops.

The repair satisfaction ratings for 32 brands franchise repair centers as well as the independent shops that service those brands is available online at www.ConsumerReports.org.

The repair satisfaction ratings chart is available in the March Issue of Consumer Reports on sale January 29th or by visiting www.ConsumerReports.org.

Copyright 2015, Rita R. Robison, Consumer Specialist

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