It is a question that consumers have been asking since the very first corner garage opened up down the street from a new car dealership. Do I really need to service my car at the dealership? The short answer is no, you don’t, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is as simple as a yes or no answer. There are as many reasons for servicing at the dealer as there are for visiting “my mechanic”.
Years ago in Toronto, a number of dealers of one German automaker began telling consumers that they had to service their car at the dealer, or the new vehicle warranty would be voided. The only problem with that assertion is that an auto manufacturer is not allowed to void a warranty because of where a car is serviced, no matter how much they would prefer to do so.
That leads us to the obvious question of why a manufacturer would want to alienate their consumers this way, the answer to which is really quite simple. Just like a new car dealership makes most of its money on after sales parts and service, an automaker earns by selling parts to its dealers. It is in the best interest of both the manufacturer and its dealers, for vehicle owners to service at an authorized dealer.
Where a manufacturer can effectively pull a warranty off of a vehicle is when a failure is deemed to be caused by an aftermarket repair, or when a consumer fails to produce a valid paper trail for vehicle maintenance.
Example: way back in 1990, I had a Chrysler New Yorker towed in to the dealership where I was a service advisor, with a connecting rod hanging out of the side of its 318 V8. The 318 was a workhorse of an engine that could go forever on limited maintenance, so this was a bit of a surprise on a vehicle that was only a couple of years old and had something like 30,000 km on the clock. We had not seen the car for service a single time since it left our lot when new, because the owner was doing his regular service at a local big box store. He had all of his receipts and had actually done the services on time. The failure was a bit of a mystery until we took the oil pan off.
Once the oil pump pickup was visible, it was clear that the intake was jammed full of a paper mash, preventing the delivery of oil to the engine. Where could paper have come from inside an engine? The fairly new looking filter, from the servicing chain store, had broken apart internally, sending its filtration material our into the oil supply. The failed filter caused the engine breakdown.
Our Chrysler rep happened to be in the store that day. He instructed us to button the car back up and send him back to where his service had been done. The service provider’s response was to offer him a new filter for free to replace the faulty one. The last I heard was that the customer had lawyered up and was chasing the chain for the cost of a new engine.
Had this car been serviced at the dealer and a Mopar branded filter had been used, Chrysler would have replaced the man’s engine with no questions asked. Saving a couple of bucks on an oil change cost him in the long run. At least he was chasing a big chain. If it had been a small independent shop, he likely would have had no recourse except to chase the filter manufacturer himself.
If you choose to service at an independent shop, perhaps the most important thing to remember is to demand a proper, computer generated invoice that includes all of the shop’s information, along with the date, vehicle identification number and mileage. Hand scribbled invoices will not be considered acceptable by a manufacturer in a dispute over warranty coverage in today’s market. Besides, if a shop is that sloppy in their record keeping, how much attention will they be paying to your car?
Over the coming weeks, I’ll address some other common questions about servicing your car such as:
- Why you should service at a dealership.
- Why you should service with an independent repair shop.
- Why loyalty matters.
- Why you should be wary of big box chain stores.