It’s a hot topic in the trade at the moment, how do car dealers retain their service department customers, especially after the car becomes 3 years old and the first MOT falls due. There is no doubt that this is an important profit centre for dealerships but it has suffered badly from negative press and a general feeling that the motorist does not get value for money. Well the fight is on as dealers try to claw back some of the customers rapidly turning to the major service centre chains and with Tesco even getting in on the act it may very well be too little too late.
With this in mind we canvassed opinion on what was wrong with having your car serviced at the dealership and were somewhat surprised by the negativity and anger out there. The consensus appears to be that car dealer service departmenst charge like wounded bulls.
Below are just a few of the responses we received.
“The ONLY time you want to go near them is when your vehicle is under warranty and someone else is paying.”
“Dealership service departments have the absolute highest labour rates of ANY place you can get your car fixed.”
“The ultimate goal of all dealers is to sell you a new car – when the service department hands you an estimate for £1,000 for a headlight bulb, they want you to get discouraged and go buy a new car. Of course your trade-in is worthless because it needs a thousands of pounds worth of work (£10 part), but they’re your friend, so they’ll give you a generous trade-in on that old hunk of last year’s junk.”
“Dealership parts prices are absolutely the highest in the known universe. You can frequently purchase the IDENTICAL part for as little as 20% of what the dealer wants. I’ve done this more than once, last occasion was a hot side battery cable for a Honda Accord, £147 at the dealer, £35 on the internet and it even came in a SEALED Honda bag! Another example: oil drain plug sealing washer for my wife’s 2002 Mazda 626, £13 at the dealer, 59p at the local car parts centre. It was just an aluminium washer – identical part, same manufacturer.”
“There is tremendous psychological pressure when the DEALER says “your car needs X” – after all, they’re the DEALER, so they should know, right?
Wrong – they are only interested in how much money they can extract from you and how fast.”
“Independent mechanics can do just as good a job for far lower prices. Independent mechanics don’t have fancy showrooms on the high street, so they
don’t have huge rent/mortgage/floor plan costs which are built into the dealer’s prices. You’re paying to have your car fixed, not to help support some garish showroom.”
“If you want to know what is wrong with your car, go buy an OBD2 code reader from any number of places (as low as £40), plug it in and read the
codes. No tools at all required, you just have to find the OBD2 socket and spend two minutes reading the book. Some car parts stores will let you use their code reader for free because they hope it will result in a parts sales for them.”
“Get a basic idea of how your car works and READ THE OWNER’S MANUAL for service intervals. Dealerships prey on ignorance, and ignorance will
cost you a PILE of money.”
“I’ve learnt to do some of the basic servicing myself. Modern cars are usually designed with at least half an eye toward ease of service. You can change air filters, light bulbs, wiper blades, and more than a few other minor items yourself, and your labour costs are obviously zero. Wear cheap gloves and you probably won’t even get your hands dirty. You can buy a decade’s worth of soap and hand cleaner for what half an hour’s labour charge at the dealership will be.”
“Example – front brakes – even the chain stores will rip you off on this.
“Front brake service, £99.95 plus £79.95 parts”. Takes an amateur mechanic perhaps an hour, the parts (four brake pads) run £20 to £30; you need a jack, a screwdriver and a spanner or two. Is your time worth £150 an hour? If you buy lifetime warranty parts (£3 more), they’ll swap out the brake pads FREE when they wear out for as long as you own the car.”
“Dealership service departments work from a flat rate book – job X is supposed to take so long. If the job is supposed to take one hour and the mechanic can do it in 45 minutes, you pay for the full hour anyway – the dealership wins. If the mechanic takes longer than the hour, you’ll pay for the actual time – the dealership wins again.”
These responses do seem to be full of the usual conspiracy theories. Franchised dealers are only too aware of how they have neglected customers have been in the past which is why they are trying to price match the service centre chains. For the aggravation of getting your car maintained yourself is it really such a big deal to pay someone else to do it for you in the hope that they know what they are doing?
We are quite happy to pay for most things as long as we feel like we are getting value for money but of course it doesn’t hurt to criticize car dealer servicing when it is due because they are very clever at charging well over the odds for ridiculous things like bulbs and washers.
As any sales manager will tell you once you have been charged £50 to have your own people fit number plates to your used cars you know all about being ripped off!