Q: The maintenance program at the dealership that came with my new car a few years ago is running out, and I would rather not continue going to the dealer for service or any repairs. If I take my car to an independent shop, how can I be sure that my “baby” is serviced correctly and will stay healthy for years to come? And what about the manufacturer’s warranties? Will they stay intact?
A: I will answer your last question first. Yes, as long as the minimum requirements stated by the manufacturer are met, no matter where you have your vehicle serviced or repaired (even if you do it yourself) the warranty will stay intact. There is, in fact, a law (The Magnusen-Moss Act of 1975) to support this.
As for your car’s life span, it is more likely that your vehicle will last longer and cost less to repair and service over its lifetime if you take it to a qualified repair facility other than the dealership. The manufacturer’s dealership network is there first and foremost to sell new vehicles and to get them through the warranty period with as little cost to the manufacturer as possible. The hope is that once the warranty has run out, you will purchase a new vehicle. This does not take into account the vehicle owner that wants to get 15 to 20 years of reliable service from his vehicle.
As I mentioned in the first paragraph, the manufacturers require minimum service items to be performed in order to keep the vehicle under warranty. The key word here is “minimum”. What we see is manufacturers deleting certain service items from their schedules. For example, transmission fluid changes are not being done because the transmission fluid is being called Lifetime Fluid. In reality, there are no lifetime fluids unless you are using the manufacturers’ warranty period as the life expectancy of the vehicle! Changing transmission fluid periodically extends the life of the transmission by many times.
A repair facility whose sole purpose is to service and repair your vehicle will have a vested interest in keeping your car reliable and healthy for many years. Also know that a repair facility serious about providing high quality care for your car has invested in obtaining access to the technical information available online to all automotive professionals. These information resources help the professional technician stay current on what areas of any vehicle are or can be troublesome and what can be done to help them last longer (i.e. changing transmission fluid). Because of the cost to access this information, many repair facilities choose not take advantage of these resources, and this is one of the biggest issues that set some facilities apart form others.
A qualified repair facility will have:
1. ASE-certified techs that are current (this is a voluntary certification)
2. Access to information to correctly service and repair your vehicle
3. Correct and current equipment
4. Ongoing training for their techs.
5. Insurance that will cover your vehicle while it is in their possession.
6. Warranty for parts and labor; the longer the term, the better.
7. Clean, neat, well-organized facility
Another point to keep in mind is that any repair facility certified by AAA (California State Automobile Association) is a good place to start. The area AAA representative inspects each facility quarterly to ensure they have all of the previously-stated qualities. In addition, they also check to make sure the majority of the facility’s customers are satisfied.
Another way to identify a good repair facility is to ask your friends that may have a similar year, make and model vehicle to yours. Is their repair facility keeping their car reliable? Is it serviced or repaired correctly the first time without having to take it back for multiple appointments? If their main reason for using their facility is that the prices seem low, it may not be the best choice. This usually means that they do not have the financial resources to pay for insurance, equipment, training, information or qualified technicians.
The internet can also be a place to find information about local repair facilities through their web sites, testimonials, etc. Not all testimonials viewed for any business are always good, as no business can satisfy every customer, but when the majority of review are positive, that is typically a good sign.
There are many good, qualified repair facilities out there, and each one has its own personality. Find one that fits you and your vehicle and you should both be happy for many years to come.