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What are you options?

  • Independent dealers...
  • ...or main dealers?
  • Where should you go?
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It's an age-old conundrum: should you stick with the main dealer for a service or repair, or save some cash and find a decent independent garage?

Franchised outfits are specialists in their marque and have access to the most up-to-date training. They benefit from collective expertise shared among dealer groups, along with the support of the manufacturer.

A good independent garage, on the other hand, will offer customer service thats at least as good, and will usually be cheaper. Independents rely more on word of mouth and repeat business to stay afloat, so its in their interests to do a good job and make sure their customers feel like theyve been dealt with fairly. That offsets the fact that they might not have the same up-to-the-minute information that franchises do.

Its a tricky choice, and is one that depends largely on whether your car is new or a couple of years old, how long you plan to keep it, and how prestigious the badge on its nose is.

So what are your options?
First, lets get the misconceptions out of the way: you will not invalidate your cars warranty by taking it to an independent dealer. The law was changed in 2003 to allow you to take your car anywhere for servicing. As long as the parts used are of the right quality and the work is done to the proper standard, your warranty will remain intact.

Having said that, a main dealer is your best bet if you plan to keep a new car for, say, no more than three years. Franchised dealer stamps in the service book will make the car more desirable, easier to sell on and potentially more valuable, so its often worth the extra outlay. This is especially true if your car has a more exclusive badge. For example, taking a BMW to an independent could potentially affect its value more than if you
do the same with a Ford.

Independent stamps also do less harm to the values of older cars with moderate to high mileages. Independents will be more familiar with common problems by this time, so theres also less merit in a main dealers knowledge. Expect to see a change in stamp value as the vehicle ages, says Chris Mason of garage watchdog scheme Motor Codes. If its a six- or seven-year-old car with a lot of miles on the clock, the stamp will have less of an impact when you sell.

So while there is a cost difference between the two types of garage it can often be a case of you get what you pay for.

We got quotes from three garages in the Colchester area for a major service on a 2007 Volkswagen Golf 2.0 TDI. The first was from a VW dealer and cost 249, while an independent specialist came in at 180. The cheapest quote was from an independent non-specialist garage, which cost 120.

The first garage naturally used original parts (manufacturer-spec components that youd find on the car from new), as did the second. The third used non-genuine parts.

According to Paul Everitt of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, parts can vary enormously. You have original parts, then parts made by the same producer but sold under a different name, then there are parts produced by other makers, he says. Wed certainly recommend the first two categories.