Q: The maintenance program that came with my new car from the dealership a few years ago is running out, and I would rather not go to the dealer for future service and repairs. If I take my car to an independent shop, how can I be sure that my “baby” is serviced correctly? And will the manufacturer’s warranties 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 even a law (the Magnuson-Moss Act of 1975) to support this.
As for your car’s lifespan, it is more likely 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 who wants to get 15-20 years of reliable service from his or her vehicle.
As I mentioned, the manufacturers require minimum service items to be performed to keep the vehicle under warranty.
The key word is “minimum.” What we see is manufacturers deleting certain service items from their schedules.
For example, transmission fluid changes are not done because the transmission fluid is called “lifetime fluid.”
In reality, there are no lifetime fluids unless you use 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 for many years.
Also know that a repair facility serious about providing high-quality care for your car has access to technical information available online to all automotive professionals.
These resources help the technician stay current on the areas of the vehicle that can be troublesome and what can be done to help them last longer (such as changing transmission fluid). Because of the cost to access this information, many repair facilities choose not take advantage of these resources, and that sets some facilities apart from others.
Qualified repair facilities will have: ASE-certified techs who are current (a voluntary certification); access to information to correctly service and repair your vehicle; correct and current equipment; ongoing training for their techs; insurance that covers your vehicle while it is in their possession; warranty for parts and labor; and clean, neat and well-organized work spaces.
Also keep in mind that any repair facility certified by the American Automobile Association is a good place to start.
Area AAA representatives inspect each facility quarterly to ensure that it has all the qualities stated previously. 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 friends who have a similar year, make and model. Is their repair facility keeping their cars reliable? Are they serviced or repaired correctly the first time without having to take them back for multiple appointments?
If the main reason for using a facility is its low prices, it may not be the best choice. This usually means that the business does not have the financial resources to pay for insurance, equipment, training, information or qualified technicians.
The Internet can be useful to find information about local repair facilities and customer testimonials. No business gets only good reviews, but when the majority of them are positive, it’s typically a good sign.