By on May 21, 2012

Five years ago, car dealers throughout the country were hit hard by carmageddon. Now, they are about to get hit again where it really hurts: In the workshop, where the real money is being made. The auto sales collapse of 2008 winds its way through the years like a diet through an anaconda. While showrooms were empty five years ago, now it’s the service bays that are deserted.

Says a J.D. Power and Associates study quoted by Automotive News [sub]:

“The number of vehicles in operation that are 5 years old and newer will dip to 63 million this year, forecast to be the low point of the industry’s downturn and recovery, according to J.D. Power and Associates. Late-model vehicles traditionally represent the sweet spot for repair and maintenance work for dealership service departments.”

Why will this be more painful than empty showrooms? In 2011, the service and parts business represented 13 percent of overall sales for the typical dealership but contributed 72 percent of dealership operating profits, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA). Used car sales often contribute one third of the profits, new car sales often are loss leaders.

Dealer workshops would have no problem surviving the trough if they would have held on to owners of older vehicles. The servicing of older vehicles can be the most profitable part of the business, new vehicles on the other hand need less and less service. However, owners of older vehicles typically give dealer workshops wide berth.

If your car is out of warranty and still being serviced by a dealer, watch for serious upselling. They need your money more than ever.

 

 

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92 Comments on “Watch Out: Your Dealer Is In Trouble, And He Needs Your Money...”


  • avatar
    jimboy

    Quite frankly, after trying several dealerships for service on my Dodge Magnum, and one lawsuit against me, because I refused to pay for incompetent work, I”m done forever with dealer service. I will never use a service dept. again. (stealership is an apt nickname)

    • 0 avatar
      tuffjuff

      Wait, so just because you disagree with how somebody did something means they don’t deserve to get paid for the time put in?

      No wonder they’re sueing you. I would, too.

      You don’t buy a TV at Best Buy then not pay the bill because it didn’t live up to your expectations.

      • 0 avatar
        GD3FTW

        +1

      • 0 avatar
        jimboy

        I did not disagree with the work, the mechanic forgot to re-attach the bolts on my front brakes and I subsequently had to pay someone else to do the job. He also endangered my life as I took the vehicle on a road trip immediately after the “service” with virtually non functioning brakes. You’re probably the guy who did the “work” jerk.

      • 0 avatar
        multicam

        Oh god, let’s not get into this. Without the specifics of this story neither of us can comment on whether the lawsuit was justified. The TV analogy doesn’t hold up here at all.

      • 0 avatar
        VA Terrapin

        If you buy a crappy TV from Best Buy, you can return it for a full refund or exchange.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      If you wish to retain your sanity and whatever savings and wealth you may have, avoid doctors/hospitals*, lawyers**, and auto dealership service departments*** like the bubonic plague.

      *If you are really, truly, seriously ill, an exception should be made for doctors, but even then, you may get no relief while being bankrupted.

      **Lawyers will always get all the choice cuts, and even if you’re Mother Theresa and have been egregiously wronged, you’ll be lucky to get table scraps, and you even might “win” legally and still lose financially.

      ***If you’re using an auto dealership to service or repair your out-of-warranty vehicle, BOHICA, and much deserved to you.

      Edited to add: If you really want to avoid mental anguish and financial pain, avoid casinos, and worse yet, Wall Street, as if it is ebola+flesh eating bacteria+bubonic plague.

    • 0 avatar
      dejal1

      I wouldn’t tar all dealerships the same. Non dealerships can be just as bad.

      A guy at work years ago had a brake job done at Midas.

      Midas used hoses hung from the rafters that contained fluids. Oil, anti-freeze, brake fluid.

      He picks his car up. Heads out of town. 50 miles later the brakes disappear. The Midas monkey picked the motor oil hose instead of the brake fluid hose and filled the brake lines with motor oil.

      I wouldn’t blame all Midases for what happened at one either. I also wouldn’t use that Midas if I had a choice.

      • 0 avatar
        Slab

        This is my experience, too. The Firestone, Goodyear, Sears, etc shops are worse than the dealers.

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        All good reasons to invest in a decent set of tools, a garage of your own and self-educate yourself to maintain your own vehicle. Also – avoid cheap repair manuals – only buy the factory manual i.e. Bentley = VW, Helms = Honda, etc. This SO easy with the internet. I came of age in the 80s when I had the library and my social circle of fathers/neighbors/grandfathers/uncles who may or may not know what they were talking about.

        I have friends who complain about the shop that screwed them or the cost to maintain/repair a vehicle using a shop. I offer to help them learn but they are too busy living their “clean-hands-maintenance-free” lifestyle. It is comical in a sad way to listen to my nephew talk about the $650 repair he needs to have done to his car that he’ll pay for with a minimum wage job.

        People can get off the couch and learn or they can watch another TV show. Don’t bitch too loudly about the cost of vehicle ownership though.

  • avatar
    Vetteman

    Dealers have been relying on Parts and service profits to stay alive for years . Now I am seeing GM do the same as they have boosted parts list prices thru the roof. As a retired dealer employee and owning a Silverado pickup I am astonished what the dealer charges for common repair and service parts . In many cases 3 to 4 times what the aftermarket prices equal quality items for. Sadly this further reinforces the negative public perception of dealer service prices . I prefer factory trained techs and OE parts but not at twice market rates .

    • 0 avatar
      tuffjuff

      I’ve found that if you are familiar with the “fair” cost for a part, you won’t be charged more than that plus labor. Being 26 and “a computer guy,” I know enough about cars to change a spark plug or quote you just about every spec about a variety of vehicles, but I couldn’t replace my head gasket. That’s what I have money to pay other people to do for me.

      • 0 avatar
        Prado

        I have yet to find a shop that charges a fair cost for parts. It is usually marked up around 100% from the price I could aquire the parts myself.

      • 0 avatar
        tuffjuff

        I think it depends where you go. Some places are ridiculous, some not so much.

        Example:

        I bought, a few years back, a 2000 Pontiac Bonneville from Bergstrom Automotive in Wisconsin. A few months later I found out the reason they degreased the engine bay was to cover up the three bad gaskets in the head. I take it to them and get a quote to fix it – $1600. I go to Broadway Automotive here in Green Bay (competing dealership) and get quoted $900 for the EXACT SAME THING.

        Needless to say, I paid $900, had my car fixed and will never shop with Bergstrom again. Ironic, considering I’m in the market for an Equinox LTZ ($31,000 or so, optioned out) in the next 6-12 months. Bergstrom has the largest selection, BY FAR, in this entire state, but I’ll be shopping at a different dealership.

        Also, sometimes you have to force them to give you a decent deal, too. A 5q jug of Mobil 1 and a good oil filter run me $30. Labor runs $12 at a Ford dealership, so $42 combined for an oil change. If I bought a fully synthetic change at the same dealership, it’s $80.

        Hey, they have to make money somehow. I almost feel bad for only paying $12 labor to employer a group of guys to use extensive tools/computers/etc to do my oil change.

    • 0 avatar
      OldandSlow

      Vetteman – dealership prices on parts have definitely gone up. I find that rockauto dot com can be your friend when looking up prices.

      Also, like NAPA – Rock Auto will what available from two, three or more manufacturers for each part – and – what country it is from. Prices are about 1/2 of what NAPA charges John Q. Public.

      • 0 avatar
        Vetteman

        Thanks for bringing up Rock Auto . I recently found these guys when I had to replace a front wheel bearing hub on my Duramax pickup. I started with the dealer who wanted 600 dollars just for the part and then called NAPA who had two flavors one a 300 dollar version and a 220 dollar chinese part of unknown quality . Rock auto was recomended by a person on the Duramax forum and he had used a Timken made in the USA bearing unit that Rock had for 158 dollars so I bought two and did the job myself and saved huge money . Another example of useing the power of the internet and tapping into the collective knowledge and experience base . I buy a lot now from Rock auro . Great company and a salvation to all of us do it yourselfers. I do try and buy local but it seems to be that many items have to be ordered anyway and many local stores either don’t have the good quality parts or are priced just too high. My latest repair was a leaky rear drive shaft slipyoke seal into the transfer case that the Chevy dealer wanted almost ninety dollars for and I purchased a skf/ chicago rawhide part for 23 dollars . The OE part was most likely made by SKF / CR Good parts have never been cheap but GM is way over the top here. My repurchase inclination for another Gm car or truck has gone based on what they are doing with Parts prices. The wife has a Lexus and they don’t have parts prices like these.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        Rock Auto Rocks!!! Get 5% off by getting a short lived discount code. Go to the Taurusclub website and search under “Discount Codes”…a current code can almost always be found there. When checking out, paste the code in the “Where did you hear about us
        box.

      • 0 avatar
        Omnifan

        Another option is Advance Auto Parts. Sometimes you can’t wait for Rock Auto to ship, so order on line from Advance, use one of their discount codes (Google it to get the best one), and pick it up in the store. Usually 20% off is the best deal they have, and you don’t have to wait for the clerk to go get it. Walk in off the street and you pay full price.

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        Omnifan – I used to work at Advanced Auto. NO WAY would I do business with them for parts. They had cheap parts but the customer certainly got what they paid for. I saw alot of folks coming in with failures about a year after the last replacement. I don’t like to do annual replacements of starters and alternators. I also don’t like brake rotors that last 90 days before they warp – like the set I bought there.

        I also worked with a crew of no-nothings. We had a few good folks who knew cars and then we had a large crew of “what’s a spark plug look like?” folks. My first night there I got that very question from an employee who’d been there six months! Of course the expertise of the crew is going to ebb and flow with time but when I worked there they did nothing to attract and keep knowledgeable people so there was alot of turnover – from the manager on down. I shop where there is a familiar set of faces month after month.

        In my town I frequent NAPA b/c their counter people seem to know cars best and have fair business hours or a local non-franchise place who is staffed with guys who have been selling auto parts for 30? years in the same store. Rough looking place but they will make hydraulic hoses, press in/out bearings, surface rotors, etc. Their prices are fair and similar to NAPA. Friendly guys too that tolerate dumb questions well… ;)

        Online I hunt for OEM suppliers such as dealers who choose to make profit on volume rather than each customer. My local Honda dealer wants to charge me $212 MSRP for a new plastic bumper shell (we hit a deer). An online Honda dealer will sell it to me for $145 plus shipping & no tax. The aftermarket price at the PartsBin online is $135 or so but free shipping. Am likely going to buy the OEM version b/c despite being 14 years old and being out in the weather 365 days a year the factory bumper still looks presentable. Am worried the aftermarket bumper will turn grey badly during our ownership of the vehicle which will probably be another 5-6 years.

        Our local Honda dealer won’t budge on parts prices now either. In the past they’d meet the online prices of other dealers IF you asked and IF you brought an online printout to prove the lower price. Not now. By the way their retail price is normally exactly 100% over their wholesale price. I saw their copy of the sales invoice one time.

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    It’s a nice little loop service departments have created for themselves. Maybe people would be more willing to service their cars at the dealer if it weren’t for constant upselling, high labor rates, and expensive parts. The kick in the nuts is the quality of work is often not in line with the labor rate.

    I know dealerships have a lot of expensive diagnostic equipment and technician training (do they actually pay for this?) to cover, but they need a new approach other than ridiculous profit margin. Maybe making it a more attractive proposition to take an out-of-warranty car to the dealership for service and make the money through volume? Just a thought.

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      “I know dealerships have a lot of expensive diagnostic equipment and technician training (do they actually pay for this?)”

      Yes, the equipment is very expensive, and most of it is automatically shipped when it comes out, and is billed to the dealer. As far as training, when I’m sent to training, the dealer has to pay for a rental car, fuel, lodging, and fuel. They also have to pay for the course. I also get paid 8 hours a day I am there, so it does cost them quite a bit.

  • avatar
    redmondjp

    Coming soon to a dealer near you: the triple-digit $ cabin air filter replacement!

    And all of those “armor-shield” dealer-applied coatings (for paint, interior fabric, headlights, windshield, etc) are good money makers too.

    • 0 avatar
      Battlehawk

      I’ve only ever had a cabin air filter in my current Mazda5. The access panel is in a reasonable spot on paper, in the passenger foot well. I’ve found the least awkward angle to actually take it out and put it back in is to scoot the front seat all the way back and basically sit in it upside-down. Also you need a stubby or right angle ratcheting screwdriver.

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      Soon? The big dealer chain here broke that ceiling upwards of 5 years ago. Not only that, they apparently believe the $100 filter is such a good deal that they mail me a “coupon” every couple of months to make sure I know about it.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    You know, that’s a very interesting article. Come to think of it, the last time I took our MX5 to our local Mazda dealer for an oil change, there wasn’t much going on, either in the service area or in the showroom. I’ll be there on Friday. Same for the adjacent Chevy dealer owned by the same family.

    It appears the Honda dealer where we get our CR-V serviced has lots of cars, but just for service. I don’t hear much about REAL problems at any of those dealerships, but then again, perhaps I;m just not aware of it…

  • avatar
    aristurtle

    Don’t worry, when the “Right to Repair” law gets shot down again, only the dealer will be able to replace any parts on your vehicle that connect to the vehicle’s CANbus; i.e. anything that has a wire plugged into it. The central car computer will require a cryptographically secure handshake with any “peripherals”, all of which must be signed with the manufacturer’s private key, and activated at a manufacturer-licensed dealership.

    This is not dystopian science fiction. Microsoft’s been doing “the handshake” with the XBox 360 and its peripherals for years now; there’s no technical barrier to doing this with a car.

    Third parties will be legally allowed to manufacture parts but will be technically unable to due to the lockout, and any tampering will result in a neat little “Error: Unauthorized Service Detected” message on the infotainment screen and the car refusing to start.

    • 0 avatar
      ponchoman49

      That will be the cut off point when I refuse to buy a new car!

    • 0 avatar
      onyxtape

      Actually, tampering or reverse engineering of the handshaking protocol by a 3rd party parts manufacturer will probably be some violation of Digital Millennium Copyright Act (the law which gives an American citizen a lengthier jail sentence for downloading a single song online than homicide).

      • 0 avatar
        aristurtle

        I don’t think it’ll run afoul of the DMCA; see “Lexmark v. Static Control Components”. TL;DR: there was that case where a third-party was faking the signature that a Lexmark printer looks for in the cartridges in order to make replacement ink cartridges. An appellate court ruled that this did not violate the DMCA; then the SCOTUS refused to hear further appeal.

        This isn’t the point, though. The only reason why the case happened at all is because Lexmark’s engineers made a mistake with their authentication setup. If the technical side of the lockout works (and it can be made to work) it never hits the legal department.

  • avatar
    replica

    After a horribly botched timing belt job on an SVT Focus I had, I steer clear of dealerships. Southern Ford, just outside of Houston, I wish you all the worst.

    • 0 avatar
      OldandSlow

      How did they screw up a timing belt on a Zetec?

      I kid you not, the Ford tech manuals are written at a reading level so a complete idiot can do this job. The Focus manual covers this procedure to loosening and installing every single bolt, to include drawings of every single item with torque specs.

      The locking plate for the positioning the twin cams and special pin to hold the crankshaft in position should be common dealership tools.

      What did the mechanic do, screw up the adjustment on the belt tensioner?

      • 0 avatar
        replica

        I had them replace every seal and tensioner behind the timing belt. When they did the cam seals, they used a flathead screwdrivers to push the seal in. This caused the seal to be damaged and made the seal roll. I didn’t notice the oil leak until I drove to another city the next day. I took it to yet another dealer where they discovered the damaged cam seal by following the river of oil. Also, when they did the seal, they somehow gouged the intake cam so the seal wouldn’t sit flat against the the cam it’s self. Thus, the entire cam needed to be replaced.

        The original dealer (Southern Ford) denied all of it and tried to make it my fault, or the current dealer’s fault that diagnosed it. The mechanic at the new dealership even sent them pictures of the damage and had me come in to look at the damage. After a week of hot phone calls, I finally got the GM at the original dealership to cut me a check for the cost of it all.

        Even after the work was completed, the car just felt odd to me, so I sold it.

      • 0 avatar
        OldandSlow

        The words “screwdriver” and “seal” in the same sentence says it all – gross negligence on top of incompetence. No doubt, the dealer’s tech hadn’t done this procedure before. What a waste.

    • 0 avatar
      supremechippy

      Reminds me of my dealership experience with my SVT Focus in Baltimore.

      The timing belt didn’t break, but the tensioner destroyed itself an hour in to a road trip. The first shop I had it towed to figured out teh problem in 20 miuntes, but thought the job was a little more than they wanted to do suggested I take it to Ford.

      The Ford dealership was awful. They took 2 weeks to figure out the actual problem despite the fact that I told then what the issue was. Then insisted that the valves hadn’t been bent despite it being an interference engine, and when they replaced the belt and discovered a lack of compression blamed a blown head gasket instead of the obvious bent valves. They also took more than twice as long to do the job as the Ford book allows.

      When I finally got the car home it quit as I pulled in the driveway. They had never fully tightened the water pump pulley bolts, which allowed it to come loose and force the serpentine belt in to the block. After a lot of argument, they finally fixed the car and delivered it back to me.

      The whole process took a full month, despite the fact that they were told the exact problem when they got the car.

      Also, I caught them trying to charge me more for the parts than they advertised on their website, and they only backed down when I dropped the term “false advertising.”

  • avatar
    onyxtape

    The finance guy always gets so snippy at me every time I buy a car.

    “What do you mean that this once-in-a-lifetime deal of $3000 for prepaid maintenance is not a good deal!?” (Prepaid maintenance in this case = 9 oil changes)

    • 0 avatar
      replica

      All the high margin dollars are in finance.

    • 0 avatar
      tuffjuff

      Oh god, when I bought my lemon 2010 Kia Forte, the guy seemed genuinely, personally offended that I wouldn’t add $100/month to my loan for some package that pays for everything for the next 5 years and includes I’d imagine a personal butler.

      • 0 avatar
        replica

        Recent purchase, me and the finance guy were all buddy-buddy until I had him redo the sales contract because a window etching VIN “activation” fee of $599 ended up on the contract. Had to shred it all and redo it.

        What does it take to “activate” window etching? Is there something I don’t know about markings on windows that turns them into robots or something? I also don’t understand how it prevents theft. Smash all the windows, problem solved.

    • 0 avatar
      Landcrusher

      The F&I guys now see me.coming and rarely try to sell me anything. I used to have so much fun with them. No great mathematician but I used to be able to catch it when a change in one term would result in a fractional change in another. I later learned their computers do this automatically when I worked for a company who supplied the systems.

      I can’t play math in my head any more, but no need, I pay cash. So should you, if you can’t do the math with your own calculator.

      • 0 avatar
        nikita

        +1 The real experienced and successful F&I people(usually women) at the most successful dealerships size up a customer instantly, not wasting her time nor mine on trying to sell things I wont buy anyway. I had this experience at Longo Toyota (twice) and at Galpin Ford.

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        Last new car I bought over a decade ago I walked in and told them they had 20 minutes to get the deal done. It happened that fast too. No games. All their cousin dealerships (same brand) taught me well with all of their games.

  • avatar
    carguy

    Longer service intervals are troublesome for dealerships. They used to see cars every 3,500 miles, now its often as high as 10,000 or even 15,000. To make up they are up-selling on radiator and break system flushes. However, manufacturers have heard the dealers cries for help and are increasing the number of proprietary parts in their cars that can only be replaced by going through a dealership.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      My BMW is still calling for its first oil change at 18K! BMW pays for it, of course, so obviously that oil would be JUST FINE in there that long…. In actuality, that will be the third oil change, and my car will NEVER see the inside of the dealer’s service bay once I am the one writing the checks. Anything I can’t do myself (not much) will be done by one of the best indie BMW mechanics in the country, who is just up the road from me a bit.

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      Brake fluid is very hygroscopic. The added moisture lowers the boiling point and causes corrosion. Coolant also builds up with contaminants and turns acidic. Don’t believe, just look at GMs DEX-COOL debacle. Do we make good money on these services? Yes we do. We also do very good on things like brakes. Maybe you shouldn’t get your brakes done too, because the service facility is trying to scam you. For some reason people think that dealerships are supposed to be non profit charities for owners of the cars they sell.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        Nobody expects something for free, but they expect value. That does not mean the cheapest, it means that the customer feels that the price was fair for the service and treatment. A higher price at a dealership may well be justified by the customer who has to stay and wait for their car, all while enjoying a nice waiting room with snacks, coffee, and internet. Those who hate to spend a penny on their car unless it simply won’t anymore will never feel they got a good deal. But by and large the dealers game the customers. Oh, that advertised oil change is just that, oil. Filter is extra. Don’t forget the disposal fee, and the ubiquitous “shop” fee. Same happens with tires, the quoted price never includes the full service, just the tire. Funny how dealers fought the extended warranty time for emission systems. Now they love them because car owners come in with check engine lights thinking they have a covered emission repair but instead leave with a four figure bill. Sorry, but no dealer love here…

      • 0 avatar
        MikeInCanada

        I was just getting my Acura serviced last week and almost got caught with an oil change “Disposal Fee”. It was a 30% bump from the advertised dealer oil change price.

        When I informed the service adviser that I would not be paying she said that they could not waive the fee. I replied that I don’t pay for services not rendered – I’ll just go ahead and take the old oil with me. I also reminded them of the local regulation regarding return of ‘repaired’ parts as I intended to perform a SOAP sample of the used oil for metal and other contaminants.

        By now the service manager had awoken and snarly asked me what type of container I wanted my old oil in. I replied that it did not have to be good one as I would probably be spilling most of it in the dealer parking lot on the way over to my car (I’m clumsy).

        He then advised that they’d delete the disposal fee and I said that I’d keep my opinion of the service dept’s professionalism to myself. The tumble weeds blowing across the desolate Acura showroom floor and bouncing off the nose of the butt ugly 2012 TL’s was more painful then any comment that I could have made.

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        Mike – I know I wouldn’t let them be alone with my Acura anymore. “Something” might happen… ;) Yeah – the Honda and Acuras need a makeover. A look only Honda loves.

      • 0 avatar
        MBella

        If you can find a shop that doesn’t charge a disposal fee I would be very surprised. Everyone has to pay for disposal, and they itemize it as a separate charge on the bill. I can’t say that the 30% charge isn’t crazy though. Usually it’s a couple bucks.

  • avatar
    car_guy2010

    While I didn’t have this work done at an actual dealership, a small-time repair shop messed up what should have been a simple tune-up. Turns out that one of the spark plug wires was too big and not properly re-installed. The mechanic’s assistant is a moron. The car continues to act up and pushing the spark plug back into place is not much help.

    I prefer to avoid dealers and mechanics. My next car may be an older vehicle that hopefully will be easier to work on by myself and won’t have 100 airbags and sensors up the wazoo to worry about.

  • avatar
    Crosley

    The crap stealerships try to pull at every level is amazing. One big reason I learned to do my own work is that I was tired of being ripped off.

    I think the internet though over the last few years has really exposed their true colors and made consumers a lot smarter, from buying OEM parts online for less than half the price at the B&M dealership to revealing the “wallet flush” services, the truth is getting out there.

  • avatar
    mike978

    Looks like the dip started back in 2004 with the 2009 figures starting to trend down. The 2005-2010 figure of 68 is a big drop from the previous levels in the 80’s. The fall down to 63 then isn`t that much after that.

  • avatar
    200k-min

    Having met and seen dealer techs work I steer clear as well. My trusted independant mechanic takes far more pride in his work and does better work for nearly half the cost. Sorry, but unless it’s warranty work, no dealership sees my vehicles.

    • 0 avatar
      OldandSlow

      My trusted independent pays his techs more than the dealer pays theirs per flat-rate-hour. You would think that the techs at the dealership are better trained, but that’s not the case at dealers owned by large corporate multi-dealer auto groups.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Lets not forget one other things. Car have gotten a lot more reliable across the board. If we go back five years to 2008 Japan was just starting to wobble but still on top, Hyundai/Kia were starting their rapid ascension toward the upper-middle quality point, the Detroit quality gap was closing, and even the Europeans were getting their act together.

    We’re in a golden age right now of safe, reliable, efficient vehicles where 300 HP ain’t no big thing and it isn’t unreasonable to expect to go 125K to 150K miles without something major breaking out of warranty.

    • 0 avatar
      28-cars-later

      I agree, right about now may be the sweet spot, but from here on out it may be more difficult to DIY or be able to keep more money in your pocket.

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        Just depends on what you need to DIY – an axle replacement or brake pads or waterpump now is the same as it was in 1990. It’s hybrid drive and electronic controls that are tough to DIY. The owner forums make this easier too though.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    Didn’t quite a few dealerships close?

    I would think that the important number is not the absolute number of “candidate serviceable cars” but the number of “candidate serviceable cars per dealership.”

    Of equal interest to the dealer is the reliability of the cars. If it’s improving, that reduces service revenue. If it’s decreasing, it’s party time.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    If you are reading this blog and have an out of warranty car and still take your car to the dealer for service, you are a cushion short of a couch. I know 2 people who do this (Mercedes and Lexus owners) and have convinced the Lexus owner that she’s getting her pocket picked each time she brings her GS to the nice folks at Circle L.

    • 0 avatar
      WheelMcCoy

      For an old Honda, I used an independent shop for routine maintenance: inspection, oil change, cv joint replacement, etc. Their work was acceptable and affordable, but when it came to finding and stopping an oil leak, they were not up to the task. 3 attempts and the leak got worse. Then they tried to snow me and say it was also a transmission oil leak, but I knew that transmission oil is reddish and motor oil is brownish.

      Yep, I took it to the Honda dealer who got it fixed.

      Regarding up selling, yes a dealer costs more and will try to up sell you. But don’t think an independent won’t try to up sell you either.

      Not all dealerships are stealerships. Not all independents are saints. If you can do the work yourself, more power to you.

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      Unless the independent is a Mercedes specialist, you can do some serious damage to the car by not having somebody who knows what they are doing work on them. The MB dealer I work at also doesn’t charge much more than the local independents. ($104/hour, independents $70-90) I very rarely see aftermarket work performed on cars that come in that are up to par. Even brakes and oil changes are usually not replaced properly. I have seen most aftermarket oil filter elements collapse and break apart. Poorly done brakes result in squeaks or pads seizing to the caliper slides. A few months ago we had an independent shop down the street replace some rear air springs for an E-class wagon. They bought them from us and marked them up to our list price. After about two weeks of messing with it they ended up damaging the new parts and wanted them replaced. After we refused, the ended up towing the care to our dealership. We ended up finding out that that they didn’t use the proper filling procedure and this caused the spring to shift and burst. After another couple of weeks of arguing with the shop we finally fixed it right. If the owner of the car would have brought it to us in the first place, he would have had his car back the next day, and not over a month later. What did he save? $40-50 would not be worth over a month without my car.

      • 0 avatar
        carbiz

        Mbella, give it up. For the most part, you’re only seeing the most jaded writers on sites like this. Everyone has a dealer horror story. My ’87 Dodge Shadow was practically rebuilt by the local Chrysler dealer, and looking back I can see that half the problems were caused by them.
        People who will spend $130 on a pair of Nikes made by a 12 year old for $5 in Malaysia, or $7 for a triple foam WTF latte, will turn haggling over a brake spring or oil filter into an Olympic sport.
        Dealers spend millions opening their doors, participating in OEM campaigns, shipping employees off for training and they’re supposed to do that for free. The hundreds of millions spent nurturing proprietary electronic systems, and they’re supposed to hand that over for free, too?

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        Shills for the Stealership Service Pirate Bay, unite!

        I’m not exactly old, but have owned enough new and used vehicles, and moreover, come from a big family of auto buffs who’ve owned a literal cargo ship hull & deck full of new and used vehicles, and I have trouble recalling a single pleasant, honest and fair outcome for anyone in my extended clan who suffered a temporary bout of insanity and took their non-warrantied vehicle to an auto stealership temple of doom service department for a major repair.

        Overhead, Smoverhead. Tech Training, Blech Splaining. Expensive Equipment, Shmeclensive Liquitment.

        The number of independent, COMPETENT, HONEST, well equipped independent shops that can do everything a “dealership” can do, and do it better, less expensively and far more quickly and satisfyingly for the customer, crushes the official stealership racketeering network.

      • 0 avatar
        MBella

        DeadWeight, I’m not saying that there aren’t good independents out there, just as there are bad dealerships. What I am saying is that the dealer tech is familiar with only the one product line, and has vast knowledge about that line. Who do you think would do a better job diagnosing an Active Body Control issue on a Mercedes, the guy at the tire store who works on all makes, and is most familiar with the big three products, or a MB tech like me who is specialized in only our products. That’s not to say there might be a good, former dealer tech out there that now has his own shop and will do good dealer quality work. One of my co-workers had such a shop until his divorce bankrupted his business.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    I’ve only been inside a dealer (for minor warranty work) twice in the last 8 years. I’m fortunate to be able to do my own car work, and I won’t even take them up on the free oil changes offered to new car buyers – just too afraid of the consequences.

  • avatar
    sco

    The positive side of this whole service crisis is that local dealerships are severely discounting routine service to get you in and sell you other costly (and usually needed) repairs. As an example, $19.95 to change oil, filter, rotate the tires and wash my ’98 Civic, hey great. Oh also you need new front brake pads, rotors, rear brake shoes and one engine mount for about $900 total. Thanks for letting me know, I’ll go online, buy the parts do it myself for <$200, I'm winning both ways.

  • avatar
    lw

    Am I the only one confused by this article?

    So the number of cars that are less than 5 years old is dropping, therefore I guess it’s safe to assume that more cars are greater than 5 years old.

    So people don’t take cars that are older than 5 years old to dealers for service?

    Wouldn’t an aging fleet be generally good for all repair shops, dealer and otherwise, and generally bad for car manufactures?

    • 0 avatar
      28-cars-later

      There was a big dip in auto sales five years ago due to the near collapse of modern Western society. Hence today 5+ years later there are fewer 5 yo cars around than say 7-10yo models.

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      4-7 year old cars are about the golden age for dealer service departments. Newer cars don’t have many many problems, and most are warranty work anyway. The cars older don’t usually end up at the dealer.

  • avatar
    "scarey"

    My GM dealer’s service department sucks. The last time I went there, the mechanic…er…technician was either incompetent or crooked, as was the service writer. I don’t know which, but it was my last time taking my car to a dealer for service.

    • 0 avatar
      dodobreeder

      One of my neighbors took his Tahoe in for the 36K/3-year maintenance and check up and was presented a bill for nearly $400!

      That was one hell of a LOF change. And this happened at a GM dealership with a stellar reputation. They gave him a print out of everything they did and checked but to me it looked like a once-over eyeballing, like the windshield wipers and serpentine belt. They also washed and waxed the truck and vacuumed the inside, but he didn’t ask them to do that.

      But I agree with the article. All dealers are in trouble when it comes to their service departments. I get flyers in the mail all the time reminding me that each of my cars is overdue for routine maintenance.

      I traded my Tundra for a Raptor this year and I still get reminders from Toyota even though they haven’t seen my truck for anything since I bought it in 2007.

      And that same dealership wants to maintain my wife’s 2009 Sienna although we traded it for a Lexus at another dealer already. I guess they don’t cross-check with the DMV like they have to do when we get a smog test every year.

      Ford sends me reminders about my 2006 Mustang even though they had to do some warranty repairs on it in the past.

      I do all my own routine maintenance and check everything out when I do, but I bet if I were to take my cars to a dealer for maintenance they’d find all sorts of things wrong with it, like leaking shocks or wobbly idler pulleys, and so on.

      I feel sorry for the people who cannot do their own maintenance. They are excellent candidates for the proverbial screwing.

      • 0 avatar
        MBella

        You are way to smart to replace your worn idler pulleys or leaking shocks. You’re showing us.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        You don’t have to know how to physically do the work, but it helps if you know what you are talking about, and that goes for any repair place. Once on a ski trip my car refused to start at minus 25 F. I had to call a AAA tow truck and gave the driver a list of newly installed parts, plus the codes pulled by using the ignition key (80’s era Chryslers were great that way). When I picked up my car the wrench snickered at me, but I was on my way for 4 plugs, an oil/filter change and a recharge of the battery. These cars seemed to flood the engine when really cold. I got 4 heavily fuel fouled plugs back in a baggie and handed over $80.

      • 0 avatar
        OldandSlow

        I agree and I’m not an MB tech – just an old school shade treer. Pulleys on modern cars are wear items.

        On a car with with 60 to 100K, be sure to check the idler and tensioner pulleys for the serpentine belt with one fresh out of the box. You’ll notice some play, but more importantly there will be some coarseness to the bearing movement at about 90 to 100k. The pulleys are modern cars are usually a plastic wheel and plastic ages in addition to wearing down.

      • 0 avatar
        OldandSlow

        The same speech holds true for your shocks and stabilizer bar’s, vertical linkage arms’ ball joints, if the car has these. Both are wear items. Compare what you got with one out of the box at the parts counter.

        Tires are expensive and last longer on a suspension that is up to par.

      • 0 avatar
        Bill Steege

        ” like leaking shocks or wobbly idler pulleys ”

        Yeah, that does seem to be the proverbial favorite with all repair shops! I wonder how many suckers fall for that one.

        For my 2002 Silverado I was quoted by an independent repair shop, $800 for four HD shocks, $160 for the pulley and $110 for the belt. That’s installed by them, plus tax.

        I went online, got four HD Gas Monroes for $200, $16 for the pulley and $35 for the belt, free shipping and NO SALES TAX!

        It took me less than two hours to do all the work, on my back in the driveway. Imagine how much faster it would have gone if I had access to a hoist.

        If you can’t do the work yourself, count on getting ripped off. All repair shops are in trouble, not just dealers.

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        I think he is saying that they’d find a problem that wasn’t really there and if he was the typical consumer he might not know whether there was a real problem or not. I’ve seen this scenario many times. One example: friend takes in 65,000 mile 3/4 ton 4WD pickup. GM dealer changes transmission fluid, looks it all over and says everything is good. A few hundred miles later (truck is rarely driven) she returns – now months later – for an oil change. Suddenly the whole front end needs rebuilt at the cost of $1500+. She brought it to me and there is no play in the front end anywhere. She was wise enough to remind them that they inspected the truck a few hundred miles before and questioned why a 3/4 4WD that does hardware store runs needs a front end rebuild at 65,000 miles. One example of 8-10 screwings or potential screwings by dealers I’ve heard of from family or friends. Most start with me and then approach a shop about a repair. Another example was a friend who replaced a whole vehicle b/c of the horror stories they were told about a slipping transmission. never mind that a transmission rebuild would cost less than a few months of car payments on the new vehicle. They start with questioning me too now.

        A dishonest dealer will take whatever they can get through trickery or ignorance of the consumer.

        So will a bad plumber, carpenter, HVAC man, electrician or politician. All good reasons to spend time educating one’s self.

        I went through the HVAC nonsense recently. First contractor wanted to sell me a system and a service plan that would have amounted three times what the entire equipment and installation fees the contractor I later settled. Same equipment. When I called him on it politely he quickly changed his spiel. How many consumers went for his “plan”?

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        Joe, your story about the 4X4 truck’s front end brought back my own experience “on the road”.

        I have an antique Southwind Motor Home, powered by a Dodge 440. I keep this thing in meticulous condition, even having dug a six-foot deep trench under its parking place in my yard so I could easily get underneath it and service whatever it needed when it is parked.

        Several years ago I pulled in to an RV dealer in Southern AZ for a complete once-over by a Southwind-certified dealer. Like I said, I keep this thing in meticulous condition and check it for road worthiness before each and every trip. Ditto with this trip.

        When it got on the hoist, they showed me four badly leaking shocks, oil sump leaks on both the engine and transmission, and a bad differential leak, along with some cracked rubber bushings I was already aware of but that were not affecting road worthiness. I could easily replace those bushings with neoprene myself at any time and would not need a wheel alignment afterwards.

        I was also informed that my brake shoes were in need of replacing and that all four of my rear tires and both my front tires should be upgraded to the new Load Range specification because the factory load range at the time of manufacture was now deemed under-rated and unsafe. I could experience a catastrophic blow out anytime, maybe even within minutes of leaving the dealership, unless the tires were replaced.

        I paid the $300 it cost me for an engine oil and transmission oil change I had requested, told them I’d think about it, and then merrily continued our trip of that summer, going all the way up to Vancouver, along the Canada border to Pembina, ND, all the way back to Southcentral New Mexico without incident, saving myself thousands upon thousands of dollars.

        There was nothing wrong with the shocks, the brakes or the tires as I had inspected them myself prior to the trip and had Armor-All’d the tire sidewalls.

        Since then I did replace the brake linings myself and of course the tires eventually became sunbaked and cracked, but not until several years after the inspection incident and that Southwind still continues to do duty to this day for members of my family who use it for their vacations. It has never broken down or left us stranded.

        I did have to rebuild the 440 because it was smoking badly at 70K and did that myself with a kit from JC Whitney. The transmission was rebuilt in El Paso a few years ago by a Palestinian guy who owns a transmission shop and there’s a lot less slippage with the aggressive clutches he put in there.

        Point here is, Bertel is right. Dealers and repair shops are in trouble and will gin up any excuse to get you to spend money and if they do it under the guise of “safety”, who can fault them for it?

        It’s best to get a second opinion if you can, from someone you trust. In many cases, those calls for repairs may be bogus.

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        Great story Highdesertcat!

  • avatar
    Juniper

    Part of the promotion Ford gave to sell me an 2010 Edge was free routine service for 2 1/2 yrs. So far so good. Excellent service and no cost to me yet.

  • avatar
    troyohchatter

    I see an awful lot of people complaining about the cost of parts and service at the OEM’s. Let’s take a look at this; it’s much like any other service, from shoe and clothing stores to restaurants. The more you utilize the place the lower the price. My dealer sends out coupons and even without a coupon I get work and parts done for less that what they would charge the dweeb that shows up once every 100K miles and uses Jiffy Lube the rest of the time.

    They know I do my own fluids and brakes. I go to them for the rest of it. I also try to steer business their way as my dealer rocks.

    So you know, they gotta keep the doors open too. Throw them a bone every now and then, eh?

    Eric

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      I do as long as they don’t throw me into the poor house. $250 for something I could buy aftermarket for $75 is a little much – no?

      I’ll pay fair prices. I won’t make a yacht payment for them though.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    I can take my ’04 3/4 ton GMC PU to the dealer and get the oil changed and the tires rotated for $40 w/coupon. Why even bother doing it myself. Even though I told them that w/130K it’s still running on the original brakes front and back they still didn’t try to sell me any work.

  • avatar
    jimmyy

    In my opinion, Dealership satisfaction is state dependent. For example, in California, when I take a car to the dealer, strict laws force a detailed estimate, which is put together at a minimal charge, is provided before any work is done. I can use this estimate to shop around and get a great deal at any dealer.

    However, on the east coast, there is no such consumer protection, and you are on your own.

    I wish all states had automotive consumer protection laws that mimic California’s system.

  • avatar
    treedom

    We all have dealer service horror stories — I’ve had bad experiences at my local Ford and VW dealerships. But there are good dealers too. Back when you could buy a Saturn, I got excellent service, quality parts, and low prices at the Saturn dealer in Santa Maria, CA (presumably it’s still the same dealer selling GM brands there now). And when my VW Passat stranded me in the Los Angeles area, the VW dealer in Van Nuys actually beat my local indie shop’s parts & labor cost for the repair (and the indie guys honestly try to make me a fair deal). I think it’s important to highlight the good guys as well as the crooks.

  • avatar
    treedom

    I think it’s important to highlight the good guys as well as the crooks and nitwits. Back when you could buy a Saturn, I got excellent service, quality parts, flawless work, and low prices at the Saturn dealer in Santa Maria, CA (presumably it’s still the same dealer selling GM brands there now). And when my VW Passat stranded me in the Los Angeles area, the VW dealer in Van Nuys actually beat my local trusted indie shop’s parts & labor cost for the repair (and the indie guys honestly try to make me a fair deal). All indies are not the same, of course. At my local high-end indie shop, which has all the latest diagnostic doodads and Bosch-certified mechanics, the fast-talking owner has already charged you for dubious upsells before you realize what has happened.

  • avatar

    Watch for upselling ? You’re kidding, right ?
    Acura MDX, trans issues. Just under powertrain warranty. “Sir, you need a new torque converter” “that will be $2,400.00″.

    “Really ? I’m under warranty”. “oh, let me check”. “you do that”.

    Ten minutes later “oh, we looked again, you ARE under warranty”. I’m sure that had I given them my CC# it would have been hit that day.

    This from the same dealer that wouldn’t replace all six of my coils when I suffered unstable idle-but they did try, every time I went in, to sell me the $300 oil change, er, inspection.

    Meanwhile, my BMW dealer, a preferred forum whipping boy, has always done right, usually the first time.

    If I made cars, I’d not want to send them to inconsistent dealers-the lost clients will tend to blame the car as a POS.

    I’m officially done with my local Acura dealer, even for DIY parts. I did a sway bar end link and center link replacement, and even after a detailed conversation with the parts guy, he gave me the wrong links, which I only discovered after taking the car apart. Two wasted driveway hours, and when I went back, the guy laughed.

    Congrats, you just lost a customer who has a few more new cars in him…..

    • 0 avatar
      chicagoland

      But aren’t Hondas and Acuras ‘perfect’ and ‘run forever’?

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        It is only recently that I started to question the wisdom of keeping any car forever. Eventually any car will experience breakdowns and worn out parts, but in my experience over the years the domestic brands all seemed to have planned-obsolescence built-in.

        I’m not going to test that theory because I’d just as soon buy a new car every 3-5 years. And when I do buy, I’ll buy what I consider best at that time.

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        Reminds me of the old story about a guy in his Rolls-Royce breaking down and calling for service. When the mobile mechanic finished and had him back on the road in short order, the driver asked what broke. The mechanic stuffily stated: “Sir!…Rolls-Royces DO NOT BREAK! …this was just a necessary ‘adjustment\'”!

  • avatar
    daveainchina

    Just another reason to do it yourself. In fact it’s something I enjoy doing, I find fixing cars in my off times relaxing. Not sure everyone else does.

  • avatar
    Junebug

    On my GTI, I can do the oil change, not that I like to – so I tried an independant shop that was heavily praised by a co-worker. The owner seemed to know his business, and had the wall of happy customer letters out for all to see. Fast forward a hour, got a bill that was HIGHER than the dealer, used the wrong oil, charged me for every thing but toilet paper in the can. And then took another 10 minutes to reset the maintenance reminder (he was looking at the manual and scratching his head). I was beyond mad, I paid, left, went and got my own oil, VW filter and changed it again after less than 2K miles. Looking at the prices, my VW dealer (thank you Leith VW) will change the oil, top off the fluids and check stuff for about 15 bucks more than I would pay to get the oil-filter myself. For 15 bucks, I’ll skip the driveway hassle and help myself to a couple cups of dealer coffee.

    • 0 avatar
      luvmyv8

      Sometimes you do have to be careful with the independants, pick a bad one and will get absolutely hosed, or even have your car ruined. In my neck of the woods, you have plenty of choices….. now to give credit where credit is due…. they are shops that are still honest and are there to fix your car the right way and at a fair price. Now I work for a dealership’s parts counter and since were a small dealership that belongs to the big circle “T”, I used to have a Mustang (traded it for a ’12 4Runner)and still have use of a Fusion, so sometimes if my service dept. is slammed with customers, I’ll let the shop next to me service my cars, they’re a good shop and do quality work. When they call for parts, they’re proffesional and have all the info I’ll need to order the right part. Their customers echo the same sentiment. Now unfortunately, for every shop like that in my area, they are about 10 bad ones and it’s easy to see who is bad. The local Pep Boys and Sears fall into this catagory. Extremely rude, arrogant, don’t have VIN or even a rough idea of what they’re working on and they RETURN every part, honestly I think they order the part, wave our invoice in front of customer’s face to show that they are using “OE” parts and proceed to slap on the bargain basement, assembled in Chernobyl part, and then return the part. We get burned, and worse the customer gets burned too.

      That or you have the shops were they hire cholos and thugs, those are real fun too… and lord help you if they really screw up your car….. also similar are the shops where english is OPTIONAL…. sadly more common then you think. Before I got my ‘Runner, I used the local Ford dealership, and still will for the Fusion, the testamonial of their customers tells you what you need to know about them and I can agree. The Ford dealership in the city I work in…. not so good.


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