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Independent repair shops preferred for lower prices, survey finds.

It All Comes Down to Dollars

Independent repair shops preferred for lower prices, survey finds.

Dealership service departments did not fare well in a recent Consumer Reports survey.

Independent repair shops came out on top overall with a score of 96. That was followed by the Goodyear Auto Service chain’s score of 88. Dealers were rated by franchise, with Acura’s score of 68 the highest.

Consumer Reports requested additional scores not be revealed as the information is for members only.

“Our ratings reveal that dealerships are mostly doing well at performing quality repairs, which is certainly very important,” Noemi Altman, a senior research associate at Consumer Reports, tells Wards Auto. “But they're leaving customers highly disappointed with the price they're paying for those repairs.”

Ratings are based on Consumer Reports’ 2023 Summer Survey of 10,973 CR members reporting on 11,670 repair shop experiences at 36 auto repair chains, independent shops analyzed as a group, and dealerships.

Repairs did not include routine maintenance such as oil, fluid and filter changes, windshield wiper blade replacements, and tire rotations.

Repair shops were ranked between one and five on 12 attributes, with five being the best. Those attributes were: honesty, quality, communication, accuracy of the initial cost estimate, free perks, convenience of the locations, price of repair, time to complete repair, problem solved, willingness to negotiate, discounts and guarantees.

Independent repair shops were the preferred choice of survey respondents based on a “more satisfying experience,” but the area where independents really shone is price and willingness to negotiate on price, the survey found.

“It's not the only thing, but it's one that clearly stands out when you look at our ratings,” Altman says.

Independents usually have lower labor rates than dealerships, Consumer Reports says, and are “staffed by experienced technicians.”

Aftermarket parts used at independents also keep prices lower, Altman says.

“If you have a good mechanic, your mechanic will know which aftermarket parts are good,” she says. “You are never going to get aftermarket parts at a dealership; you will get factory parts.”

While chains such as Goodyear score high on convenience and location, they may have less-experienced technicians, Consumer Reports says.

Meanwhile, dealership repairs may cost more, but they are “supported by the manufacturer with high-quality factory parts and the latest and greatest training for mechanics,” Consumer Reports says.

Dealerships Tops for Specific  Repairs

Dealerships are the best and often the only place to go for factory warranty and recall repairs, Consumer Reports notes.

And there are areas where survey respondents preferred dealership service to independent and chain repair shops. They include:

  • Problems that require special tools or diagnostic equipment.
  • Infotainment glitches.
  • Repairing or calibrating safety and driver aid sensors.

As might be expected, vehicle age plays a big role in an owner’s choice of repair shop. Some 80% of drivers with cars from model year 2023 went to a dealership, compared with only 18% of those with a model-year 2000 car, Consumer Reports says.

Customers find service at some franchised dealerships more satisfying than others, though they still aren’t tops in satisfaction, Altman says.

“Honesty and time to repair are bright spots for the top four dealerships, but they still don't rate quite as highly as the top independents and chains in those areas,” she says.

Dealership service departments that received high scores for overall satisfaction are Acura, Lexus, Mazda and Volvo. They rank first, second, third and fourth in overall satisfaction among dealerships.

“Time to complete repair is a big differentiator,” Altman says. “(Acura, Lexus and Mazda) get our second-highest score for that attribute.”

Volvo only rated average in time for repair, pushing it to fourth.

The survey focused on Consumer Reports members’ experiences when a car needed repairs that were paid for out of pocket.




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