/ Motoring

Getting your car serviced – independent or franchised dealer?

We’re more satisfied with the servicing we receive from independent garages than that supplied by franchised dealers – according to the 2012 Which? Car Survey. So how could franchised car servicing improve?

We ask thousands of motorists each year about their car servicing experience. And 10 times out of 10 the independent garages receive better satisfaction ratings than authorised manufacturer servicing.

Take Toyota as an example. The 2,272 Toyota owners who had their car serviced at a franchised dealer gave those dealers an average customer score of 80.3 per cent. But the 1,063 Toyota drivers who had their car serviced independently gave an 88 per cent customer score on average. So why should an independent out-rate a garage that has direct links with the manufacturer of the car itself?

Money makes the world go round

Unsurprisingly, cost is the biggest stumbling block for franchised servicing departments. It’s no secret you’ll come away better off from an independent dealer in most situations, but is that the main gripe for all of us?

A couple of years ago we discussed the trend for franchised dealers to offer servicing bundles – a few years’ worth of servicing at a set cost. The most popular of these was the Mini’s TLC bundle (five years’ worth of servicing for £200), which many thought well worth it. But of course with these bundles come potential problems – although the service is included in the package, pricey things like tyres and brake pads aren’t, so you could still end up forking out quite a bit to your franchised dealer.

Can we improve franchised dealer servicing?

So given that independent dealer satisfaction ratings always come out on top, what does this say about the future of franchised dealer servicing? I presume the majority of owners who have their cars serviced at authorised manufacturer dealers are mainly those who are doing so under warranty. Perhaps we’re all switching to independent specialists and local garages when the warranty period ends.

I think a high proportion of people will be doing this. So what is it that has to change about dealer servicing? Is it purely a case of cost, or are there other areas you think could be improved?


I have used dealer servicing for cars up to three years old and have rarely been happy with their work. Sometimes I discover that jobs have not been done and I know this because I mark parts to check what has been attended to. In one case the service manager said that a job was not part of a service so I referred him to the vehicle manual. I have had the engine of one car anointed with oil, so it smoked alarmingly when it burned off the exhaust. I have lost count of the times when I have been charged for a bottle of screenwash despite having topped it up before taking the car in for service.

The only reason I have used dealers is to maximise my chance of goodwill if something goes wrong. I once had a new engine fitted to a three year old car for the cost of the labour thanks to having my car serviced by the dealer.

I have an independent garage that I trust completely, though I have only used it for jobs that I don’t want to do myself.

I used to dread getting my car serviced. We always went to the franchise dealer and would regularly get the most enormous bills and I felt as though I wasn’t getting a great customer service either. If you don’t know about cars it can be difficult to discuss spark plugs, cam belts, break pads, etc and sometimes I suspected that I was being exploited for this.

How things have changed! Thanks to Which? Local and word of mouth I just love my local garage. Just this week they picked up the car for free as it wouldn’t start. They fixed and serviced it immediately and kept me in touch about the work. They are so friendly and I feel that I’m getting a good deal. I will not be going back to franchise dealers when this type of service is on the doorstep.

Jacqueline Pye says:
3 August 2012

Drive a VW and for servicing, repairs etc always take it to the same independent garage which specialises almost exclusively in VWs so very knowledgeable. Very satisfied with work done, and feel the charges are reasonable.

Clare says:
3 August 2012

I pay for my service monthly with the manufacturer/dealer, via their service plan. It’s really affordable and easy: I drop off my car and collect when it’s finished. There are no hidden charges and my car is nice and clean when I drive away. I have a new car so the cost of the service is split over each month, and added to my car payment. This great for me because I don’t have to find the money at the time of the service, it’s all sorted.

Why do we need a garage to clean our car? I would be happier if they spent time making checks related to safety and reliability, even if these are not covered in the service schedule.

Sadly, even though you can have your car serviced by an independent garage without invalidating the warranty, in practice it’s such a hassle that it simply isn’t worth the trouble. The franchised dealers dealers realise this and they know they can charge their captive audience whatever they like.

And it’s not just cost, but attitude. I’m fairly self-confident with a responsible management job in a large international company, yet a BMW Service Rep can make me feel like something nasty stuck to the sole of his shoe three yards through the showroom door. I’m staggered how they do it; they must get special training.

Almost as proof of this, BMW (used to?) offer 4+ servicing for cars over four years old – at discounted prices. The staff always seemed much friendlier too.

PS. I don’t buy BMWs any more.

I stuck to the main dealer where I bought my new car for a while. Inspired a bit more confidence in my mind regarding the warranty, but it was unnecessary to be honest.

The truth is that for regular servicing, cars don’t need much these days beyond oil and filter changes and some lubrication here and there, So they concentrate more on cleaning it, and tell you how much tread your tyres have left. We don’t need a garage to tell us either of those things, so it’s all a big rip off.

A great approach I’ve found when I’ve had older cars before, is to call the AA out when the car is misbehaving, they will plug the laptop in, and code read the fault, then you can book it in with any garage, and you don’t need to pay for any diagnostics, becuase you already know what needs doing.

Rosemary says:
3 August 2012

I had a bad experience at an independent garage, years ago where the most basic mistakes were made. I have always used the franchises since and have had no problem with them. I have always found the standard of work carried out to be high.

Even when my previous cars were out of the warranty period, I still had them serviced by the dealer. My new car will be the same.

Yes, some people have found independent garages that they trust, but I take my car to where I trust – the dealership. I have always been happy with their work, found their prices to be reasonable, and surprise, surprise – I even trust them.

I have owned the same car for 16 years – purchasing it from a franchised dealer as an 18 month old car wih 9,000 miles on the clock (it now has 175,000). For the first few years it went to the franchised dealer, but after two breakdowns very shortly after a service (arousing suspicion) I changed to a different franchised dealer. That was not too bad until they got taken over by a large company. That company treated me like a cash cow to be milked of as much cash as possible – with bills regularly topping £500 and occasionally £1000. Eventually I caught them red handed trying to charge another large sum of money for another unecessary job when all the car needed was an oil top up. The car has now been looked after by an excellent local independent garage for about the last 8 years, and surprise, surprise, apparently needs less work doing on it now than it did 10 years ago – plus I get much better service. No contest. I have just recently purchased a replacement car for my wife, but no way will it ever be serviced at the franchised dealer.

Rosemary says:
8 August 2012

Question for Which

How did you choose which manufacturer to use for your example? Random choice or any particular reason?

The information is from the Which? Car Survey, as explained in Rob’s introduction.

I have just returned from taking my Vauxhall Insignia to a main dealer where the car had its first ever service (at 9,000 miles). I am duty bound to go to a main dealer because of the ‘lifetime’ (100,000 mile) warranty. Whilst there I pointed out that a little plastic boot lock cover had fallen off, fully expecting them to put this right under warranty. But, no. It seems this item isn’t covered. The so-called mechanic said it had broken – but they would fix it at a cost of £91.20. I declined assuring them I would take the matter up with Vauxhall Motors. When I got home I thought I would look at it myself. The little plastic flap had merely come adrift from its retaining clip. I fixed it myself in less than five minutes. The whole ‘service’ cost £231, took just 45 minutes and from what I could see from the viewing window consisted of changing the oil, (at a cost of £44 – £20 in Tesco), filter and pumping up the tyres – though not the one in the boot. Apparently they also gave it a ‘visual safety check’ (yeah – it looks OK to me, Guv) and a wash (which added half an hour to the proceedings). I am not at all impressed and I’ll not be going back to that particular dealership. However, I will still write to the MD of Vauxhall Motors to make sure he is aware of the way their main dealers rip customers off!

David, I recently purchased a new Zafira at a greatly reduced price. However, I have no intention of taking it to the Vauxhall dealer for service, despite the 100,000 mile warranty. The service has to be completed to Vauxhall specification using Vauxhall parts. It does NOT have to be done by a Vauxhall dealer. If you have a trusted independent garage, that is used to doing these services on new Vauxhalls, you can have the benefit of the warranty without taking the car to the Vauxhall dealer unless there is a warranty issue.

I was going to post a similar message to what Malcolm has written.

The only downside of not using a Vauxhall dealer is that you might be less likely be offered any ‘goodwill’ – free or discounted repairs – if you run into problems outside the warranty period. I was given a new engine for a three year old car by VW, though I had to pay for labour which was not cheap. Having said this, I have been very disappointed by servicing by dealerships.

Thanks, Malcolm and Wavechange. I did know that you can use an independent but it seems to be such a kerfuffle. I’m told that the independent has to itemise everything they use by Vauxhall part numbers, including the type and make of oil, on an invoice which you then have to take to a main dealer (along with your V5) in order that they can ‘verify’ it and update the lifetime warranty. I have decided not to bother in future since the lifetime warranty only begins after the standard warranty runs out – i.e after 3 years – added to which it only applies to original owner anyway. Frankly, I don’t thinks it’s worth the paper it’s written on. I wish I’d known all this before I had it serviced. Surely the sale of goods act applies aside from warranty issues. I’ll check on this. I think my next car will be a classic MGB – seems to make much more sense financially 😉

I have some sympathy with the manufacturer, Malcolm, because use of poor quality parts could cause problems. However, it would not be fair to refuse warranty claims if a problem has nothing to do with these parts.

wavechange – I have no problem at all with the manufacturer insisting on the use of their own parts to preserve the validity of the warranty. They can’t be expected to stand the cost of a repair that may be caused by use of a substandard part as you say. The 100,000 mile warranty may well be of use to us, as the Zafira replaced my wife’s Corsa – owned from new and about 138k on the clock. This is still in the family (now with 142k on the clock!) as we gave it to our daughter for her first car. For my own part I run a 1994 Omega that I have owned since 1995, and which has covered 177k miles.

Davidc says:
7 December 2012

I have always used my local franchised dealer for service and repairs to my Nissan – I have always been well looked after and they have often done minor things for free while I have waited – no complaints at all – I think it boils down to the size of the operation and whether they see you as a person or a number

John Thompson says:
26 March 2013

When I started my first job at a tender age my father helped me but a brand new Austin Mini 1000. My journey to work was 20 miles and being young I was out most nights. As you can imagine the service intervals came up quickly. After the first free service I entrusted a small local garage that my father used. After one of the services I was braking from a swift pace and was disconcerted by an enormous brake judder. When I got home I jacked the car up and removed the affected wheel. The service was obviously done by the apprentice as the brake drum had a large hammer mark where he had hit it to dislodge it from the hub. The tie rod was bent where this ‘mechanic’ had jacked it up. I took it back to the garage and the foreman jacked up the car, correctly, took the wheel off and to my horror used a big crow bar to straighten the tie rod. They fitted a new drum and I never used that or any other garage again for servicing. Using Haynes Manuals I learnt to do my own servicing. I put 46000 miles on the Mini clock in two years.
Since then I have grown in experience and I even stripped the 1.8 CVH engines of two Ford Sierras. Ford had a batch of bad pistons which sounded like loose tappets before they broke up damaging the bores. Modern cars have less servicing work to do but their complexity and electronics means that some jobs are definitely not for the amateur.
I am retired now but still do what I can.

Here’s another Conversation that might be of interest, John:

You must have saved a fortune on servicing costs over the years, but more importantly you know the work has been done carefully.

I bought a brand new Nissan Micra under warranty and Nissan’s annaula service charges are double the amount of independent garaze service charges and also manipulating saying if you don’t get it serviced with us your warranty may be under risk. It is a day light robbery!

Confused says:
8 September 2015

I have a virtually new Mercedes and am wondering whether to take out a servicing contract with Mercedes while it is still under warranty. Do any readers have experience of such contracts and have any of these been specifically with Mercedes?