/ 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.