by: Kevin Ransom | AOL Autos

    As the economy continues to slump, and as more consumers are foregoing the purchase of new cars and hanging on to their old ones, the cost of auto repairs is becoming a hotter topic than ever.

    Even before the current economic crisis, the conventional wisdom (for whatever that's worth) was that repairs were less costly at independent repair shops than at dealerships.

    Countering that truism was the claim, from new-car dealerships, that their technicians had more sophisticated training and that the quality of work was higher. The verbal jousting on this topic has been going on for years.

    But a recent, first-of-its-kind study by the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA) would seem to back up the truism that costs are indeed lower at those "indie" shops. The AAIA is a trade association representing companies that manufacture and distribute aftermarket parts, accessories, chemicals and supplies, as well as independent repair shops.

    According to the AAIA study, repairs cost an average of 34 percent more at new car dealerships compared to the independent dealers, for a total "extra" cost of $11.7 billion a year.

    The study was conducted during November and December of 2008 and was based on 840 telephone interviews with both new-car dealerships and independent repair shops in six major cities -- Boston, Newark, Atlanta, St. Louis, Los Angeles and Seattle. Foreign and domestic nameplates were considered separately.

    Interviewers asked the dealers and repair shops what parts and labor prices they charged for 10 different types of repairs.

    In the six cities where surveys were conducted, the cost of vehicle repairs ranged from 19.7 percent more to 46.8 percent more at new car dealerships, compared to independent repair shops.

    Here is how those average cost differences broke down, from city to city (See table, below right):

    How Much More Is A Dealer Than An Independent Shop?

    Atlanta +46.6%
    St. Louis+38.8%
    Los Angeles+46.8%

    Source: Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association Study, 2009. The above cities were the six chosen for the study.

    The study reported some significant differences in the costs of parts and labor between domestic and import vehicle nameplates.

    According the survey, foreign-nameplate repairs performed at dealers averaged 36.8 percent more than at independent repair shops, while repairs performed on domestic nameplates averaged 31.5 percent more at dealerships than at independent repair shops.

    The widest gap for a specific repair reported by the study was the average cost of replacing an entire radiator (not just the core) on a foreign nameplate vehicle, including parts and labor. The cost of that job, in the survey, was $325.99 higher at a dealer than at an independent shop.

    Meanwhile, the cost of buying and installing front brake pads on a foreign nameplate vehicle was $138.92 more at a dealer than at an independent shop, according to the survey.

    At the low end was a $21.95 cost differential for replacing drive belts. Other repairs / replacements surveyed included a rebuilt alternator, new electric fuel pump, transmission flush and filter replacement, upper ball joints, new air compressor and rebuilt starter.

    Questioners inquired about repairs to, and part-replacement costs for, such vehicles as 1998 Lexus Coupe, 1998 Dodge Neon, 2004 Toyota Camry, 2004 Mercury Sable GS Sedan, 2002 Volkswagen Jetta GL, 2002 Chrysler Sebring LX sedan, 1997 Honda Accord EX sedan and 1998 Chevy Blazer S-10.

    See the below chart for a more detailed list of common repairs and the corresponding costs.

    For Average Repairs, Independent Shops Prove Cheaper In Study

    Average Cost Difference Per JobNew Car DealershipsIndependent Repair ShopsAverage DifferenceDifference as % of Independent
    Air Compressors - New$932.98$812.40$120.5814.8%
    Alternators - Rebuilt$372.05$272.08$99.9736.7%
    Drive Belts$124.54$102.59$21.9521.4%
    Electric Fuel Pumps - New$829.18$681.93$147.2521.6%
    Front Brake Pads & Rotors$487.06$346.80$140.2640.4%
    Starters - Rebuilt$412.01$291.17$120.8441.5%
    Transmission Flush, Filter & Refill$182.14$144.88$37.2625.7%
    Upper Ball Joints$660.04$488.59$171.4535.1%
    Water Pumps - New$431.89$287.06$144.8350.5%

    Source: Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association Study, 2009. The prices for New Car Dealerships and Independent Repair Shops for each job were calculated by weighting prices within each of the major markets and then weighting those calculations by domestic and foreign vehicles.

    Rich White, AAIA's Sr. vice president for marketing & communications, opined that one reason dealers generally charge more for repairs is because "they have a lot more overhead than independent repair shops have -- they have more buildings, and more things to pay for."

    Meanwhile, Charles Cyrill, the director of public relations for the National Automobile Dealers Association -- the trade group representing new-car dealers -- noted that "the good news is that consumers have choices when it comes to auto repairs. And today's vehicles are becoming increasingly complex," from a technological standpoint.

    "New-car dealers offer the best-trained technicians in repairing specific brands of cars and trucks," said Cyrill. "New car dealers invest heavily in training, service equipment and diagnostic tools. Service technicians at new car dealerships routinely undergo high-level training exercises to repair today's complex vehicles and must be certified by the automaker to perform repairs."

    White of the AAIA said that technicians at independent shops are also "highly-trained, certified and use sophisticated diagnostic equipment, and also have a great deal of expertise.

    "Independent shops also represent 70 percent of all of the non-warranty service and repair work conducted in the U.S," said White. "Dealers are obviously involved [in] many other things, like, specifically, selling and leasing new cars and handling financing -- so they don't have as much time and space to devote to repairs, compared to independent shops," he said.

    "Dealers couldn't handle all of the repair work that American consumers need to have done to their vehicles."

    Although, that 70 / 30 percent ratio could be changing soon, pondered White. "With new-car sales being down like they are, due to the economy, I think dealers are finding that the service department is going to make them a lot more money than new-car sales."

    Generally, that has actually been the case for a long time, given that dealers' profit margins on new-vehicle sales are so slim, but White expects that dealers will be taking on more repair work in the months ahead.

    NADA's Cyrill also remarked that "new-car dealerships also receive daily updated service bulletins when vehicle 'fixes' are discovered, and independent repair shops do not have the benefit of service bulletins or OEM training certification.

    "Generally, there is a cost discrepancy when a consumer chooses a genuine factory OEM part compared to an aftermarket part," Cyrill continued. "Consumers must determine the 'true cost' of a repair when choosing a new car dealership or an independent repair shop. What may seem cheaper at first may not be at all if a faulty or an inferior part causes a repair failure."

    AAIA's White disagreed with that suggestion, saying that the "quality of the parts and the quality of the work done at independent shops is equal to the quality of parts and work performed at dealerships."

    But White and Cyrill do agree on one thing -- that, if you're hanging on to your old car because you're hesitant about buying a new one in this economy, the old saw about the importance of regular maintenance is the key.

    "That's definitely the 'secret' to your vehicle's longevity," stresses White. "With the economy the way it is, and people worried about losing their jobs, it's more important than ever to make sure you get your car checked regularly, and attend to problems when they arise. Because if you don't, they'll only cost more to fix later."

    Read More:

    - Do You Need To Change Your Oil Every 3,000 Miles?
    - Confusing Car Technology Explained
    - Confessions of an Auto Mechanic

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    1 - 20 of 162 Comments
    sirvertual May 30, 2010 6:16 PM
    There's not a 'cut & dried answer' to this question...and you'd be a complete-imbecile to base your choice of shops only on price... If you own an 'out of warranty' car there are a few general guidelines that I would use to choose the best bet on getting repairs and service done... -For run-of-the-mill, service-oriented work (oil-changes, tire rotations, lube & filter changes, etc), either find and build a relationship with a local, independent shop that you feel is trustworthy, or go to a busy, large chain-type auto centers (the quicky-lube places or even the Firestones' / Goodyears / Walmarts' auto centers)... -For complex 'Engine work...or heavy duty, detail oriented engine/brake, mechanical-work, consider going to 'the-best' dealer (with the biggest, best service-department)...!do your research!...or look for a highly skilled, up-to-date, highly trained, skilled and educated independent mechanic... -For specialized work (ie. TRANSMISSION)...go directly to the best (research again) TRANSMISSION SHOP...no gray are here...if your transmission is going...GET TO THE BEST TRANSMISSION GARAGE ASAP... The same thing goes for paint & bodywork...Find the bodyshop that fits the way you expect your repairs completed...a cheaper, quicker shop will deliver a cheaper, quicker repair that won't look or last as long as a high-end restoration-type body-shop...their more expensive and not so quick work should deliver like-new looking, repair-work that will last a long time and be precise... Otherwise...do all you can in between to keep your ride ******* best 'physical condition' by checking the fluids, noting any leaking 'anything' and keep it clean...that's my best advice..and has worked for me since I quit doing most of my own work...
    Report This
    allen2upde Apr 27, 2010 3:40 PM
    Is a dealership required to give the customer the parts that were replaced? allen2upde@aol.com
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    machovet99 Mar 28, 2010 5:48 PM
    brooksville florida top line auto repair in springhill
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    lovwins Mar 28, 2010 3:20 PM
    I have a 1984 380 SL MB. I originally took it in because of difficulty starting they supposedly fixed it. One week later it would not start and I had to have it towed back to the shop and they told me the 2 timing chanis had broke and that I had bent rods. So they charged me 5,000 dollars to fix it all. I got it back and they had put the wrong seals and rods on and blue smoke evreywhere. Took it back again and the same thing wrong seals. They finially ordered (supposedly from Germany) new seals. They have had the car six months now and the car is not back. I am up to 6,000 now. I don't know whether to trust them or not. Should I have another shop see if they did the repairs. I just don't trust them anymore.
    Report This
    ftshf Jul 07, 2009 8:06 PM
    HEY DRYWALL GUY, what do you own, a 1979 mustang or camaro, anyone can fix them true, Id like to see you fix a newer car without the tools or the training. . Try to fix a stalling out problem or your locks dont work because theres water corrosion at a splice underneath the carpet becasue your wife or you spilled coffee or water down the center console a year ago when the wire goes from the engine compartment all the way to the back of the car and theres about 40 computers on the car displaying about 20 codes in each computer because there all tied together through the SCP or CAN network leading you in all different directions!!! About the labor times so what if we beat the book at times because weve done that job so many times but more times than not we loose our ass especially at the dealership level because you guys cant read the owners manaul or listen to the salesman because your so excited just to drive your new car!!! We can spend an hour or two on 1 car with no problem founds and not get paid for it because the repair order has 10 lines of items on them that are normal or you dont know how to use it. We dont get paid if theres nothing to fix. The independents do not have to worry about this stuff. Thats what gets me about independents we deal with the customers up until there out of warranty then you guys get the gravy and cant even do that right or you cant fix it and then you send the vehicle to the dealership. You other people that complain about the diag time is redicoulus too, you dont go to the doctor for free to get yourself checked out, but you dont complain when you go to a premium doctor and have to pay. You get what you pay for. If you go to an indie shop its like going to Aldi and if you go to a dealer its like going to a dominicks or a jewel. I dont know about you guys but I have a family and I would want them to feel safe. I sure dont feel safe when I let a pep boys, carx, or midas work on my car. Ive worked at both types of shops and I would certainly feel safer taking my car to a dealer than indie shop. The indies are the con artists, they will sell you a complete tune up on a car for a driveabiltity problem when they have no idea whats going on, but they have no problem selling maintence items on the car that the MANUFACTOR DOSENT EVEN RECOMMEND TILL THOUSANDS OF MILES LATER!!!!!! And saving the best for last, people need to understand we need diag time to fix your car because we have computers but they dont tell you whats wrong with the car they lead you into the direction of the problem and its up to us to find the true problem. ITS NOT AS EASY AS YOU THINK AND THE PEOPLE THAT COMPLAIN THE MOST ARE THE ONES WITH THE MONEY, DRS, LAWYERS, ETC!!! BECAUSE THEY RIP PEOPLE OFF EVERYDAY WITHOUT BLINKING!!!!
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    rhengineering00 Jul 07, 2009 12:40 PM
    Well I was a paid mechanic for 25 years .. at an independant now laid off. And the unhappy dealership customers provided more work for me.With all the horror stories ive heard in my life. And It applies to alot of different makes. And mr drywall dumb guy..im glad you figured out how to do some mechanical jobs..great..now do it everyday all day on every different make and model from motercycles, boats to full size motor homes .And dont get your gravy remove and replace job. Get some of the real mechanic daily problems . like a wiring short caused by a squirl that got way up inside the dash and chewed up the wiires and nobody could figure it out.And countless1000+ phantom stalling problems that stall once a month in the middle of traffic and not even the dealership could figure it out.And all the wantabe mechanics hacked up work that nobody else could figure out. 25 percent of mechanics are true mechanics 75 percent are practicing hacks.And that 75 percent have become the" norm" these days. So when you talking about them, I would agree with you.And as far as book rates , what happens if it takes LONGER to do the job..than the book calls for???...you still charge the book amount...And I didnt get to see any refunds for my extra attention that I put it to do it right.And as far as dealership parts, I would say they are usually alot better quality than your local Kragen, PepBoys.And when your doing a 11 hour heatercore job you dont want to take the chance that today the cheap part from Kragen is going to fit and work for the life of the vehicle.Its an easy mistake to make to have all these opinions of whats going on at the dealers and the wealth of a Real mechanic is soo beyond belief you wouldnt believe LOL..thats funny.And i made a living on commission, and because i worked harder I made more money. WORKED HARDER..way harder.And because you learn a shortcut doing a job because youve done it 100 times, dosent mean I should pay YOU for busting my ass. If you havent been on the frontline in the trenches of a real auto doing from gravy..to all the shi#$ work at a real repair shop..you dont get it..and never will. BUt everyone will be happy to know,that it has become hourly hiring to most braindead praticing Illegal workers"not mechanics"and they all just use the cheapests parts avilable. So now you all get what youve always dreamed of "SOMETHING FOR NOTHING"...They have you all fooled.....Now days..ITS NOTHING FOR NOTHING. And Mr. Drywall...let me see if i can do your job....oh wait I already have..And its about as tough and technicle as doing a braindead oil change.If you got paid for what YOU know you should make minimum wage.
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    mojou2 Jul 07, 2009 9:38 AM
    I've been a car owner for 40 years. Dealerships have ALWAYS been a minimum of 40% higher for any and all work I have ever had done. And their work quality, when I have used them, was often far inferior. For some reason, dealerships have lost the mechanics who knew and understood their vehicles. My car problems that dealerships could not diagnose have been successfully diagnosed and repaired by independents - every time! My most recent experience is with my classic 1987 Japanese sports car. The dealer I bought it from told me they'd put my car on the computer ($109), diagnose the problem, and repair it... and said, as dealers, no one else could do better. I took it to an independent who diagnosed it by listening to the symptom in less than 2 minutes, and didn't charge me. He then repaired the car for less than half of the dealer's estimate for the same repair (he did have to use a dealer-only part, but he charged me less than the dealer was going to charge me.) The final kick in the head was when the independent mechanic said to me, "By the way, I don't want to bad mouth the dealer, but, your car doesn't have a computer hookup, anyway!"
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    adam1000r Jul 07, 2009 6:17 AM
    It really all depends on what type of car you drive and how old it is. Dealerships are not out to get you like a lot of people may think. Dealerships and indie shops are both motivated by the same thing- MAKEING MONEY. So why are they any more likely than the indie shops to screw you? Both parties are just doing buisness, providing a service for a fee. Here is the difference: Indie shops often use cheap low quality aftermarket parts which is where you get a lot of your "savings" that may actually cost you more down the road in repairs. That stuff is fine for your 1989 Chevy, but if your driving a high end import less than 10 years old than you better go to the dealer. Those cars need factory parts and service to coninue proper operation. Those guys at the indie shops often guess at a problem and throw parts at you car because they don;t have any clue whats going on so it relly costs you more. Take it to the dealer where the factory technicians work on your type of car everyday and have more than likely seen that problem already. You will be charged a higher rate, however your car will BE FIXED RIGHT THE FIRST TIME. YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR JUST AS WITH ANYTHING ELSE IN LIFE. Think of it this way, do you go to the cheapest doctor you can find or do you spend whatever it takes to get proper care?
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    jaguignon Jul 07, 2009 5:16 AM
    $300 to 600 for an alternator? I can remember when I was a kid, I put an alternator in my 70' F-250 and it cost me $35 for a rebuilt at the auto parts store. Man I'm getting old!
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    gr8bsn Jul 07, 2009 5:08 AM
    The problem with a lot of newer cars is that you're stuck taking it somewhere (indie or dealer). The damn things are all rolling computers now. Every last part has some kind of sensor and if you mess it up, it gives the car a seizure. Now, when it all works well, it's a beautiful thing but I know that down the road, it's just more to replace someday and now you have to be a computer engineer just to replace a spark plug. This is why I like working on the 68 bug in the garage. Simple and honest.
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    gr8bsn Jul 07, 2009 4:56 AM
    It really depends on the car you drive, what needs to be done, how old it is, and if it is under warranty or not. Older cars, definitely indie. Newer cars, it really depends. I had an indie shop (that I was a regular at) try to sell me $900 worth of brake work that I didn't need. The point is, there are shysters everywhere. My time is my money, and I can't afford to be without my car. Dealers typically have your part in stock (or at the lest seem to have an easier time getting it faster). The worst words I will ever hear from a mechanic are "we have to ship your part, be here in xxx days." I've had indie shops do good work, but I've never dealt with a part not being at the dealer. Like I said, there is no set rule to this. There are shysters on both sides, but there are also very good and honest people out there as well. Once you find an honest one, keep him, dealer or not.
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    maxtor Jul 07, 2009 4:50 AM
    I live in maryland and the worst warranty that I got on a tranny is three months. Cost of living is high here and people do a lot to save money. Its just having patience. I had a computer tech charge me $75 to install a new video card in my computer. I was pissed to find out it takes 10 minutes and needless to say I build and fix my own computers now.
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    jaguignon Jul 07, 2009 4:41 AM
    Well Maxtor it doesn't sound like you're too dumb to me! You sound able and tired of the sh_t that the dealers attempt to pull. Especially the labor one, they are suppose to clock in and out on jobs. That is just thievery. I also like the trannies that have the "one year warranty". I had an old dodge dart sport once that received 3 ROAR trannies. ("rip out and replace) before I found one that lasted for over a year. But what the heck the car was a $1200 used vehicle that lasted for a number of years.
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    jaguignon Jul 07, 2009 4:29 AM
    I went to a 'Pep Boys' auto center down here in Jacksonville a few years ago and had a pair of tires put on. When I went to pick up the car, I'd found out that they had done about another $100 worth of work on the front end that I didn't sign the form for. I was livid, and talked to the manager and threatened to sue the crap out of him. He took back the parts and put the old ones back on and I haven't gone back since. I have since replaced those parts, but the fact is they did this work without my knowledge and wanted to be paid for it! They thought they could "slip a few extra dollars worth of repairs under my signature." Most states have a form that protects the customer from false charges. It says if they need to do extra work, they will contact you immediately or not do the work ; I carry a cell always.
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    maxtor Jul 07, 2009 4:26 AM
    I buy a factory repair manual off Ebay and fix every problem myself. I have installed motors and transmissions. I am not a mechanic. But I can do everything they can. Diagnostics are the problem, so I pay my $75 dollar diagnostic fee (if needed) and fix it myself. Dealership told me $1200 to fix my trunk, had a dent where my boss backed into it. Independent shop said $800. Went to a junkyard and got one for $40 and hit the Maco shop for $150. Then I tightened the four bolts myself. Its funny that a dumb drywall guy can do what all these overpayed and over praised technicians do. Got an AC problem, buy the $100 dye kit yourself. Need new brakes? Someone in your neighborhood or family can show you how. Transmission problems, I like the used ones with a year warranty. They work for me. And as to the superior dealer parts, what are those. Ball joints and universal joints with no grease fittings so they break faster. Or how about crap spark plugs, wires, and ignition coils. The kind that you can buy aftermarket with better quality for a cheaper price. AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST. THEY FOLLOW THE BOOK LABOR ESTIMATES. You know, the one that says it will take four hours and they get it done in 2. I don't recall ever getting a refund.
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    chr98kk Jul 07, 2009 4:04 AM
    I was a mechanic for 24 years, there are rats on both sides of the repair business but I think the dealers are the bigger rats. If you don't want to be ripped off find a shop that pays their mechanics by the hour only. No commission!
    Report This
    jbd2021 Jul 07, 2009 4:02 AM
    In my experience you are best served to call at least Three different shops before you stop at any of them. You are better off with Local shops that have good reputations. Sometimes the Dealer is Cheaper than the Independent shop. I am a self employed Carpet Layer and with lost wages considered, it can be cheaper to pay the dealer $500.00 for a new Clutch in one day rather than waiting two weeks for a $250.00 Clutch from an independent shop. I would never go to a dealer for a tune up when I can get it for half the cost elsewhere. I have been approached with inventive estimates from both dealers and independent shops. I had a nation wide chain tell me my rear diff was in bad shape less than a week after the dealer rebuilt it under warranty. I have had a dealer tell me my brand new brakes are bad. I understand my truck is notorious for such problems but it is foolish to try and screw me like that. Everone is hungry right now and you need to be able to determine resonable repairs from a padded bill. Ask a lot of questions and never take one shop's word for anything.
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    fordman460scj Jul 07, 2009 3:20 AM
    I work for an independent shop because I like to sleep at night. The dealerships are so cut-throat that you would have to be a crook to survive. We are honest about how critical repairs are, and let you know if something can wait a little longer. If there is an overlap in labor we are honest about it. However, I'm beginning to worry about the future of independent shops. The auto makers are doing everything they can to make you got to the dealer. They are using more and more specialty tools that are very expensive. They are also becoming very hush-hush about repair information and taking steps to keep anybody from working on their products but them. I spend about 20% of my paychecks on tools just to keep up. I feel most of us are better techs in general than what you'll find at the dealer, but without the necessary information and tools, we may soon be gone.
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    futservauto Jul 07, 2009 2:42 AM
    Most of my own personal vehicals all have over 230,000 miles on them. Why is it that I always hear about others having that lemon. Oh, I forgot I know how to maintain my cars. Some reading and common sence.
    Report This
    venomrt Jul 07, 2009 2:33 AM
    You get what you pay for....we all hate putting money into our cars. But that car is the hardest working thing we own. A lot of people don't pay attention to their car til it's too late. I work for Chrysler. OK NO SMART REMARKS LOL. I have a Dakota that has had a battery, a few brake jobs and a waterpump. At 230,000 miles its the best car I've owned.....But I change my oil every 3000 miles and I don't abuse the truck.....
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    The prices of car repairs are examined, showing the differences in cost between dealership service and independent car service.


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