4

In my experience as a consumer, mechanics at dealers typically seem to prefer not to perform quick or partial fixes for certain types of work. For example:

  • Replacing an entire wiring harness rather than redoing a problematic location.
  • Replacing coolant lines / entire radiator rather than patching a leak.
  • Replacing a bumper with damaged clips rather than redrilling mount holes.
  • Etc.

I even had one dealer say to me, after a week in a shop, "we're not willing to do a partial fix and cannot fix this problem while keeping the cost reasonable, we want to do the job right, we're refunding you your diagnostics fees and not performing the work" (which I respect).

My experience is limited, though, to Honda dealers in New York City, where the mechanics are extremely busy, non-stop. So I'm not sure if this is a general trend, Honda-specific, busy-city-specific, or just not a trend at all (my sample size is small).

This seems to be unique to dealers. Non-dealer shops (even corporate, like NTB or Sears) seem more than willing to do whatever is needed to do a quicker, partial repair job, while dealers tend to go more by the book and replace parts.

From a professional mechanic's point of view, why is this? My intent is not to criticize dealers vs. non-dealers. Rather, I am wondering if dealer mechanics are perhaps subject to certain corporate / trade regulations or contracts, or if they can increase profit or customer throughput, or if it is part of mechanic culture, or if there is some other criteria that guides these decisions. I'm wondering how the system works.

All the shops (dealers / non-dealers) I'm referring to generally do great work, the approach is just consistently different.

12

It is typically faster, easier, and more reliable to replace a bad part with a new part. The dealership wants to the vehicle to leave the shop in the best possible condition that they can guarantee is going to work and last. The best way to do this is to replace a bad part with a new part.

They prefer not to repair parts, because a repaired part will likely not last as long as a new part. Repairing a part requires extra diagnostic work and additional skilled work. Repaired parts also carry the liability of not being repaired as well as the original part, leading to more issues, or another failure down the road.

Replacing old parts with new parts is covered in shop manuals. The shops can calculate how many man-hours it should take to replace a certain part, and can bill the customer accordingly. This is difficult to do with repairs.

Most customers prefer to see their vehicle fixed properly with OEM parts, rather than hacked together. Hack jobs usually do not instill much confidence, while new parts do. It is also seen as more professional to use new parts.

Most independent shops will use new parts whenever possible unless they can save time/money by doing a repair that they can guarantee will work. For example, they would replacing a blown fusable link with a new fuse, since it is an easy cut and crimp. However, they would likely not patch a radiator since it is hard to guarantee the patch, and it would be more cost effective to replace.

  • That makes sense. Do you think that maybe the type of customer that goes to a non-dealer doesn't typically have the same expectations, so dealers are just working in a different kind of customer environment with different expectations? – Jason C Feb 25 '16 at 15:26
  • 2
    added a bit to my answer. Customers usually have different expectations from a dealer and independent shop. Dealers should return the car in factory condition. Independent shops tend to go for the best cost/benefit, which MAY result in repairs rather than replacements. You also tend to see things like replacing a bad transmission with a junkyard transmission and non-OEM parts. These parts can save money, but may not perform to factory standards. – rpmerf Feb 25 '16 at 15:30
  • There is also a big difference in a professional independent shop, and a 'shade tree' mechanic. – rpmerf Feb 25 '16 at 15:32
  • That's true. I do notice the "non-dealer" behavior in corporate shops as well, like NTB and, to some extent, Sears, etc. NYC is also a bit odd, there is almost a shop on every block, some shadier than others; I tend to go to either dealers or clearly (hopefully) professional independent ones. In Pittsburgh (my home town), work quality at independent shops is almost always higher than NYC, but that's a whole different topic. – Jason C Feb 25 '16 at 15:41
  • Part of the difference is dealers are protecting the reputation of their brand. They makes money from vehicle sales and repairs. Repeat car sales are a huge deal. Their shop costs are higher, but people pay it for the mechanics trained specifically for their vehicle, best diagnostic equipment, and OEM parts. Non-dealers are there to make money. They attract customers by being more convenient and cheaper than the dealer. – rpmerf Feb 25 '16 at 15:49
3

Dealer franchise contracts spell out what is allowed for parts replacement and repair standards. In all the cases I am aware of the OEMs insist on use of factory parts for all repairs made. Most OEMs inspect for compliance regularly. Dealers will at times install non OEM parts but this is rare as the consequences when found out can be severe and include loss for the franchise. Also one stands to make a lower gross profit with lower cost parts and repairs so why take the risk.

3

One reason for this is to simplify and standardise maintenance. Replacing a part with like for like can be a known and understood process which also allows traceability.

This is of particular importance to manufacturers who might be have potential legal liability for millions of vehicles (in terms of both warranty and liability for dangerous faults) looked after by hundreds of dealerships. In this sort of situation the most pragmatic approach is to set out a standardised procedure for replacing a particular part, rather than leave it to the initiative of individual mechanics to repair it. This also means that you can train service technicians to a manual and given that a modern car might be designed by dozens of specialist engineers it is probably not reasonable to expect a few technicians in a dealership to have a thorough understanding of all of the systems involved.

In fact manufacturers will have subcontractors whose will go through every possible part replacement and work out how long it takes and what tools are required. This allows a reasonably precise cash value to be placed on any possible repair.

In short this approach means that there is a singe, well documented 'right' way to fix any given problem.

2

I suspect it's partly a case of covering themselves - if they do a quick fix and it goes wrong (e.g. that patch they put on the coolant line fails and the resulting loss of coolant blows the engine), they'd probably get sued - it might well be that they'd be at risk of losing their franchise as well, which would differentiate them from non-dealers who don't have that second risk. I suspect the type of people who go to back-street mechanics might well be less likely to sue in a similar situation as well?

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.