Growing up, if I wanted to spend time with my dad, my mother would often drop me off at the Ford dealership where he sold cars. Sometimes we would walk back to the service lane where he would buy me an orange soda. Other times he was busy “putting a deal together”, and during those times I would find myself wandering around meeting everyone from sales managers to technicians. One of the most exciting trips was when I just refused to believe that a 4 cylinder Mustang could be very fast compared to the 8 cylinder ones, so dad took me around the block in a new 1984 Mustang SVO, pretty much putting that myth to rest forever!
I guess that’s when my biggest misconception took root. It made perfect sense that if you wanted your car fixed right you HAD to take it to a dealership. First, they cost more money, and you get what you pay for, right? Second, these guys were trained professionals, understanding the specific systems to whatever brand you drove. Third, they only use parts made by the manufacturer, which HAS to be better for longevity. And finally, well, you just felt more loyal to the brand. I grew up in a Ford family, which meant people who drove Chevrolet’s were basically stupid (no offense to Chevy drivers – I am one myself, now!)
When I decided to get in the business, I took a 2 year course sponsored by Ford, which of course didn’t teach me any different. Then I joined ranks with my sponsoring dealer, which, of course, was Ford. I then spent the next 10 years of my life in a Ford dealer’s service department, and before it was over I was pretty much completely brainwashed. Then in 2002, I made a decision that defied all logic – I accepted a position running an aftermarket repair shop! Of course, that is a whole other story that we won’t get into right now.
Trying to “unlearn” something you pretty much believed for 30 plus years is not an easy task; but unlearn I did, so let me finish this post by debunking the top 4 myths about why you should use a dealer for repairs…
1. You get what you pay for – I do believe this on some things, but car repair is NOT one of them. The truth of the matter is, the reason they cost so much more is because of the ridiculous overhead, which includes some outrageous salaries. In a dealer of moderate size, you have a President, Vice President, General Manager, General Sales Manager, Fixed Ops Manager, Finance Manager, Service Manager and sometimes a Body Shop Manager, most of which have 6 figure incomes, and that doesn’t usually include the “C” level managers! What I discovered pretty quickly was less overhead equals savings to the customer, at least if you run a smart company. Of course, there are exceptions to both – there are some affordable dealers (somewhere… ) and there are quite a few outrageously expensive aftermarket shops. The key is finding someone you can trust. Most good business men I know are transparent about their profit margins.
2. Trained professionals – dealer techs do get a lot of specialized training, that’s no secret. But to find a true master technician means you found someone who understands the “how and why’s” of automotive systems, and that is NOT specific to brand. What you get at dealers normally is technicians with “brand knowledge” which means they know what part to swap for a particular problem for a particular car. To this day, I still remember that on a 1996 Ford Taurus with a grunting noise in far right hand turns, you replaced the power steering rack and pinion and pressure hose. Why? Because Ford said it would fix it. Anything outside of the norm drew blank stares from most techs. In a truly good shop, you have technicians, not part swappers. In actuality, all of the “problem specific” information that is available to the dealer technicians is also available to the aftermarket technicians in the form of Technical Service Bulletins, or TSB’s. The key here is once you find a shop you think you might like, take the time to find out what kind of training and experience the techs have. An ASE master tech has, in my professional opinion, surpassed the training of about 90% of the dealer techs. In my company, I like to take the time to give our customers a tour of the shop, and let them meet the guys that will be fixing their cars. Our technicians love this, because they know the quality of the work they put out, and now they know they will be given the proper credit because the customer knows them.
3. Manufacturer Made Parts – this is a huge myth. Almost every part used in a repair is made by someone OTHER than the manufacturer. All of your major brands do have Original Equipment Part manufacturers that do make the bulk of the repair parts for their specific brand, like Motorcraft for Ford and AC Delco for GM, but very few parts come directly from the manufacturer. The myth is that the dealers are the only ones that use these parts. The same, exact parts are available to every shop, not just dealerships. Even on the few parts that must be ordered from the manufacturer through the dealer, a good aftermarket shop can buy the part from the dealer and STILL sell it to you for less than what you would pay at the very dealer it was purchased from and the warranty is exactly the same!
4. Brand Loyalty – this was probably the hardest myth for me to “unlearn”. It just seemed so much like cheating to drive something other than what your dad drove. Think about that for just a minute. My dad drove Ford because his dad did. My first 10 vehicles were Ford because dad and granddad drove them. Talk about brainwashing! This is the ultimate marketing goal – to get your customers to “believe” that their product is a part of who they are as human beings! The truth is, even the dealers aren’t loyal anymore. More and more, I am seeing signs go up at dealers everywhere that say “All Brands Serviced Here”. Most dealers have a used car lot, and any salesman will tell you he gets the highest commission on used cars, so where is the loyalty there? Most aftermarket shops will work on either “domestic” or “foreign”, and some can do both successfully. The best thing to do here is find a shop who is both familiar with and comfortable working on your car.
There you have it, unquestionable evidence that sometimes the things we think we know may not be completely true. Remember, out of my 20+ years in this business, I have been on both sides, and there is no question what decision I would make should the occasion arise for someone else to take care of my car.
As an avid automotive enthusiast, I have worked on cars, around cars or with cars for over 20 years, and my unique experiences have given me insight to almost every aspect of our industry, both good and bad. At W.T. Standard Automotive & Collision, we put all of good the practices to work for you, our customer. Please visit us at http://www.wtstandard.com
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