Ask These 6 Questions Before You Get Your Car Repaired at the Dealership

a mechanic works under a car at a repair garage.
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Whether your car is brand new or just new-to-you, you’ll need to keep up with routine maintenance. But should you stick to the dealership’s service center, go with your local corner garage or choose one of the dozens of car-service chains? Here are a few questions to ask yourself before hitting the brakes:

Is Your Car New or Used?

If you’re buying a new car, check to see if it comes with a service plan from the automaker, or if you can purchase one. Service plans tend to cover routine maintenance such as oil changes and tire rotations for a certain period of time. Brands that offer these service plans, like Toyota, will typically make a big deal about it, so you should know whether or not you’re covered.

With a service plan, you’ll only be able to redeem the free maintenance at a dealer’s service center. This gives you the freedom to service at any dealership affiliated with your brand, but you won’t be able to visit an independent mechanic.

Used car owners have more flexibility when it comes to choosing a service center, though you will have to pay for your service out of pocket. Without a service plan to hold you in place, you can shop around chains like Valvoline and Jiffy Lube, or look at locally owned mechanic shops to find the best deal at the best price.

Even if you buy a used car, you can still service at a dealership that specializes in your brand of car.

Do You Have a Warranty?

Most repairs to a new or certified pre-owned vehicle are covered by the manufacturer’s warranty. If this is the case, you’ll need to get the work performed at a dealership to avoid paying for it.

Your warranty also allows you to visit any dealership franchise that sells your brand of car. So if you move or have a negative experience with one dealer, you can visit another one and still have your repair covered.

If you bought a certified pre-owned vehicle from a dealership, chances are it came with a limited warranty. Any warranty work should be performed by the dealer to avoid out-of-pocket fees. If your car isn’t covered by a warranty, you can service wherever you want (though you will have to pay).

Do You Want a Certified Technician?

Dealerships employ technicians that are certified by the manufacturer. These certifications need to be kept up-to-date if the dealer wants to continue servicing its branded vehicles. This means that the technicians at a dealership have been trained in their specific brand and are typically more knowledgeable about your car model than independent mechanics.

Services like oil changes and tire rotations don’t require expert knowledge, so you’re probably OK going to a local garage or national chain. Call around to check prices to see which will offer you the best deal.

Does Your Car Have a Recall?

Car manufacturers issue recalls all the time, for everything from minor issues with switches to major problems (hello, Takata airbag recall!). If you’re taking your car in to get a recall problem fixed, you’ll need to use your dealer.

Dealership service centers receive money from the manufacturer to fix recall issues, and they’ll perform the work on your car for free. If you take it to a chain or a local mechanic, you’ll end up having to pay for the repairs yourself.

What Are the Costs?

Of course, a huge part of choosing where to service your car is the cost. If your dealer wants to charge $500 for a repair that Joe down the street will fix for $200, it seems like a no-brainer.

While it’s important to consider costs, it’s also vital that you can trust your chosen mechanic. It’s all very well to save money on your car repair, but if you can’t be sure that the work performed is top quality, is it worth the savings? Subpar work could put your life at risk on the road.

Luckily, there are plenty of trustworthy mechanics. You just need to know where to find them. Ask friends for recommendations on local garages and shop around to find a good price. You can also check local review sites like Google, Yelp, DealerRater and Bing (yes, Bing!).

Are Dealers More Expensive?

The answer to this question really depends on where you live and what service you need. You might find that your dealership offers an oil change for $35, while the Valvoline down the street charges $50, in which case you’ll obviously choose the dealer.

However, for other services, you might be better off avoiding the dealer.

For example, I recently had a trailer hitch installed on my Subaru Outback. My local Subaru dealer wanted $560 for parts and labor before tax. I called around and ended up having the hitch installed at U-Haul for $235 plus tax. I trusted U-Haul as a national brand, so I chose that option even though I’m typically more cautious and prefer to take my car to the Subaru dealer for service.

If you have a newer car that’s under warranty, you’re better off sticking with the dealership service center to ensure the people working on your car know the brand. On the flip side, used car owners might get a better deal at independent garages or national chains.

Use your resources to get recommendations on quality service centers, and your inner Penny Hoarder to find the best deal for your car maintenance or repair.

Catherine Hiles has been writing about the automotive industry for six years. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking, running and watching Disney movies with her three-year-old daughter.