When you need work done on your car, the sea of available repair shops can be confusing to the average consumer. With independent shops, large chains, and dealership service departments in every part of town, there are so many to choose from, and all have their own benefits and drawbacks.
The best place to start is by evaluating your specific needs. Is your car relatively new or twenty years old? Is your repair “just a little problem I’ve been meaning to take care of” or a major mechanical failure? Figuring out ahead of time the best place to deal with your problem can save a lot of time and frustration.
Pros: Technicians at auto dealerships are usually very knowledgeable about the specific brands they carry. They receive specialized training and they see the same cars so much, they usually know what problems to look for before even pulling your car into the shop. They often have the latest equipment and use parts straight from the factory, designed specifically for your automobile. The waiting area at many dealerships is first class, offering delis, cafes, big screen TV’s, etc. Recently, there has been a trend among dealerships to compete with independent and chain service shops by offering quick lubes and free services to entice the consumer’s business.
Cons: Dealerships often charge more. They have a higher hourly labor rate than most independent and chain service shops, and the factory parts they carry tend to cost more than aftermarket parts. Also, it usually takes them longer than other places to get to your car.
Bottom Line: Repairs covered by factory warranties should be performed by an authorized dealership. Newer cars with major mechanical problems should also go the dealership. Some notable dealership service departments in the Mobile area are UJ Chevrolet, Palmers Toyota, Eastern Shore Toyota, Chris Myers Nissan, and Coastal Ford.
Chain Service Shops
Pros: Chain service shops offer slightly lower hourly rates compared to dealerships, and the aftermarket parts they use are cheaper. They also tend to be much faster at getting work done. Chain shops tend to be a one stop shop. They offer a wide variety of services that can be performed within a few hours. Chain shops will also recommend where to take your car if the repair goes beyond the scope of work they can perform.
Cons: Chain shops generally don’t do major repairs such as engine rebuilds or transmission work (unless it’s a chain transmission shop). There’s also a large variance in the quality and skill level of technicians. There are highly trained technicians working at chain shops, as well as those who are just learning the ropes. It’s difficult to know if the person working on your vehicle is knowledgeable and experienced. However, large chain shops stand behind their work and will fix any mistake.
Bottom Line: Chain shops are the best way to go for quick general maintenance and repairs, tires, inspections, and even diagnostics. Some notable Mobile area Chain shops include Firestone Complete Auto care, Trax Tires, Big 10 Tires, McDonald Muffler and Fausak Tires.
Pros: Independent shops are generally cheaper than dealerships and chain shops. The owner often works as a technician and/or service manager, and is available to deal with any major problems that may arise. They are personally invested in making sure you are satisfied with their work. Independent shops also tend to take on any job, big or small.
Cons: There are no corporate officers around to oversee the work of an independent shop, so do a little research into the quality of work a shop performs. Most independent shops are understaffed, so it may take a while to finish the work. The equipment also tends to be outdated when compared to shops with corporate financial backing.
Bottom Line: Older out-of-warranty cars needing major repairs benefit the most from independent repair shops. Some notable independent shops in the Mobile area include Port City Foreign Car Service, Cross Automotive, and Paul’s Automotive.
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