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Car owners flock to independent service centers to escape high prices

Drivers rated independent service shops higher than dealership facilities due to challenges in repair affordability

Drivers prefer to work with independent service centers rather than dealerships for car repairs, according to a new study by Consumer Reports.

The survey sourced responses from 10,973 car owners and compared experiences between dealership centers, independent shops, and service chains. Consumer Reports focused solely on repair work for its study, due to the unexpected nature of repairs and the tendency for repair clients to visit a brand they already trust. Recall and warranty work were thus excluded from the study’s analysis, as was maintenance.

Not only did consumers rate independent shops higher than any other group, but these centers were the only category to receive top marks across the board. The only chain that received similarly strong scores was Goodyear Auto Service. While ratings varied heavily between manufacturers, dealerships, as a whole, lagged behind their competitors in several critical areas.

One of the key reasons that dealerships struggled to outperform independent shops was pricing. Consumer Reports notes that the overwhelming majority of dealers received the lowest possible rating when it came to price, with only Tesla and Acura seeing slightly improved scores. Another factor was vehicle age. The older the model, the less likely consumers were to take it to a franchise. That being said, dealers still dominated the repair market when it came to recent purchases. Roughly 80% of drivers who needed repairs on a 2023 model visited a dealership, compared to the mere 18% of owners with 2000 models.

There are other factors to consider. Independent service centers do have advantages dealers may lack. For example, manufacturers often require dealers to hire well-trained mechanics with higher pay expectations and expect franchisees to maintain state-of-the-art repair facilities. While these factors drive costs up, consumers typically bring lower expectations to third-party businesses and are willing to overlook the quality of a shop if it means they are getting a better deal.

However, dealers must always incorporate consumer preferences into their business model to ensure they are meeting the needs of their local market. Implementing strategies that improve affordability, such as discounts or promotional offers, can help dealers improve the long-term value of their service offerings and win back market share from independent shops.

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Colin Velez
Colin Velez
Colin Velez is a staff writer/reporter for CBT News. After obtaining his bachelor’s in Communication from Kennesaw State University in 2018, he kicked off his writing career by developing marketing and public relations material for various industries, including travel and fashion. Throughout the next four years, he developed a love for working with journalists and other content creators, and his passion eventually led him to his current position. Today, Colin writes news content and coordinates stories with auto-industry insiders and entrepreneurs throughout the U.S.

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