Who should service your car?

It’s essential that your car is maintained, or it’ll become ever more unreliable and will ultimately cost you far more to run. Assuming you can’t do the work yourself, you need to find somebody who can keep your car ticking over smoothly.

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You’ve got a choice of franchised dealers or independent mechanics; predictably, there are pros and cons to both. John Bentley of the Startins Motor Group comments: “Any warranty or recall work has to be undertaken by an official dealer, plus we use only genuine parts and factory-trained technicians, which isn’t always true of the independents.

“Importantly, some independent specialists keep their costs down by using cheaper pattern parts, which might not be as durable as the genuine article”. 

It’s always worth getting a quote from an independent specialist, but you need to ask what parts they’ll be using and who will be working on your car

Unsurprisingly, independent mechanic Peter Thorpe doesn’t agree. He says: “Many independent specialists like us are staffed by factory-trained technicians who use only genuine parts – which might be in unofficial packaging.

“Our prices are lower, the service more personal and we’ve got the same diagnostic equipment as the main dealers, so we can do the same work. That equipment often costs £10,000 or more though, so it wouldn’t make sense for a general workshop to buy it – which is why using a marque specialist is essential for maintaining a modern car”.

Thorpe adds: “It’s always worth getting a quote from an independent specialist, but you need to ask what parts they’ll be using and who will be working on your car. We service a lot of brand new cars and save their owners a fortune in the process.

“I’ve just done a first service on a Vauxhall Corsa for £84 instead of the £218 that the main dealer wanted. For what’s basically an oil and filter change that’s a lot of money. Our labour is cheaper and our oil is seven quid a litre instead of 18, yet it’s the same oil.”

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) represents the UK’s motor industry. The group’s Jonathan Visscher comments: “Independent specialists have a huge part to play, as they can often undercut main dealers.

“They can also offer expertise on older cars, as official dealers often focus on just the current models. But manufacturers are getting very aggressive with their servicing packages and you can’t automatically assume that the franchised dealer is more costly – especially once a car has reached its third or fourth birthday.

“Also, quite a few new cars come with either free servicing or cheap packages that can save the owner hundreds of pounds over the first three or five years. That’s only likely to increase, with manufacturers offering ever longer servicing packages to keep their dealers’ workshops busy”.

If you’ve paid extra for a main dealer service to maintain your car, it would be easy to assume that it’ll be worth more when you come to sell it.

According to John Bentley you’d be right: “We’d definitely pay less for a car that hasn’t been serviced by a franchised dealer, although the difference is less marked as the car gets older. If we were looking at a three-year old Honda Jazz for example, we’d offer up to £400 less for it as a trade-in”.

Jeff Paterson isn’t convinced though: “Providing the car has been serviced to the manufacturer’s schedule there should be no difference in its value. However, it’s more desirable to have the franchised dealer history, particularly with prestige or executive cars, and these cars would be considered ahead of those with a non-franchised history”.

Many buyers give up on official dealers once the car is out of warranty, but look at the evidence and it’s clear that many car buyers are doing things the wrong way round. The biggest savings to be made are when the car is under warranty; franchised dealers charge top rates and independents can be much cheaper.

But as the car gets older the franchised dealer gets cheaper and using an independent specialist may not save you money. One thing is for sure though; it’s always worth shopping around at service time, because over the years that you own a car, you could save hundreds – or even thousands – of pounds in maintenance costs.

What about my warranty?

Many owners assume that for their new-car warranty to remain intact they have to get their car serviced at a franchised dealer. However, according to European law this isn’t the case; car makers have to allow independent specialists accessto the necessary diagnostic equipment at a “reasonable cost”.

All the car makers we spoke to said the same thing as Vauxhall, which made headlines when it introduced a lifetime warranty on its cars.

A spokesman for the company confirmed: “Customers can have their vehicles serviced outside the authorised network as long as they adhere to the recommended servicing schedules in the owner's manual. This also includes the quality of parts and oil that are used”.