Independent vs. franchise dealerships – the pros and cons

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Uh-oh, something’s gone wrong.  The car is making a strange sound or is showing a dreaded warning light, and it needs a quick fix before the situation worsens. Or perhaps your vehicle is embarrassingly overdue for a service. Or maybe you’re just looking to buy a new motor.

Naturally, you’ll be tempted to visit the garage or dealership closest to you, but will they offer you the best service, expertise and value for money?

Whether your local garage is a small independent, or a commercial franchise dealership, they both have their pros and cons. Let’s take an objective look at how you can choose the best dealership based on your needs.

Independent garage

Independent garages offer a personalised serviceOne of the main elements that divide an independent garage from a franchise dealership is the scale of their operations. Independents can often be the cheaper option as they have fewer overheads than larger businesses.

A reputable independent garage tends to offer a more personalised service with a strong focus on customer satisfaction, as it usually relies on word of mouth to grow its customer base. You will often get to speak directly to the mechanic working on your car, who will be able to share their expertise and let you know exactly what’s going on under the bonnet. Many of these establishments are run by former technicians from a franchise dealership, so they will be highly trained.

Don’t be afraid to ask the important questions – does the garage possess the necessary certification to carry out servicing on your vehicle?  Do they only use genuine car parts? Although it’s rare, lower costs can sometimes result from using non-genuine parts and cheaper labour, which can end up causing more damage than it’s worth.

Most local garages that are not franchise dealerships cannot perform warranty work at all – because they are not authorised to provide repairs by the manufacturer. They also do not have the same access to service information and manufacturer-specific technical support as franchise dealerships do, and may not have access to the latest diagnostic equipment or to your vehicle history records. Don’t necessarily let this put you off – just be sure to do your research first.

If you’re in the market for a used car, your local independent dealership may have a greater catalogue of these at their disposal than a franchise, at better prices too. Remember when buying a used motor to insist on a paper trail of the vehicle’s history before making any purchase.

One of the disadvantages of servicing a car with an independent garage is that it will negatively affect your car’s resale value. So you might save money now, but potentially lose it later on. The extent of this impact will depend on how long you keep the car; if it is several years old, it’s much less relevant than on a new or near-new car.

Franchise dealership

A franchise dealership service history preserves your resale valueThere are many benefits to opting to have your car serviced or repaired by a franchised main dealership. First and foremost, you get greater security and reassurance that your warranty will be preserved. Whilst some independents will be warranty-approved, a franchise dealership can guarantee this, which goes a long way to protecting your car’s residual value.

Car manufacturers are unable to insist which dealer you should visit to service your car, but they can easily void a claim for poor work practices, such as using non-genuine replacement parts. Franchises will make certain their components are certified by the manufacturers themselves, not to mention the access they have to the most up-to-date diagnostic and monitoring equipment, which independents are less likely to have in their workshop.

A disadvantage for bigger businesses is that they generally have higher costs. This is due to the larger number of overheads they need to account for at their facilities, such as staff numbers, but depending on which garage you use there may also be potential hidden fees. Ask for a cost breakdown for any task carried out so that the figures are in black and white.

Independent garage or franchise dealership?When buying a pre-owned car, a franchise dealership will provide a warranty certified through the manufacturer, and the dealer will be able to provide written evidence of this. If you are looking at financing options for the vehicle, main dealerships will usually offer a lower interest rate than the independents due to their closer relationship with the manufacturer. However, this will not always be the case, so if you are looking at doing this, make sure to do your research for the best finance option.

Servicing your car with a franchise dealership will usually have a positive benefit on your car’s resale value when you come to sell the car. Prospective buyers prefer to see an official dealer stamp in the book rather than a local garage. If you have bought a new or near-new car, this is definitely worth considering.

So who comes out on top?

We can see that independent garages have the upper hand on lower costs and customer service, whilst franchise dealerships can give you greater peace of mind overall.

Before you make up your mind about which garage to visit, be sure to check any reviews of their company online as this can make the decision process much easier.

You should also read:
New car warranty – do I have to have my car serviced by the dealer?
Do I have to have my car serviced by the dealer if I have a PCP

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James Dickinson
James Dickinson
James Dickinson is the Director of Development for Parts Gateway, a car, van and 4x4 parts finder that works with over 180 specialist dealers. His interests include technology, playing squash and listening to house music.

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  1. Much depends on the local garage and if you really trust them. There are so many horror stories about independents that it puts many off who are willing to pay a bit more for a trusted service.

  2. We are an independent body repair shop, and I totally agree with your comments on how a larger franchise can have the edge on being able to repair vehicles to manufacturers specifications. However, independent service providers such as ourselves can compete on a quality level if they invest in the right equipment and working practices – all our work is to the original manufacturers specification, but without the great expense of going through a main dealer.

What are your thoughts? Let us know below.