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Dealership or Stealership? Parts & Service Edition

Posted in DIY, Maintenance, Mechanics, Rants & Raves by J D Stadler | February 27th, 2011 | 7 Responses |


Are you the type who takes your car to the dealership for routine care and maintenance?  Do you prefer to do everything yourself, from oil changes to brake jobs?  Maybe you fall somewhere in the middle and use an independent local mechanic or a franchise like those specializing in tires or transmissions?  Whatever your choice, you likely have a very strong opinion why it’s best.

When I was newly licensed, I asked my dad to teach me a few things every good gearhead should know.  I learned the ins and outs of oil changes (complete with hot liquid down my arm), the proper way to jump a battery, how to change a tire using those frustratingly inadequate little scissor jacks, and how to swap out spark plugs among other things.  I will be the first to tell you I still have a lot to learn but I love the feeling of accomplishment that comes from a good bit of grease and brake dust under your nails.

As I’ve gotten older and busier, I haven’t had the time or resources to do my own wrenching.  I started going to one of those chain stores mostly because it was quick and I no longer had a driveway; working on vehicles in our parking area is forbidden.  It wasn’t my favorite choice, and fell even further from favor after one particularly bad experience:  After I left the garage, I heard a loud clunk-clunk-clunk. I pulled over in a shopping center and after a quick inspection, pulled the center cap covering the lug nuts off the wheel.  They hadn’t even bothered tightening the lugs, and the cap was the only thing holding them on.  Thankful that I had a four-way lug wrench in the trunk, I spent the next ten minutes swearing like Yosemite Sam as I went around the car tightening them properly.  I shudder to think what might have happened if my passengers and I had been on the highway instead.

More recently, my Mazda gave me the Check Engine Light of Annoyance (automotive equivalent of the Windows Blue Screen of Death) as I experienced my own unintentional acceleration drama.  Thoroughly freaked out, I asked a friend to help me diagnose it and he suggested cleaning the throttle body.  One afternoon (and one screwdriver dropped into the opening, only able to be retrieved with a flexible magnetic rod) later, it stopped bucking at stoplights but the light remained on.  I figured if ever there was a time to take it to the pros, this would be it.

I’d never been to a dealership but had heard and read all kinds of horror stories.  Cautiously, I scheduled an appointment, researched all the TSBs that might be related to the issue, checked for recalls, and crossed my fingers.  It seems I found one of the few honest service departments left in our great country (at least, in my neck of the woods).  My Service Manager was beyond courteous, completely honest, and went out of his way to make sure it was fixed in time.  It turns out I had a giant hole in one of the vacuum hoses that I couldn’t see.  Finally, the CEL was gone from my dash.  I don’t know how much longer I’ll have the car but it needs some love if I want it to keep running well.  Although the prices are more expensive, the dealership lets me use coupons and I trust they’ll get the work done correctly.  I know that this is the exception, not the rule, though which is unfortunate.

It was easy to understand my little four-bangers of ’90’s vintage but I can only wonder about the future. It’s getting to where you need a degree from MIT, six years at NASA, and a bit of luck to comprehend the workings of modern vehicles.  Cars are rolling Smartphones and have more nannies than a celebrity mom these days.  Will we be able to continue the ritual of Saturday shade-tree mechanics?  And if not, what happens when your local dealership is more of a stealership that cares more about profits than proper service?  It will be interesting to see how this evolves.

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7 Responses

  1. Lightnup says:

    “It seems I found one of the few honest service departments left in our great country.”

    For someone who admits that he has “never been to a dealership,” the above statement is an arrogant and unfair indictment of an entire industry that has actually made monumental strides in improving customer service and ethical problems of the past, particularly in regard to franchised dealership service departments.

    Are there dishonest service facilities? No doubt there are. But I also know a Mazda owner who is an uneducated oaf. Wouldn’t concluding that most Mazda owners – including JD Stadler – must also be uneducated oafs based on my limited exposure to Mazda owners be both unfair and ignorant?

    (Side note: not tightening the lug nuts is incompetence, not dishonesty. There is a difference.)

    • Kurt Ernst says:

      Lightenup, I’ve been to probably a dozen or so dealerships for service in my lifetime. The good experiences are rare, the mediocre ones are the norm and the truly bad are more common than most people think. Off the top of my head:

      – Bringing my wife’s TSX in for a power steering hose recall, I was told by the dealer ship that I needed four new tires. When I pushed back and said no, they still advised that I should “replace two because they’ve never been rotated”. In fact, I rotate them every 10,000 miles myself, and had done so just two weeks before the visit. The legal term is called “theft by deception”, and I wonder how many customers would have fallen for it.

      – Taking my 2006 Mazda MX-5 in for an alignment, I requested that it be aligned to Mazdaspeed suspension specs. I included the Mazdaspeed document with my paperwork, and when I got the car back I found it was aligned to the stock specs for a 2004 Miata. First problem – my 2006 Miata had completely different specs than a 2004, even for a stock alignment. Second problem: they didn’t do the work requested, even after the service manager said they would. It took three trips to the dealership to get it done right, and that’s two too many.

      – I brought a week old Ford pickup back to the dealership to have a bedliner put in. When I came in to pick it up, the cab and the sides of the bed were badly scratched where they dragged the bedliner over it. When I approached the tech, his first response was “how do I know those scratches weren’t there when you brought the truck in?” Things got even worse when the service manger showed up, and we were just about to start trading punches when the body shop manager stepped in and said “our fault, and we’ll make it right”.

      – I had a dealership install a towing kit on my Toyota FJ. When I got home, I had to re-route the writing so it didn’t cross the hot exhaust system. I’m pretty sure their routing wasn’t per Toyota’s instructions.

      I literally could go on from here, but you get my point. I take it you work in the industry, and my hat’s off to you if you do. I grew up turning wrenches in the family garage, so I know what it’s like dealing with mechanically inept and unrealistic customers, but your statement that the “industry has made monumental strides in improving customer service” differs substantially from my own experience.

  2. J D Stadler says:

    Well, it certainly was not my intention to offend anyone by that statement. I can see and understand your point and no I didn’t mean to indict an entire industry. It just seems I have heard and read more unfavorable anecdotes about dealership service than favorable.

  3. inthebuff says:

    I admit that I am not one to turn a wrench at all. I don’t do even the simplest thing like change the oil. I go to the dealer for maintenance and service. My local Nissan dealer in Sarasota has two service managers who I consider to be friends. They go out of their way to help me and give me options when I need repairs.

    Those two I like. There’s another there that wanted to charge me $150 apiece for key fobs when a reprogramming was all that was necessary. I did research after almost being ripped off. I called the manager and told him of my experience and he “took” care of it (whatever that means) and now I ask specifically for one of my two guys.

    I think like all service industries (plumbers, electical, HVAC, etc.), the car dealerships have to build a certain level of trust. And provide a competitive product. And every once in a while not do a job you think you need in order to build that trust.

    And I agree with the first comment. If you’ve only ever been to one dealership, how can you write a competent article about dealership versus stealership. I would have expected more instances of what unscrupulous dealers do to rip you off and how you know when you’re at a stealership as opposed to a dealership.

  4. eddie_357 says:

    walk in armed with knowleage,if you are really compelled to stick your head in it.research the labor and price on the internet via forums,or bring your own lube because you are going to get screwed.

  5. Taylor says:

    I would like to think that a dealership takes a more honest approach to car repair.

    A dealership makes more money off of service and the sale of used cars than it does off of the sale of new cars so it is in their best interest to be honest in their repairs.

    I think they get the name “stealership” from the prices they charge and the pretty hokey services like the various flushes (engine, transmission, coolant) and putting nitrogen or whatever inert gas they use in the tires. If a car is serviced like it should be, disregarding 100,000 mile intervals for anything, there is no need for a flush. And the nitrogen in the tires is just plain BS.

    If people would learn even a little bit about their car they wouldn’t go in for an oil change and come out $1500 poorer.

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