A common misconception is that you have to take your car to a dealer for maintenance and repair work to keep its warranty valid.
In fact, not only can you take your car to an independent mechanic, but most car owners say they prefer those shops for repairs, often because they're less expensive than dealers.
That's what Consumer Reports found in its latest service satisfaction survey, conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, and those results are consistent with its survey findings in recent years. The results are based on subscribers' experience with 145,000 vehicles that were taken to a dealer or independent shop over the previous 12 months for a repair.
Overall, Consumer Reports surveyed owners of 32 brands, including makers of moderately priced models and luxury nameplates. Regardless of brand, the repair cost was often a significant factor in the higher scores for independent shops. Hyundai and Kia dealers received the highest rating for price, and Mercedes-Benz owners rated their dealers the lowest.
Consumer Reports found relatively little difference in satisfaction among the brands, although Acura, Buick, Cadillac, Lexus, Lincoln and Porsche owners were among the more satisfied. Owners of Jeep, Land Rover, Mitsubishi, Nissan and Volkswagen models were less satisfied. Generally, the lower a brand scored for dealership repairs, the greater the difference between satisfaction scores for dealers and independent shops.
INSPECTING A USED CAR
Finding a trouble-free used car has nothing to do with luck and everything to do with applying good research and investigative skills. Knowing how to spot potential problems and determining how reliable a used vehicle is can save you from expensive automotive headaches down the road.
Consumer Reports offers the following advice to help you to avoid a lemon and find a good value.
• Homework. To reduce the risk of purchasing a trouble-prone vehicle, identify models with a good reliability record before you begin shopping. If the car you're interested in is known to have certain trouble spots, you know to pay special attention to those components during inspection.
• Read the window sticker. The Federal Trade Commission requires dealers to post a buyer's guide in every used vehicle offered for sale. Usually attached to a window, it must contain certain information, including whether the vehicle is being sold "as is" or with a warranty and what percentage of repair costs (if any) the dealer is obligated to pay. The guide information overrides any contrary provisions in your sales contract.
• Inspection. No matter whom you buy from, always look over the vehicle thoroughly and, if possible, take it to a mechanic for a complete inspection. Dress in old clothes and give the car a good going-over. You can learn a great deal just by using your eyes, ears and nose.
• Take along a friend for help. Do your inspection in broad daylight on a dry day. Floodlighted lots can make cars look shiny and hide body defects. The car should be parked on a level surface and shouldn't have been driven for at least an hour before your inspection.
• Take the car to an independent mechanic. Before you buy a used vehicle, have it scrutinized by a repair shop that routinely does diagnostic work. A dealer should have no problem lending you the car to have it inspected as long as you leave identification. If a salesperson tells you that an independent inspection is not necessary because the dealership has already done it, insist on having your mechanic look at it. If a private seller is reluctant to let you drive the car to a shop, offer to follow the seller to the shop where the inspection will take place.
A thorough diagnosis should cost around $100. Ask the mechanic for a written report detailing the car's condition, noting any problems found and the cost to repair them. You can then use the report in the negotiation with the seller.