Here’s how to slash your automotive servicing costs – without killing your new-car warranty
You can save hundreds of dollars – thousands, over time – if you get your car serviced by an independent mechanic. And your new-car warranty absolutely will survive. Here’s everything you need to know to save the cash and keep your warranty intact.
THE VEHICLE SERVICING INDUSTRY
Car companies want you to think you’ll burn your warranty if you get your car serviced independently. But in fact it would be absolutely illegal for them to impose this anti-competitive condition on you. Your warranty cannot be used as leverage to extort servicing through the authorized dealer network.
Car dealers want your money. That’s pretty clear. They use carefully worded spin to make it easy for you to assume that you must get your car serviced at the dealership. But the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is very clear on this.
According to the ACCC, provided you comply with three sensible conditions, your warranty will survive. Unfortunately, though, many car owners just don’t understand the rules of this game. They’re hoodwinked by implication into believing there’s no alternative to servicing by the authorized dealer.
WHY CAR DEALERS CHARGE A PREMIUM FOR SERVICING
Dealers operate from expensive real estate, with huge overheads. They also invest in training, and specialized diagnostic tools. Part of charging you more for servicing is you paying for all that chrome, the glass, the real estate, the tools and the training. And the private school education for the dealer principal’s kids, and those of his extended family.
So that’s – kinda – fair enough. But much of the bill is an unjustified premium … they just move the decimal point to the right because they can. (And let’s face it, you only have to go one stop to the right, and it makes a pretty significant bottom-line difference.) It’s a gouge, plain and simple.
TECHNICAL COMPLEXITY: SERVICING'S NOT NASA
The carmaker and the dealer want you to think that servicing is a highly technical undertaking – more like to working in a laboratory on the set at CSI Miami than in a proper mechanical workshop. Don’t get sucked in to that.
Car companies sex up the technical complexity of servicing, but in reality, 90 per cent of the job is still just changing the fluids and checking mechanical parts for wear and tear. No matter how sophisticated your new car might be, servicing it will never be Manhattan Project 2.0.
This means an independent mechanic can generally save you a lot of money over time. He’s got cheaper real estate, lower overheads, a more compact cost-base, and he’s plugged into a network of affordable third parties and component suppliers. He can’t look you in the eye and gouge you the way a dealer can.
Servicing is the independent mechanic’s primary business, so he’s either very good at it, or he goes out the back door fast. And, you get to talk to the bloke who’s actually had his hands on your car, unlike at a dealership, where customers and technicians never mix. With a car dealership, selling new cars and finance is still the main game. Servicing’s just a bit of a fling on the side.
THE RULES: HOW TO PRESERVE YOUR WARRANTY
The ACCC says you need to meet three key conditions in order to preserve your new car warranty:
RULE 1: 'QUALIFIED STAFF'
First up, the person doing the job needs to be what the ACCC calls ‘qualified staff’ – a qualified mechanic, and not some half-baked back-yarder. So if you’re not a mechanic, doing it yourself will almost certainly void your warranty.
RULE 2: MANUFACTURER'S SPECIFICATIONS
Second, the servicing needs to be done to what the ACCC calls ‘manufacturer’s specifications’. You need to do exactly the right jobs, and you need to do them on time.
Two key points here – you need to get the service done when it’s due. Either the time or the distance – whichever comes first. And all the jobs specified by the manufacturer in the servicing schedule, for that particular service need to get done.
RULE 3: FIT FOR PURPOSE
Lastly, the ACCC says genuine parts are NOT a prerequisite of warranty preservation. So, if you’re worried that the mechanic might use a Ryco filter, or an after-market timing belt kit, don’t. The issue here isn’t who manufactures the parts, but whether they’re fit for the purpose. Meaning: designed to do the job.
Good independent mechanics are generally plugged into a solid supply chain of quality aftermarket parts, and that can save you even more, over time. Without jeopardizing your warranty.
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SHOP AROUND FOR SERVICE
It’s certainly not a mistake to get your car serviced by the dealer – especially if he’s a good dealer with a rock-solid commitment to quality. But you will almost certainly pay a premium if you do. Financially, you owe it to yourself to shop around.
Start simply by getting competitive quotes. Ask “how much for the standard 60,000km service on my Corolla” – or whatever. Compare the prices. Servicing costs vary widely – even between dealerships. Local mechanics and nationally franchised servicing businesses like Ultra Tune all want to service your car – and this competitive environment helps you arrive at a fair price for the job, rather than get locked in to the dealer, who tries to operate a monopoly. Or even with the carmaker, which wants its dealership servicing network to function like a comfortable oligopoly.
Word of mouth is another great way to choose a good independent mechanic. One happy customer really is worth a thousand leaps of faith into the great unknown.
There’s no obligation on you to pay any dealer’s unjustifiable overheads. You don’t have to pay through the neck so he can put his kids through private school, and keep the glass and chrome nicely polished.
Your new car warranty is absolutely not at risk if you go decide to save money by getting your servicing done at an independent mechanic’s. Only: remember the ACCC’s three conditions:
- Qualified Staff
- On Time
- Fit For Purpose