Survey compares car dealers to independents

April 23, 2012

Prices that are too high and the inability to perform repairs properly are the main reasons that car owners become dissatisfied with auto repair shops, according to the latest "Consumer Reports" subscriber survey. But how do independent repair shops compare to car dealerships?

Every year, the "Consumer Reports (CR) Annual Auto Survey" asks car owners how satisfied they were with auto repairs performed by dealerships and independent shops in the previous 12 months. This year, the findings on repair service are based on more than 67,000 reports on service visits to independent mechanics and 101,000 service visits to new car dealerships by "CR" subscribers.

As in past years, most car owners prefer taking their vehicles to independent shops rather than dealerships for repair work. But for the first time, "Consumer Reports" also re-contacted 5,400 of the respondents and asked about their specific repair gripes. Of that group, about three-quarters were either completely or very satisfied with their repair shop.

1. Of the 27% who weren’t, 38% cited high prices as a reason. This is a more common complaint for dealerships (42%) than for independent shops (32%).

Respondents for the next three gripes (2, 3 and 4) rated car dealers and independent shops about the same.

2. The second most-common complaint among the re-contacted respondents is even more troubling: More than a quarter of the unsatisfied group said their car’s problem wasn’t fixed properly.

3. Twenty-one percent of the re-contacted subscribers said it took longer than expected to complete the work.

4. Eighteen percent said they had to bring the car back because the repair did not “hold up.”

5. There was a slight difference between the two types of repair shops among owners who felt the staff had treated them poorly, with 8% citing dealerships and 4% citing independents.

For more information regarding Consumer Reports’ survey on car repair shops visit

Sometimes, this dissatisfaction prompted owners to switch shops. Of the re-contacted subscribers, almost a quarter revealed that in the last five years, they’d had a vehicle repaired at a shop they no longer use because of problems with their service experience.

Almost half of that group cited the negative experience was at a dealership, and a third said it was at an independent shop. A fifth cited a franchise chain similar to Midas or Sears for their dissatisfaction.

One other red flag for repair shops: A sizeable 30% of female respondents who stopped using a shop said they felt the staff tried to take advantage of them because of their gender. offers car repair information service that can help drivers understand common problems, learn how components work, and receive a service estimate that reflects local prices. This special section includes a Car Repair Estimator and a Car Repair Encyclopedia, which can answer many common questions.