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Vehicle dealerships versus independents

May 29, 2013
By Larry DeHays , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

A recent complication with a repair job led me to vent a small amount on new car dealerships, for which I was properly chastised. Here's my side; naturally there could be another.

A non-running car was towed in. The owner said to do no work on it until he had an estimate. That, of course, is impossible. Work must be done to diagnose the problem before an estimate can be prepared. We know this, and we know that a large part of the public does not understand it, so we usually try to get a diagnosis, hoping it will be quick, and the cost will be absorbed in the repair work.

In this case, by the time we had made the diagnosis, the car had been repaired by installing a new computer. Upon learning this, the owner was incensed that we had fixed it before giving an estimate. He wanted his old computer so that he could take it to the dealership, although the car was out of warranty. We had given him credit for the "core charge," which happens when you send the old one in to be rebuilt, so we told him we had to take back that credit if we gave him the computer, and he got double mad. He couldn't understand that. He refused to pay. He called a dealership and was told they would have done it cheaper (which would have been a first) and that he should not have been dealing with an independent shop. We removed our parts and the car was towed away. I was still steamed when I wrote my next column.

One of our snowbird readers emailed me from cold country to chastise me for being unkind toward new car dealership service departments. It seems he is employed by a dealership and has also worked in independent shops, and reminded me that criticizing one segment of the industry casts dispersions upon the entire industry.

He's right, of course, but it's like telling a sailor on a sinking ship not to curse the sea, because it will make the Navy look bad. It is the job of the sea to sink every boat it can sink, and the job of the Navy to keep them afloat, using good sailors. If they sink, the sea doesn't care. It may even rejoice. If an independent repair shop goes under, local dealerships rejoice. They have won another battle, and now have less competition.

Rumor has it that less competition affects prices and profitability for the survivor. New car dealerships see their job as warning their customers not to go to independent shops for service. They say that if a technician is not factory trained on that exact model, he might cause damage to the car, voiding the warranty. They tried to insist that you could use only factory supplied parts to make repairs, or the warranty would be voided. The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act stopped that in 1975. You don't have to use them or their parts to service your car. You can do the work yourself if you want to, or hire anybody you please to do it, and the warranty remains valid. They don't tell you that. They are the ocean. The waves are relentless.

Davy Jones be damned, independent shops will keep bailing out the bilge water to stay afloat. They are the only thing keeping repair prices competitive, and many skilled technicians don't want to work for giant dealerships. Americans like small organizations. In this country, any man can be his own boss, with his wife's permission, of course.

Speaking of boats sinking, I love that t-shirt logo that says something like: "I'd rather be on a boat with a drink on the rocks, than in the drink with a boat on the rocks." That cracks me up. Wait, I don't mean really crack up, like a wreck, I mean, oh the heck with it. You know what I mean.



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