Dealer Service Scores Improve—How’s Yours?

I bought my first new car in 2003 from a Honda Dealer. The car, a straight-off-the-boat 2004 Honda Pilot, still had its plastic wrapping and something like two miles on the odometer.

I loved the car, but buying it was a high-pressure affair. The Pilot was in-demand at the time and, at least according to the salesman, the SUVs were flying off the lot for about 4 grand more than MSRP. I didn’t even test-drive the specific car I ended up buying.

I managed to get mine for MSRP. Now that I’m older and more experienced, I realize that I didn’t negotiate the best deal. Not only was the sales experience a poor one, the service at the dealership was even worse. High prices and high pressure combined to make any service visit a regrettable one.

Dealership service is a different story today, and two luxury brands have earned accolades for being among the best.

In 2003 and 2004, my Honda dealer’s service department included a few folding chairs, stale popcorn, old magazines, and a TV tuned to Ricki Lake. Today, dealers are spoiling their customers with free lattes, donuts, Wi-Fi, and all the water or soda they can drink.

So which dealers have the best service departments?

Turns out there’s an award for that.

J.D. Power and Associates acknowledged Buick and Lexus in its Service Satisfaction awards. The study measured customer satisfaction of owners of 2012 to 2016 model-year vehicles serviced at franchised dealerships and independent service centers. J.D. Power surveyed more than 70,000 customers between October and December of 2016 for the latest study. The scores measure quality of service, performance of service advisers, service initiation, service facility, and vehicle pick-up.

Obviously, the actual work of the service department is the most important factor to customers. They care about the work being done right, the first time, without the need for a return visit.

Amenities offered, service advisors, waiting-room comfort, and overall cleanliness also play significant roles in a dealer’s score. You can read the full results on J.D. Power’s website.

While dealer service departments are more comfortable than ever, there’s still the issue of price. Dealers are notoriously expensive when compared with independent shops. A small CarTalk survey found that dealers charge roughly 18 percent more than the indie shops. That price difference can often be justified by factory-trained technicians and the use of original-equipment parts.

My old Pilot is long gone, and I currently own a Subaru. I use the dealer for my car’s lifetime oil-change service, which was negotiated into the price of the car, and for warranty/recall work. For regular maintenance items, I find that foregoing the dealer, and its free drink offerings, remains a more financially friendly option.

Do you take your car to the dealer for service, or do you prefer an independent shop?


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Used Honda Pilot


  1. If price is not the dominant factor, a dealership service department will almost always provide a superior experience. But that experience is NOT free. If price is the most important consideration, an independent shop is almost always be the better choice. This shouldn’t be news to anyone. It’s been true for decades. What is most important to you?

  2. I bought a new Buick Regal that included 2 year 24000 miles service. I drive a lot so I hit my 24000 miles in less than 2 years but I took it in faithfully for every service, oil changes and tires rotated at every service. Last week I went in for my oil change (the car tells the dealer what service I need and I make the appointment – kinda cool). I was in for an oil change and an alignment they said i needed (which was odd because it is an awd car). The service person came in and told me I had “cords” hanging from my two front tires and they needed replaced. I was shocked. The car had less than 30K miles on it and the tires were supposedly rotated every 7500 miles or so. I was in a little over 6 months before and there was no mention of uneven tire wear or damage when they “rotated” them last time So somehow my car was out of alignment and had “shredded” the two front tires 29K miles in. The back tires were fine I was told. 800 dollars later…two new tires. 800 dollars I had to pay on a car less than 2 years old with 29K miles still under full factory warranty. I’m no mechanical engineer but it seems suspect to me that the two front tires could be so badly damaged in a little over 6 months, let alone the fact I needed a front end alignment. Both services not covered under warranty. I suspect they never rotated my tires, let them wear down and then when I was out of warranty suddenly noticed they needed replaced. I will never go back to this dealer.

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