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?