Should I Take My Car to a Dealership for Oil Changes and Maintenance or Find Cheaper Prices Elsewhere?

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Vehicle maintenance is a tricky thing for most people.

You know that you need to take good care of your vehicle. For most of us, it’s the second-largest purchase we’ll ever make behind our homes.

But you also don’t want to pay for maintenance you don’t need — or overpay for simple things such as oil changes and tire rotations.

Finding a trustworthy mechanic can be difficult. Many people only trust their local dealership. But dealerships are also notorious for overcharging for maintenance. Perhaps because they know they’ll retain a segment of loyal customers regardless of how competitive they’re priced.

Should you only trust a dealership for maintenance? Or is it OK to look for better prices elsewhere?

Should I Keep Taking My Car to a Dealership for Expensive Oil Changes and Maintenance?

My dealership keeps charging me ridiculous prices for basic maintenance. Should I continue taking my vehicle to them since I trust them? Or should I look for a cheaper experience elsewhere?

That’s what a listener recently asked Clark.

Asked Jo-Ann in Massachusetts: “I have a Toyota. Yesterday I went to the dealer to get the oil changed and have some maintenance done. They talked me into doing the front brakes and rotors and a few other things.

“Even with coupons, it cost me $1,070. Supposedly the oil change was free. They charged me $29.99 to rotate the tires. It wasn’t included with the oil change.

“Should I continue to go to the dealer, since I know it’ll be done right if I go there? Or should I try to find cheaper prices elsewhere? It’s ridiculous.”

Every car dealership operates differently. And while it’s true that, say, mechanics at a Toyota dealership see a lot of Toyota vehicles and are familiar with them, it doesn’t guarantee that any Toyota dealership will do a good job.

Dealerships often are pricey for maintenance. Once you’re there, some dealerships sell you hard on trading in your vehicle for a newer option. And often they aren’t the quickest at turning around the work.

However, there’s no way to generalize for every dealership.


“First of all, I don’t know who made you think, Jo-Ann, that going to the dealer means it’s gonna be done right,” Clark says. “No, no, no, no.

“Second. The mechanics are on commission. And the prices are set by a book. Who knows if you even needed the front brakes and rotors? Before I would’ve ever authorized a $1,000 repair that may be totally unnecessary, I would have gone for a second opinion.”

Clark’s Suggestion: Try an Independent Repair Shop

Clark seemed to scoff at the suggestion that a car dealership definitely will do a good job with maintenance.

So what does he suggest instead? A national oil change franchise? Handling your own oil changes?

Clark’s preference: Find an independent repair shop. Especially one that specializes in your car brand.

“There are independent shops that only work on Toyota and Lexus. Only work on Honda and Accura,” Clark says. “The idea is that this business is both specialized now and has competition.

“Toyota’s the world’s largest automaker! So all over the country, there are these independent repair facilities for Toyota.”

Just as Clark cautioned earlier, he makes sure to point out that no specific maintenance solution is guaranteed to offer good service at fair prices.

“It doesn’t mean that they’re better than the dealer. It could mean they’re worse,” Clark says. “The point is you’re not a captive of the dealer.

“I really like the independent shops because many times you get to talk face-to-face with that mechanic instead of a commission service writer that you see at the dealership.”

Get a Second Opinion for Expensive Vehicle Repairs

You’ve taken your vehicle for maintenance. After looking over your car, the company representative talks to you at the payment desk.

The verdict? You need expensive repairs. You feel yourself getting stressed. Do you really need all those repairs? And should they be that expensive?


Before you say yes, Clark says, get a second opinion elsewhere.

“Did you actually need the new brakes, the new rotors? Who knows? Because as they call it in the restaurant business ‘you ate the evidence.’ You authorized the repair,” Clark says.

“So that’s why second opinions are really valuable. Just as if you have something ailing you and one doctor says, ‘Oh, well, you need to have this, that or the other be sliced and diced.’ You go for a second opinion, right? When it gets expensive with your vehicle? Same thing.”

Final Thoughts

Don’t blindly trust a dealership to handle oil changes and other maintenance. Often you won’t get the best price. And the service isn’t guaranteed to be perfect either.

The main idea when getting car repairs is to be sure you need them. If you’re getting a quote that sounds expensive, get a second quote elsewhere.