Dealer versus Independent Repair Shop – Horses for Courses?
It’s a very common mistake to compare dealership service with independent repair shops. On the surface, it seems reasonable to make the comparison. But once you get underneath and really understand what’s going on in these two worlds, the comparison doesn’t make so much sense.
Both dealers and independent repair shops have a significant role to play at times during your Porsche ownership experience. Both are focused on different areas of a similar market and so comparing them doesn’t necessarily make so much sense…
Understanding Who’s Who
Dealers are not Porsche per se – they are independent companies who own a franchise right to represent Porsche – just like most McDonald’s restaurants. This provides them with the closest connection to the manufacturer, easier access to resources and strict rules of operation within that franchise agreement. There are significant advantages to enjoying a good relationship with a local dealer, especially if your car is under a factory warranty for repairs. Incidentally, maintenance performed by an independent shop does not invalidate the manufacturer warranty and can save you money.
Let’s be serious; the dealer priorities are selling new cars, maintenance of those cars and completing warranty repairs or recalls. Some take parts sales seriously too!
Porsche provides extensive technical education to franchise technicians. However, this education is focused on newer models and complies with strict rules that guide the approach to diagnosis and repair. The best customer satisfaction is achieved by replacing components rather than repairing them. The manufacturer does not want its franchise technicians disassembling an engine or a transmission – just replace it – quick, simple and customer satisfaction guaranteed!
Dealer technicians can always call the Porsche help line and get an answer to a technical problem, whereas independents have to work it out for themselves. The answer from the tech line is typically narrowly focused around what Porsche recommends. And that’s definitely not going to be any third-party products, solutions or mass disassembly of large components that might save you money! Just replace it and let’s get back to servicing those new cars!
Once the factory warranty on a car has expired for repair work, there’s no doubt that independent Porsche repair shops offer significant advantages. Independent repair shops are not trying to sell you new cars or have restrictions placed on them of how deep they can get into a technical problem. They earn their livings by solving problems efficiently, taking stuff apart and making efficient repairs when others can’t. A long-term working relationship and interest in you and your car are their priorities.
Cost Savings – Overplayed
This is the most obvious and over used advantage. Yes, going to an independent shop is likely to save you a good deal of money versus the dealer. Most of that saving comes from lower labor costs but also from the use of original equipment manufacturers for service components. For example, Porsche doesn’t make an air filter – they buy an air filter from a filter manufacturer and put it in a Porsche box. Buying the same filter direct from the filter manufacturer in their original box is typically considerably cheaper – you get the savings.
Real World Advantage – knowledge & skills
For some of us kids growing up, the fact that an adult told us not to take that new toy apart, became an enormous incentive to completely disassemble it and see if we could put it back together again! Sometimes it was a disaster, but more often than not, you were left with a feeling of just how easy it was to take apart and put back together – sometimes with improvements! The knowledge gained by doing this is invaluable.
These are the kids that today run really good independent shops and third-party companies that specialize in Porsche. They can take all sorts of things apart and sometimes get paid for it! The experience gained translates to money saving services for you.
Independent shops repeatedly offer a broader and deeper technical knowledge. Working with other brands in the manufacturing group, of which Porsche is one company, also helps. Some Porsche engines and components are re-worked from an Audi or VW base. Early Porsche transmissions were actually Mercedes transmissions re-badged and later one’s are Audi based. And there are lots of examples of other smaller components being reused. Understanding why the component broke on a VW might help to quickly diagnose a Porsche problem.
Driving an older Porsche and comparing the ride quality to a Macan definitely leaves you with a sense that things have moved on in terms of technology. Independent shops have access to third-party or aftermarket products that can significantly update the performance of older models. In fact, in some cases, those third-party companies also make upgrades for the newest cars.
For example, if your 996 develops a crack in the intake plenum and needs a replacement because it sets a check engine light – there are three ways you can go. New from Porsche, used (if you can find one) or a manufacturer like IPD Plenums. A new or used plenum takes you back to where you were originally. The IPD Plenum adds horsepower and torque while solving the problem!
And if you really want to update the old air cooled, see Resolute Motorsports for some crazy good ideas.
Experience & Enthusiasm
Building our guide to independent Porsche repair shops we were continually impressed with the skills and depth of experience that exists at the top shops around the country. The independents cover everything from restoration to race car building. The enthusiasm, commitment and know how needed to extensively restore a classic or build and maintain a winning track car is huge. Tuning, maintaining and repairing cars in these harsh environments, provides independent shops with a serious depth of experience and knowledge. This makes them the perfect partner to maintain your car. And, as we know from our own shops, often you have to break it, to thoroughly understand how to improve it and fix it right.
Suitability and Relationships
While the dealers all look exactly the same (branding) and generally perform the same way, every independent is different. This is where a deeper personal relationship with the guy handling your car can be established. Provided that is, you understand what services are needed before you pick the shop to work with.
Don’t expect the restoration expert to be excited about doing an oil change on your Cayenne! And likewise, don’t expect the maintenance shop to be experts at rebuilding your M96 engine! Porsche is a specialized brand going back decades, so talk with the independent and understand the type of work they like to do before diving in.
Typically, it’s easier to develop a considerably closer working relationship with an independent shop than a dealer. Most independents will let you meet, talk and do some bonding with the techs that work on your car. We were always delighted to escort a customer back into the shop and show them what was going on with their car. The more personal the relationship, the better the communication. Trust, that’s what you want to build, because that’s the element that inevitably defines a mutually beneficial working relationship.
Good independent shops understand they need to earn your trust. Dealers expect you to trust them because the Porsche name is on their building!
Horses for Courses
We believe that comparing the service offerings from a dealer versus an independent repair shop is a broken comparison – each has a significant role to play at certain times during your ownership experience. Take advantage of the benefits of both and map them to your particular needs and circumstances. There’s far more to it than comparing the cost of a 30K service!