In a special report into the repair sector, WhoCanFixMyCar.com explodes some of the most long-standing myths on the prices charged by franchised dealers compared to the independent sector and for what sort of work.
And when given a choice, how often is 'cheapest' the favoured option?
Almost 50,000 drivers have used WCFMC.com to find a garage for servicing, maintenance and repair work.
WCFMC.com firstly looked at which offered the best value.
1. Who offers the best value?
It’s a common assumption that a main dealership, with their modern facilities, manufacturer-original parts and high overheads, must be more expensive than the independent or high-street alternatives.
"As such many drivers – particularly when their warranty has expired – will dismiss the option of using their dealership, typically without even checking their prices," said Alex Rose, WCFMC.com marketing director.
"The truth is, however, that dealerships have fought back in recent years, with fixed-price 'value servicing’ and up-front ‘menu pricing’ for common repair types, while retaining many of their traditional added benefits. A driver of an older Mercedes, for example, will still get 12 months roadside assist with their ‘value service’."
Franchised dealers’ quotes are 18% higher.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, independent garages’ quotes are the lowest. But this is only half the story.
• Quotes for servicing and MoT work are remarkably similar.
The difference between dearest and cheapest outlet type is just 6%.
It’s a similar story in transmission work, in which fast-fits are priciest.
Electrical work is also competitive – perhaps because manufacturer-trained technicians’ familiarity with the brand being serviced allows them to get to the root of the issue faster than a generalist could, said Rose.
• Dealerships only become significantly pricier when comparing brake and exhaust repairs and replacement (due, in part, to dealers fitting dearer OEM-original parts) and more ‘involved’ engine work.
Most prominently, the average cambelt/timing belt replacement quote from a main dealer was no less than 60% more than at a fast-fitter.
WCFMC.com data also captures how quickly and how thoroughly the different outlets respond to an online customer enquiry – interesting for customers to know but vital to the businesses themselves because it knows that an outlet that responds within two hours is 3.6 times more likely to win work than one that takes a day or more.
Here the main dealers come out on top.
• Dealerships respond – on average – 15% faster than independent garages and 25% faster than a fast-fit.
"Though this data does include enquiries received on evenings and weekends, most garages still a huge opportunity to pull away from the competition here by monitoring enquiries outside of office hours.
"The word count of a typical reply – a rough indication of thoroughness and quality of response – was 79 for main dealers, compared to 57 and 45 for fast-fits and independents respectively.
Main dealers’ prices are actually comparable to the alternatives in most cases, particularly common servicing work. And they usually come with some additional benefits their competitors can’t match.
However, when it comes to more complex ‘off-the-menu’ work, in which labour hours stack up, it probably is understandable consumers shop around.
2. How often is price actually the deciding factor?
By focusing on ‘value’, and ‘saving money’ on the WCFMC.com website, it found that more customers use us.
"However, our most successful garages – those that have won most work – are not the cheapest.
"It seems customers may initially use us to save money but, when it comes down to it, they’re willing to spend more to ensure a quality repair on the car that their family or work relies upon."
• In only 37% of cases is the cheapest of multiple quotes chosen by drivers
• On average, the winning quote is just 6% lower than the average across the options presented to the driver
> There are approximately 35,000 garage-type businesses in the UK and the mix is largely made up of independent garages, manufacturer-approved franchised dealers and fast-fits (Halfords Autocentres etc).
WCFMC.com research graphic