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Why People Don't Trust Dealerships: Confessions of A Dealership Service Center Employee

Editor's Note: This post comes from a former dealership service department employee (not based in San Diego) who is no longer employed by or affiliated with any service center. This is a true account of one employee's experiences at this specific dealership at one specific time. Many changes have been made at dealership service centers since then, and these issues are not necessarily true for all dealership service centers, automakers, or any service facility now. But it was this way once, and so the story begins.

dealership service center

Some years ago now I worked at a dealership for a manufacturer (whose name I will not mention) as a service advisor, and I wound up being quite successful at it. Not for the reasons you may think, but mainly because I was the only one who always answered the phone, greeted customers who were being ignored, and generally acted like a respectful human towards our customers. It was not exactly a secret among the other employees as to who customers preferred to work with – simply because I never yelled at anyone, made a customer cry, or otherwise made their experience miserable.

Sure, their vehicle may have had ghastly high repair and service costs attached to it by the end, but if they worked with me at least they had everything explained to them with a smile as they signed credit card slips for $5,000. This price was not uncommon as we charged $120 an hour in labor, with an hour required just to diagnose a problem. But people would line up because we were certified by the manufacturer as a top service department. So people paid our premium.

Admittedly, nowadays some dealers have tried to bring their service prices in line with independent shops, but those can always be subsidized for the labor cost. Before having any potential repair work done at a dealership be sure to call around to different locations and independent shops. Many automakers let their dealers set their own service hourly rates and the cost can vary as high as $40-$90 above the norm (which was the case with some premium European garages in the not so distant past when I worked the service center).

While I always had plenty to do and many 14+ hour workdays (thanks to others calling in sick), the dealership always found a way to try and motivate the rest of my team the best way they knew how: money. Promises of cash or pre-loaded debit cards meant us pushing to sell more batteries, wiper blades, tires, you name it. This “spiff” paying practice led to much abuse with technicians and advisors working together to boost their pay at the end of the month. The straw that broke my back at this dealership, however, was when they asked us to tell customers to give us their customer satisfaction surveys in exchange for a coupon for a free oil change. If I did so, I could fill out the form myself and get $25. That is not the point of a customer satisfaction survey.

Also, dealerships connected to manufacturers are required to carry out all of their recall and warranty work. If you've noticed some of the huge recalls that have come out in the news in recent years, let me tell you that they absolutely clog service departments for getting any other work done. I was an advisor during a major recall and for at least two months our sole focus was to carry out the recall repairs, leaving cars with other (even smaller) issues for days.

This is the sort of unpredictable nature that dealership service departments and their staff have had in the past. Even though much has been done to stop this behavior, memories linger in consumer’s minds today – even when they are not being taken advantage of. It’s perfectly wise and smart to be apprehensive about having your car serviced somewhere for the first time and by all means do your homework. Having worked at a dealership service department I always take my car to an independent shop. I've found they offer more personal service, better prices, and get the job done quickly and without making me feel like a number. But you can take it from me or you can take your chances. Good luck out there! 


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