In our on-going CAR DIY series, we started off explaining everything involved in performing a basic service on your car. We go through the A-Z of maintaining your vehicle using just your own two hands and a couple of basic tools. Sometimes, though, you’ll need a professional to take a look at the problems. Some of you may be driving cars that are still under warranty or a service plan.
Warranties, thankfully, dictate that genuine parts must be used on newer vehicles. Once the warranty and service/maintenance plan has expired, however, owners of older cars begin to look at other options. You can still take your car in to the appropriate dealership, or you can take it to a non-affiliated fitment centre or garage. That’s essentially a choice of peace of mind versus greater affordability. In this two-part article we’ll be taking a look at the pros and cons of each choice.
For a little bit of professional insight, we chatted with Michael Smalberger of Mercedes-Benz in Cape Town.
Let’s get going. Remember to leave your keys on the dash.
Firstly, for the used car owners, it goes without saying that you should never purchase a second-hand car without a service book. Without this book, you don’t know where it has been or what has been done with it. Was it serviced at a professional dealership, or by some guy with a backyard workshop? Was the job done correctly? You don’t know if anything has been tampered with, if the car has been overworked or even marginally maintained. With that out of the way, let’s get to the different kinds of plans you may have in place, if any. Most vehicle manufacturers offer either a service plan or maintenance plan, which is included with the total price of the vehicle. So, customers need to know the difference between them.
A service plan assists the customer in paying for the basic service requirements. This could be an oil change, cam belt change, etc. A service plan does not cover wear-and-tear items, those which simply deteriorate over time. These could include your windscreen or brake pads, etc. It is worth noting that different vehicle manufacturers will cover different items in the service plan, so it is worth asking about.
A maintenance plan covers pretty much everything, from the services to replacing wear-and-tear items. These could include small items, such as light bulbs, or bigger jobs such as installing new shocks. A maintenance plan is usually in place for high-end vehicles which cost more to maintain, and could even include other services such as 24hr roadside assistance.
Should you still have a plan in place, it would be really silly not to take your vehicle in to the appropriate dealership. That’s like having medical aid with Discovery and checking in to Chris Hani Baragwanath for a delicate operation. Where you may just leave with more problems than you already had. This requirement forms part of your warranty and service contract, and should you decide to take your car somewhere else you will definitely, unceremoniously, be stripped of your plan and warranty.
As Smalberger points out, in the industry there is no exception to this. The only way for manufacturers to guarantee their vehicles, parts and service quality is to do all the work themselves. As so many tradesmen know and will agree, it is far more difficult to rectify somebody else’s mistake than to control it yourself from the beginning. Once your plan has expired, you as the client are then able to continue servicing your car at the franchised dealer, or you could take the vehicle to any non-approved service centre. Chances are pretty good that the latter will be more affordable.
Perhaps you know an Oom named Kobus who has set up shop on an unused piece of farmland, and his auto-mechanical prowess is the stuff of small-town lore and wonder. His prices are way lower than what you’re used to coughing up, too. Now, Oom Kobus may do a great job on your vehicle, or he may not. It’s a risk you take.
Dealers have certain rules and standards to which they have to abide. As Smalberger points out, non-affiliated service centres aren’t obligated to always use genuine parts. Genuine parts are obviously better in many ways, but mainly, they come with their own warranties. Some unapproved service centres may even use second-hand parts in order to cut costs. They might ask for your permission to do this, or they might not. In most of these cases, the client isn’t even aware that second-hand parts have been fitted, and the service centre charges them for the price of brand new parts. Generic parts are also used all over the place, and these just don’t have any guarantees.
Servicing your vehicle at an approved dealer also benefits the trade-in price of said vehicle. It tells the dealer which is accepting the vehicle that genuine parts have been used, and that it has had its proper services performed by professionals. A car, Smalberger says, is probably the second-most expensive thing you will ever purchase, after a house. In reality, they are just as important, and allow us to get through the day. It stands to reason, then, that you will want to give it the best treatment and maintenance you can.
Smalberger acquiesces that servicing at a non-franchise agent after your service plan has expired is not necessarily a bad thing. It all comes down to your own discretion and experience with said agent. The benefits of going with a non-franchise service centre are generally to do with saving money. These agents don’t have the huge overheads and staff that the major franchise dealers have, so they do often come in at a better price on labour. The parts, if genuine, cost the same as they would at the dealer.
So, you’ll likely find more generic parts being used at such service centres.
Many people maintain that non-genuine parts are not necessarily inferior. It all depends on how and where you shop around. Many insurance companies, for instance, are quite comfortable supporting the non-original equipment manufacturer industry, and will refer you to trusted, tested and approved service centres with the best possible prices.
These are hardly ever the franchise dealers. Then of course, as has been my own personal experience, perhaps Oom Kobus, out on the farm, is just a magician. He’s spent his whole life around cars. He shares a romance with them, and just by putting his hands on the bonnet, can tell you exactly what ails the poor machine. They call him the engine whisperer, and he’s going to save you a ton of money. Do your research well enough, and you won’t end up having to put a lit match in the petrol tank.