Main Dealer or Independent?



There are several reasons why people choose to maintain their vehicle at a franchised main dealer.  What makes them so good and is there an alternative?



Why choose a franchised dealer? 


Consumers look towards their local main dealership to provide them with the expertise that no other dealership can provide.  They are looking for a ‘gold’ standard service from people who they can trust and are knowledgeable about their car.  In return they are prepared to travel to their local dealer and pay for the privilege.


So, what does this ‘gold standard’ incorporate?  Dealers are trained specifically in your brand of car.  They make sure you follow the manufacturers warranty schedule.  All parts and fluids fitted are recommended by the manufacturer for your make and model of car.  In addition to servicing, they will also carry out safety checks and identify any potential issues whilst conducting any minor recall rectification work and software updates.


They will remind you when your service and MOT is due and will stamp your service book with the dealer stamp, authenticating the service level given and, if a nearly new vehicle, will maintain the vehicles warranty.  You will also potentially be offered a courtesy car or collection and delivery service.


Quick repairs are aided with specialist diagnostic equipment and parts on site.


Seat and floor covers are used to protect the inside of your car and the majority have car washing facilities to ensure your pride and joy is returned to you clean.


Can Independents provide a similar service?


Absolutely!  In fact, they are both set up in in a similar way:  A business owners first choice is whether to go it alone or to buy into a franchise where there is the backing of the manufacturer and the reassurance of brand identity.


Buying into a franchise and paying monthly subscriptions is appealing.  The manufacturer supplies a product pipeline, an existing customer base, marketing, training and management framework and a network of businesses.  The set up is easier and the ongoing support is substantial although constraining.


For those brave enough to start from scratch, it can take 8-10 years before you turn a profit!  But the owner has the freedom to make decisions and support customers and staff in the way they want to.  If they haven’t managed a business before they will have to think of health and safety, public liability, employment law, warranty as well as invest heavily in equipment.


So, the qualities of a business owner are similar, the difference is in the manufacturer backing.  So, if you can find a garage owner who has main dealer ethos and General Manager experience, then you can be assured that their garage will be run the same as a franchised dealer.


Training and Knowledge


Product training also doesn’t stop with the manufacturer.  Independent Technicians are highly skilled and can adapt to any vehicle, much to the envy of their main dealer counterparts.  They maintain their knowledge with trade association (such as IMI or RMI) approved training which are accredited in the same way as brand specific training.  Cars have broadly the same components whether tyres, brakes, engine, gearbox, or exhaust system.  Electrics operate in the same way, although wired differently, so if you understand electrics, you can work on any car.

The difference is in layout and any known common faults in newer cars.

The benefit of main dealer training is that they will be aware of these sooner.




The quality of diagnostic equipment varies considerably.  There is no point buying a carpet sweeper and expecting the performance of a Dyson!  Main Dealers will have one specific machine whereas their independent counterparts will need several different machines that are tailored to different manufacturers.


It’s not just about having good equipment. It is the skill of the technician that determines what the exact issue is.  That is why main dealers will have a wide span of capabilities from Master Tech to Apprentice.  Independents can do the same if they wish to.


Main dealers have the back up of a ‘technical team’ who will support dealerships countrywide in identifying issues and trends.  Independents can also have access to a technical team giving them the same back up.  These are usually people who have worked within a dealer network so understand the different vehicles.


So, if you are looking for good diagnostics, look for a garage who have a span of knowledge including a master technician who use good diagnostic equipment.




When it comes to parts, they are not all the same and the industry is prone to counterfeit goods.  A good quality part will fit securely and are built to be robust and last.  In contrast, inferior parts are made with different metals which strain, crack and break under pressure.  Cheap parts are rarely good value and may need replacing prematurely.


OE (Original Equipment) Parts are the parts that are fitted to the vehicle when it comes out of the factory.  Anything after then is not OE.


OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) Parts are used at all main dealers.  Car part manufacturers such as Bosch, Hella, Valeo are trusted parts suppliers direct to factories and often boxes are rebranded by the manufacturer.  Not all parts are made by the car manufacturer!  Both OE and OEM are termed as genuine parts.


So, if your independent garage uses these parts, then it is the same as our trusted main dealers.



Safety Checks


A diligent garage will conduct safety checks allowing them to report to you anything that may need your attention.  Every garage has a duty of care to ensure the car is roadworthy as you leave the premises, and if not to tell you what is wrong.  If a software update is evident, an independent will organise it for you.

Where software updates are required, the manufacturer will write to you to let you know.


Service Books, Warranty & Service Plans


Independents also stamp books to show that the car is being maintained to the manufacturers schedule and they also have access to online service books to get these updated for you.


In terms of resale value of your vehicle for having a main dealer stamp, you will be financially better off for having an independent stamp the book for you.  It is a lovely thing to be able to say you have a full dealer history, but it doesn’t make hundreds of pounds of difference!


Warranties can also be maintained through your local independent garage providing they are utilising genuine or OEM parts and keeping to the manufacturers schedule.


Main Dealers are keen to keep you within the network as there has been a migration of customers towards independents.  Service Plans are a great way to do this and help you spread the cost of servicing throughout the year.  However, it is worth checking what they cover.  Many are for the servicing cost only, so any parts needed are an added cost.   You might also choose to save regularly into a separate bank account for such occasions and have control over what you are spending.


Customer Service


There is no doubt that walking into a pristine building gives you a feeling of being special or important and that people will do all they can to help you.


But is it is always down to the people within the dealership as to what you will experience.  Although, a main dealer may know several of their customers, they will by no means know or understand what adversities you are currently facing.  They can’t, there are too many people for them to be able to offer you a more personal service.


They wouldn’t know to phone the daughter of the customer who brings their car in for its annual service monthly.  She has dementia and forgets regularly where her car keys are.


They wouldn’t be on hand when you leave your baby in the car with the keys and can’t get in.


They won’t have time to find, and extract, a scared gecko from behind your dashboard.


They don’t have the facility to support a cancer patient who just needs to sleep and too ill to drive back home after treatment.


They don’t have time to sit with a client in a car when she has become overwhelmed with a marriage breakdown and needs support.


These are just some of the examples where Independents shine.  They know their customers well and are there to support them when they are needed.


Independents also support the community.  They give to local charities, they give jobs to local people, they support community events.  They are part of the community.




Although not routine for all independents, a few will remind you when your service or MOT is due and be able to offer you a collection and delivery service or a courtesy car.  Some independents utilise coverings to protect the inside of your car and can clean your vehicle before it is returned.



Looking to the future…


Global issues over the last few years have forced businesses to rationalise their operations.  Some have downsized and some have reduced their hours or closed completely.  The number of people with a vehicle is growing, but the garages are reducing in number.


Changes in legislation surrounding electric vehicles, emissions, MOT, and block exemption, etc has altered the landscape of how businesses operate.


Currently the UK is covered by the EU Motor Vehicle Block Exemption Regulation.  This gives consumers the right to have their car serviced or repaired at any garage without invalidating their warranty and allows any garage to access a vehicles service history and repair maintenance information.  It ensures consumers have a choice and helps keep cost low.  This expires in May 2023, and with nothing to take its place, will allow manufacturers to decide who can access their vehicle information.


In the USA they use a system called NASTF, which is a collaborative approach with garages working directly with vehicle manufacturers.  It allows full sharing of information with garages that have been approved.


In the UK, this collaborative approach sees GarageSafe working directly with vehicle manufacturers and UK government to allow access to information for verified, approved garages via a secure online gateway.  So, in future access to VM information will be limited to those who have been approved.


The way we purchase has also changed.  There is more e-commerce with rise of businesses such as Cazoo (car buying), Motorway (car disposal) and Amazon (network).  With networks such as these, the reliance for a manufacturer on its main dealer network changes.


In Europe, vehicle manufacturers have begun to use an agency model where main dealers become brokers for the factory.  So, there are large indicators that the sector is changing, and our main dealers will need to adapt and change also.



So, there are many aspects which may influence where you take your car in the future. 


You may be a staunch main dealer user, and that’s great!  But, like many of our customers, you may be re-evaluating how you get value for money and where you are willing to make compromises.


Independents operate differently, but there are some who will look after you in the same way, or much better, than a main dealer.  If you’re looking for the personable approach from people who treat you as a valued client rather than a number, then perhaps it’s worth trying something different. 


One thing is for sure, consumers will always want convenience and excellent customer service.  At Redbourn Auto Solutions we do all the above, the examples of customer care are real, and we wouldn’t want it any other way.  We are proudly one of the few garages who have been GarageSafe approved.  The only thing we can’t do, that main dealers can, is wash cars.  We are perfectly situated beside a beautiful river which we hope you understand, we need to protect… in any case, our ducks don’t like bubbles!