Main Dealerships – are they misunderstood?

Posted on February 23rd, 2012 by Rob Marshall

Main Dealerships – are they misunderstood?Tales of horrendous labour rates and over-inflated parts prices have dissuaded many motorists from entrusting main dealerships with their cars’ maintenance needs. Since the introduction of Block Exemption legislation, the validity of a new vehicle’s warranty is no longer dependent on main dealer servicing, which broke an implied monopoly, held by main dealer networks throughout Europe.
Unfortunately for main dealers, new car sales possess little (if any) profit margins and, thus, the profit centre tends to focus on the workshop or parts sales, hence the higher charges. Some dealers’ hourly labour rates can be eye-watering but at least some manufacturer-set fixed-rate servicing packages go some way towards capping the costs.

Personally, I have always preferred cars to be serviced at franchised dealerships for the first few years of their lives. In today’s computer-controlled world, main dealers connect modern cars to the prescribed diagnostic equipment and download any software updates from the manufacturer’s own mainframe. Much of this is to correct minor software glitches in-house, without having to resort to an expensive recall, and the owner is often unaware that the procedure has taken place. Yet, if a new or nearly new car is maintained elsewhere, it is likely that the software updates would not be applied, because many independent workshops elect not to invest considerable sums in the bespoke equipment.

I discovered the importance of main dealer servicing during the early part of a car’s life, when I bought an eleven year-old vehicle as a cheap runabout for a friend. Although it had been sold new at a franchised dealer, it had never returned for servicing. Further delving into the model’s history revealed that several pertinent matters had not been attended to by the local garage that looked after it, which included the investigation of premature airbag deployment and correcting an electrical problem that might have resulted in an under-bonnet fire. Thankfully, I booked the car into a dealership and the issues were remedied free of charge.


While many people report that they have been charged hundreds of pounds for a piece of small plastic trim, I have found that certain components, sourced from main dealerships, can be very competitively priced. A visit to a local Volvo dealer last month netted me an oil filter that was cheaper than the pattern part, offered by my local High Street accessory store, while a touch-up paint kit was less than half the price. As my neighbour maintains his 1987 Mercedes 230E at home, he admits that his nearest franchised outfit is ‘extremely reasonable’ on service item prices and he has also found consumable parts to be cheaper than the non-genuine alternatives, even though he admits that a new speedometer would have cost him in excess of £500.00.

So, in my experience, chastising main dealers for charging horrendous parts prices is not entirely accurate. What are your findings? Have you left a main dealer feeling happy with a bargain or do you leave feeling overcharged? We would love to hear your views.