Investing With My Mechanic

I recently took my vehicle to the dealership for some service work. The car was out of warranty, and so all repair costs came out of my own pocket.  The service rep informed me that I needed to sign a consent form for the inspection fee, which would determine what was wrong with my car. The cost of the inspection was going to be about $160. It has always been my experience that the mechanic figures out what the trouble is, and the cost for his or her time would be part of my overall bill. But to have the cost predetermined and in my opinion fairly substantial, left me feeling uncomfortable. 

I decided I needed to think about another service option.

I went to a private shop where I’d had good experiences in the past. The owner educated me on their ability to do the same scan as the dealer, and within 10 minutes determined I likely needed new spark plugs. The cost of the inspection: zero.  I could have taken the car home and tried replacing the plugs myself, but I had incentive to give this guy the business, which I did.  The mechanic reminded me that you don’t have to be big to be better.

At the dealership, I was a number and part of a process. The diagnosis on my vehicle would have taken the same amount of time, and if I’d chosen to go with the dealer the cost would have been a minimum $160 inspection fee plus the cost of the repair.

The dealer has done their math; they know a high enough percentage of their customers will pay the inspection fee, which will go to their bottom line. The folks like me that opted out were a small enough percentage that they were still better off with the inspection fee.

The dealer’s motive was to work less and make more money. One could also argue that it was working smarter not harder. But at what cost in the long term? I lost trust in the dealership due to their policy. When I’m chatting with my friends I’ll tell them of the great experience with the private shop and how the dealer gave me incentive to find alternative options. I still really like my car, I’m even happier with it now that I’ve found a less costly way to have it maintained.

My experience reminded me of why I do what I do. Like the mechanic in the private shop, I can use all the same tools as the big players, but I get to set my own policies around my services.  My private mechanic can also do custom work for me. He doesn’t have to use the original equipment. He can source better parts and often for less. As an independent, he can tune my car the way I want it tuned, such as giving me more horsepower or more fuel economy.  I get to maximize my experience with my car – thanks Jason.

The bottom line is that rules such as the one I encountered at the car dealership are only in place to serve the dealer, not the client. Next time you’re in a situation where you are the customer and you are feeling uncomfortable with what is going on, maybe you should think twice about your next step.  It’s ok to think about your needs and your money.  

Happy motoring and investing.

Miles Clyne, Portfolio Manager,
MacDougall Investment Counsel Inc.