Dealer vs non-dealer servicing explained

Independent servicing chains regularly advertise that they can service your car without affecting its new car warranty. But vehicle manufacturers and new car dealers would probably prefer that everyone believed that only authorised dealers can service your new car. So what's the truth?

Why should I service my car?

Only 52% of Queenslanders service their cars at six or 12 month intervals according to RACQ figures. So what happens to the remaining 48% who don't service their car regularly? In this episode of RACQ TV, we take a look at just what can happen to your car if you don't service it regularly. You'll see how it's not only dangerous to drive a car that's not mechanically sound but how it's also a financial burden to fix. You'll be left with no doubt that regular car servicing and maintenance can prevent unnecessary wear and tear; keep it running in optimal condition and out of the car graveyard.

Dealer vs non-dealer servicing explained

The Competition and Consumer Act 2010 prevents the practice of exclusive dealing by attaching conditions to the sale of goods that restrict the buyer’s freedom of choice to deal with whom or in what they choose.

Essentially this means that a vehicle manufacturer cannot specify that you must have your car serviced by a particular dealer or group of dealers as part of the warranty conditions.

Nor can a manufacturer void a warranty simply because a vehicle owner has chosen to have a vehicle serviced outside the dealer network.

Lack of maintenance 

A vehicle manufacturer can however refuse a warranty claim where there is evidence of lack of maintenance, inappropriate work practices or where a non-genuine replacement part has failed or caused other damage.

Unfortunately though that’s a rather simplistic view of a very complex subject. While the law says that you can’t be compelled to have your car serviced by a dealer there are other factors that need to be considered.
  1. Firstly, non-dealers can only do servicing, they can’t do warranty work. Non-dealers will also generally not have access to complete service information, technical support, factory knowledge, special service tools and fixes for any problems that may occur. See our Freedom to choose vehicle repairer fact sheet for further information.
  2. Another more basic issue is that with technology the way it is, almost every manufacturer has its own dedicated electronic test equipment that is specific to its range of vehicles. Such tools are required to interrogate the car's computer, find intermittent faults and now more commonly to flash in computer software upgrades to overcome specific issues. Such equipment is very expensive and available only to dealers.

Choosing to go outside of the dealer network 

But it’s important to look past the purely technical issues and at the reasons people give for choosing to go outside of the dealer network. Price is often perceived as a factor in this decision, however the question of why non-dealer servicing should be cheaper needs to be considered.

Chargeable time

Clearly dealers have big overheads and their hourly rates reflect this. However, when it comes to scheduled servicing, it’s the vehicles manufacturer, not the dealer that determines the chargeable time. If non-dealer servicing is done by the book as claimed, there should be little difference in the chargeable time therefore, the only difference will be in the labour rate, which for most services won’t be a huge amount.

Non-genuine service parts

The second potential area of saving is in the use of non-genuine service parts. While it’s true that many OE (original equipment) parts are more expensive than non-genuine parts, this isn’t always the case. The pressure of market forces influences the final cost of commonly used parts and it is in the OE manufacturer’s best interests to keep prices competitive. So in many cases the difference in cost between genuine and non-genuine parts isn’t that significant.

But even where non-genuine parts are available there are certain benefits in using OE parts even if a non-genuine part is available at lower cost. This is particularly important if the vehicle is still covered by a new car warranty, as the use of non-genuine parts could leave you stuck in the middle of an argument between a parts supplier and the vehicle manufacturer with neither party willing to accept responsibility for a failure. It’s much more difficult for a manufacturer to reject a claim if genuine parts have been used.

Your warranty

But while your warranty is protected in law, the effects of non-dealer servicing on out-of-warranty or goodwill assistance is largely ignored. Few people realise that most vehicle manufacturers operate a system of discretionary goodwill assistance that is over and above that provided under the terms of the warranty.

Among the many factors used to determine if goodwill assistance will be offered, and if so to what extent, is the vehicle's service history. In essence, if you don’t support the dealer network it’s unlikely that the manufacturer will support you any further than is legally required.

It’s probably fair to say though, that with longer warranties becoming the norm, the level of goodwill assistance is reducing and such claims are coming under greater scrutiny.

In the end it is your decision where to have your vehicle serviced. However, wherever that may be it's reasonable to expect that any work done is performed by qualified people, according to the manufacturer's specifications and service intervals, and using genuine or comparable quality parts where required.

More information

Should you require further assistance please contact our Motoring Advice Service or email us your details now.