The last thing on your mind after purchasing a new car is the possibility of a collision. However, accidents can occur to anyone at any time, even to those with brand-new vehicles. If this happens to you, you’ll need to decide where to get your car fixed. You can choose between the dealership where you bought your vehicle or an independent auto body shop.
Understand the differences between dealerships and independent body shops for collision repair so you can decide who to contact after an accident.
Can Dealerships Offer Collision Repairs?
Many dealerships have their own repair centers and dedicated teams of mechanics, often equipped or outfitted by the car manufacturer or their parts and service division. For example, a fully equipped Dodge dealership may have technicians and equipment specifically trained to handle Mopar® parts.
These technicians are typically capable of handling all types of repairs, including collision damage, provided your car’s make and model is part of the dealership’s catalog or supported by the service center. Each dealership is different, and the list of brands, makes, and models supported varies depending on who owns the brand.
For example, a Dodge dealership may be equipped to handle collision repairs and parts replacement even if your vehicle is a Chrysler car, a Ram truck, a Jeep SUV, or a Fiat. This is because all five of these brands are owned by the same group, Stellantis, and Mopar® currently supports models for all five manufacturers.
However, not all dealerships have their own in-house service and repair centers. This can be due to size, cost constraints, or a lack of available staff. In that case, your local dealership may outsource collision repair work to a local independent body shop certified to handle their makes and models.
Can Dealerships Offer Body Work?
Dealerships equipped to handle collision repairs typically also have access to parts and equipment to conduct all types of body repairs, from cosmetic and minor damage to full panel replacements.
As with collision repairs, not all dealerships are equipped to offer auto body services. In that case, they may outsource it to a local auto body shop or recommend a local one for your make and model.
Will My Dealership Do Paint Jobs?
Most dealerships equipped to offer auto body work and auto collision repairs can perform paint services. However, these services are typically limited to touch-ups and minor paint repairs.
Fewer facilities have the equipment and skills to perform more extensive work, such as complete vehicle repainting. Those that do generally only have access to their manufacturers’ current-most paint codes. They may be unable to help you if your car is older or no longer offered by the automaker. These dealerships will typically outsource paintwork to independent shops or specialized facilities.
Dealership vs. Collision Center: Which is Better?
When considering whether to visit a dealership or an independent collision center, the choice depends on four factors: cost, parts availability, experience, and service quality. Here’s how dealerships and independent body shops compare in all four categories.
Pricing and Access to Parts
When comparing dealerships and independent body shops, the make and model of your car and your region influence the cost of repairs. Generally, automotive repair costs are higher in urban areas than in rural areas.
For example, getting your car repaired in cities like New York City, Los Angeles, or Chicago is typically more expensive than in smaller towns or rural areas in states like Iowa or Nebraska. This is due to higher rents, labor costs, and the overall higher cost of business in big cities.
Automotive repairs generally cost more in some areas than others, and the make and model of your vehicle impact the overall cost of repairs. You should also expect higher prices if your vehicle is on the higher end of an automaker’s catalog, such as an AMG model for Mercedes-Benz. Similarly, if your vehicle was produced by a luxury or high-performance automaker like Bentley, McLaren, or Porsche, you can expect higher repair costs.
On average, dealerships charge more for repairs than independent shops for similar makes and models. The difference typically comes down to the pricing of parts and labor. A dealership typically only uses Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) parts or manufacturer-approved performance parts, and their technicians are factory-trained and equipped, resulting in higher average costs.
An independent body shop can offer more competitive pricing. While they may also have access to factory-approved parts and training, independent collision centers may charge less for labor and suggest cheaper aftermarket parts in addition to OEM. However, OEM parts aren’t always in stock and must often be ordered from the manufacturer, which can increase repair times.
Experience and Familiarity With Your Car
Both dealership technicians and independent repair shops can be highly skilled and develop extensive knowledge of the makes and models they service. However, each offers its own range of benefits, depending on the nature of your car issues.
A dealership specializes in the makes and models their automaker offers and will typically not service models from competing or unsupported brands. Technicians at a dealership service center are trained about the automaker’s cars, especially the latest models and trim levels. If your vehicle is a brand-new release, dealership technicians are the most likely to have the skills to resolve model-specific issues, service recalls, or conduct complex repairs.
The primary advantage of independent shops is their non-brand-specific expertise, allowing them to service a wide range of makes and models. An average independent shop will likely be familiar with the most common brands, makes, models, and trims.
While it may seem like independent shops take a generalized approach, the quality of service may vary depending on the shop’s certifications. An independent body shop’s technicians can receive training and certifications from an automaker to become an approved body shop for their brands without needing to specialize only in models of that brand. The most skilled independent shops can service your car with the same expertise as a dealership center.
Dealership service centers generally guarantee a certain level of service quality, ensuring technicians have the resources and expertise to handle your make and model. Entrusting a damaged vehicle to your dealership typically guarantees that its technicians will return it to its original factory specifications. It also prevents you from voiding your warranty if your car still has coverage.
While independent collision centers can vary in service quality, specific certifications can help ensure your vehicle is in good hands. Look for independent body shops with an ASE certification, I-CAR Gold Class, and I-CAR Platinum ratings for individual technicians. These certifications demonstrate that the repair center and the technicians are recognized nationwide for their high skill level, premium service quality, and exceptional professionalism.
Independent shops can get certified by automotive manufacturers to show they are approved collision centers for these brands, which also helps protect your warranty.
Trust Your Car to Professionals After an Accident
Should you take your car to a dealership after an accident or leave it with a knowledgeable independent body shop? While the choice is ultimately up to you, research all available local options. Whether a dealership or an independent body shop is the right fit depends on your vehicle’s make and model, pricing considerations, and each facility’s reputation.