Alternative Facts

May 30, 2018
Dispelling myths about dealerships versus independents.

Despite the title, this story is about family, misinformation and a phenomenon that should have found a peaceful resting place decades ago.

It’s about truth, and just how easy it is to obfuscate the truth from a position of authority and trust. It’s about the ease with which a skilled and, sometimes, even a not-so-skilled individual, placed in a position of authority and trust can manipulate and distort reality.

This is about a wonderful evening spent with kids and grandkids gathered close, and a discussion that revolved around two, new, high-end, SUVs: a Volvo XC90, and an Audi Q7. It’s about our kids; normal, scheduled, preventive maintenance; and, what they were told by two trusted advisors at two different dealerships.

The tragedy is there’s nothing new here. No clever plot twists. This is something that has been going on as long as I’ve been in the business—and I’ve been in the business for a very long time. The tragedy is something that should be nothing more than a distant memory!

It all started with a relatively pleasant conversation that somehow managed to wend its way to the fact both vehicles were coming due for service. A conversation that headed due south the minute I innocently asked where that service would be performed.

I say, “innocently asked,” because I know where both vehicles are parked most days, and I know some incredibly professional independent specialty shops in both locations. Without hesitating, their responses were simultaneous: “The dealership, of course!”

I was in shock. Here were two people I respect and adore, one of whom was raised in our industry and received a college education funded by this industry, and, another who was exposed to our industry for more than a decade, ultimately marrying into it. Both of them completely dismissed the notion that the independent aftermarket and our repair community were viable options!

I was finally able to respond, “Why not consider an independent either near the house or near work?” They looked at each other and then at me and once again, in unison, responded, “We can’t! If we take it any place other than the dealer, we will void our warranty!” I just stared. How many times have you heard that? More times than you’d like, I’ll bet!

I know I’ve heard it far too many times. Enough to have created a conditioned response: “I understand, but that isn’t the case. In fact, it’s actually a violation of federal law to suggest that you have no choice when it comes to where you can seek service.”

The bottom line is, unless the factory is paying for the service in question (as in the case of a warranty repair) and the facility you choose is using original equipment parts or its equivalent, you can take your vehicle anywhere you choose.

If you don’t believe me, let’s try this: The next time your service advisor suggests that taking your vehicle someplace other than a factory-authorized service outlet will void your warranty, ask them to put that in writing on company letterhead and then sign it! I can tell you without hesitation that almost every client I’ve asked to do that responded with the following: “Why? Why do you want me to get them to put that in writing?”

I can tell you without hesitation that almost every client that responded that way received the same answer: “Because, I’ve always wanted to own a dealership, and if you can get that in writing, I can sue. And, if I have that in writing and I sue, I’ll leave the courtroom either owning a dealership or with enough cash and assets to buy one!”

I was forced to repeat that mantra so many times during my career, it just rolled off my tongue in response to the, “I can’t...” The only good part of this experience was the opportunity to defend our industry and educate our kids at the same time. It gave me the chance to explain that regardless of the cost, it’s almost guaranteed a motorist will receive better, more personalized service and, certainly, greater value if they choose the “right” independent. And, it gave me the opportunity to explain how and why.

It gave me a platform to discuss the high quality of high-quality aftermarket replacement parts along with the fact that most high-quality shops source parts from tier-one manufacturers, the very same manufacturers that build systems and supply parts to both the factory and their factory-authorized service centers.

Did I make my point? Did I win?

I won’t know until I find out where those vehicles ultimately received service. All I do know is that even now that I’m “officially” retired, I still find myself fighting the good fight. I still find myself working hard to combat alternative facts.

About the Author

Mitch Schneider

Mitch Schneider is a  fourth-generation auto repair professional and the former owner of Schneider’s Auto Repair in Simi Valley, Calif. He is an industry educator, seminar facilitator, blogger, and author of the acclaimed novel Misfire

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