Getting your oil changed on a regular basis is important for the longevity of your car, so knowing where to go for servicing is key. Here's the lowdown on whether you should take it to the dealership, a big chain or an independent shop.
Michael Perrins, service manager for 14 years at Lutz Tire & Auto Repair, says independent shops are the way to go.
"Dealerships and big chains will use oil changes as a loss leader to get you into the shop and then try to upsell you on services you may not need," he says. "Most independent shops are family-owned. I think the customer should find a reputable shop and build a working relationship with them."
Perrins says that the employees at Lutz are trained to work on most vehicles and that the shop has up-to-date programs that tell them the correct oil, coolant and other fluids to use in every vehicle.
"Using the wrong oils and fluids can do damage to newer engines," he says.
As for the cost, Perrins says his shop tries to be competitive with its prices -- seeing as most dealerships and large chains offer oil changes below cost -- and its services fee runs lower than the other guys' fees.
Amanda Rice, business communications specialist at Toyota, says her company provides customers with ToyotaCare, a 25,000-mile or 24-month no-cost maintenance plan offered with every new Toyota purchase or lease, and covers normal factory-scheduled service at any participating dealership.
"It offers convenience to customers by delivering timely reminders before maintenance is due, and the trained technicians help ensure the vehicle is consistently serviced on time, which contributes to improving overall performance," she says.
Rice adds that ToyotaCare is informative and helps customers forge an ongoing relationship with their local dealership.
On his blog, called Earl Stewart On Cars, Earl Stewart writes that about 75 percent of buyers of new cars don't go back to the dealer for service, and that's a huge problem for all manufacturers and car dealers.
"It's a problem for manufacturers because they can lose the parts sales which include oil filters and oil," he writes. "The profit margin on auto parts is much higher than on the car itself."
Stewart says buyers don't have to take their cars to the dealership's service department for maintenance or repairs unless the repairs are covered under the warranty. He says that if buyers do choose an independent shop, they should be sure that the employees perform the maintenance as recommended in the owners manual.
The reason buyers don't usually bring their cars back to the dealer for service is very simply price and convenience, Stewart says.
"Independent service facilities and fast-lube shops are more plentiful than dealers and there's usually one closer," he writes. "Why drive 20 miles to your dealer for an oil change when there's a Jiffy Lube around the corner."
Stewart adds that prices are usually less at independent shops because they have lower overheads and usually don't use factory parts. Non-factory parts, he says, are often manufactured overseas and are usually less expensive than original factory parts.
Stewart goes on to say, though, that most car dealers have better-trained technicians and more and better diagnostic equipment than the average independent. Furthermore, a dealer's technicians are specialists in their particular brand of car.
Perrins admits that though he doesn't like to recommend dealerships, manufacturers are making it harder to keep up with new technologies.
"Sometimes we have to refer to the dealership for some problems," he says.
Stewart agrees with this sentiment on his blog, writing that a good independent technician can change the oil and rotate and balance the tires on any car. But he can't always diagnose a transmission problem and may not have the specialized tools needed to fix it.
According to a 2010 article written by Jerry Edgerton for CBS News, an AutoMD study found that car buyers can save an average of $300 a year by avoiding dealerships in favor of independents when they have work not covered by the warranty. The study concluded that car owners who go to dealers for repairs spend an average of $1,209 a year, versus $903 for those who use independent shops.
If you decide to take your car to an independent shop for an oil change, make sure the business is accredited. Stewart says shops should have up-to-date certifications in the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence. There are ASE certifications for all components of the car, including air conditioning, the engine and the transmission.
"Be sure that (the) technician ... has the proper training," Stewart writes.