What Should I Do If I Don't Trust My Local Dealer to Service My New Car?

Image: Honda

As Jalopnik’s resident car buying expert and professional car shopper, I get emails. Lots of emails. I’ve decided to pick a few questions and try to help out. This week we are discussing service issues on brand new cars, what to fix before you sell, and the risks of buying a car from a salvage auction.

First up, what are the options if your local dealer doesn’t seem all that competent in servicing your new car?

My new 2018 Odyssey was recently due for its first “A1” service (oil change, wheel rotation and balance).

Because of a previous dispute with the service department (on a different new Honda purchased from the same dealership) concerning this exact issue, I marked (numbered) the wheels, took photos, and left the vehicle for service.

A few hours later, I paid $93 for the service as they brought my car around. You guessed it - the wheels were in the same position as when I left it, and I proceeded to raise hell. The dealership service manager checked out my markings, refunded my payment, rotated the wheels (I surmise no balancing took place) and said he’d have their IT department check video footage.

On, the service manager called and admitted the wheels were not rotated, told me he accepted full responsibility and is asking what he can do to make things right with me.

What I want and expect is honest work from the dealer. Because this is a repeat issue with them, I assume this is “business as usual.” I’ve lost all confidence in dealer service after vehicle purchase. What should I do?

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I understand your frustration and having a dealership’s service complete an oil change and tire rotation competently is not asking too much.

However, that being said in the grand scheme of screwups, a dealer not completing a tire rotation is pretty minor and a very easy fix. I get where you are coming from the perspective that if the dealer can’t get such a simple task right, how can they be trusted to do more complex work, and that may be a fair assessment. Though it does seem the service manager recognizes that they messed up on this one and wants to make it right if they offer a free oil change and tire rotation on your next service it may be worth taking them up on that since it won’t cost you anything.

If you do decide to give the dealer another shot, make it very clear to the service manager that if they don’t get it right next time, you will respond accordingly on those surveys that Honda will send.

If you absolutely can’t bring yourself to go back to that store for service perhaps another Honda dealer is the way to go. If there isn’t another dealer within a convenient drive, you can also service your car at an independent shop.

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There is a common misconception that cars under warranty must be serviced at the dealership, this is not true. A manufacturer cannot deny your warranty simply because you chose not to service your car at the dealer, but if you do choose this route make sure you keep all documentation of what work was done and when it case you need to make a warranty claim.

Next up! If you have an older car that needs work, how much should you put into it prior to selling it?

I was wondering if you have any guidelines for determining when/if it makes sense to repair a car before selling it.

For instance, I have a 2002 CLK 430 cabriolet that I want to sell. It runs great and looks considerably nicer than a typical 17-year-old car. My mechanic says the engine mounts are leaking and will eventually need to be replaced. And since the engine has to be removed, he recommends also replacing the transmission mounts as well as a leaking rear main bearing oil seal. It’s not a substantial leak at this time, but I guess it will eventually become one. Finally, he also recommends replacing both valve cover gaskets. Like the main seal, they also leak. (I’ve never had to add oil between changes, so that’s why I describe the leaks as not substantial.)

All told, I’m looking at close to $3,000 to make all the repairs. I’m having a hard time deciding which (if any) repairs it makes sense to make before selling my car and would appreciate any advice you could give me.”

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This is always a tough conundrum! Do you fix the issues and hope to get more on the sale, or sell it as-is and take less?

My general piece of advice on this is if the car is running, just sell it as is, price it appropriately and disclose everything. Usually, someone buying an older Mercedes is going to know it needs some work. The more they know up front the better. If the car is priced right you should find a buyer, it just may take some time. That all being said, if you have a car that needs some work and it involves major safety components like brakes or something, those should be addressed prior to sale, unless you are selling it as a non-running car.

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Alright, last question. Are salvage auctions like Copart a bargain hunters dream or a big gamble?

I’d be interested in buying a vehicle if I can get a tremendous deal on something with hail, minor dents/scratches or normal wear and tear type damage (or none at all) but I’m reading a little bit about how Copart employees will sometimes pull parts from vehicles or the damage isn’t exactly what is posted on the listing.

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First, I’d like to address the rumor about Copart employees “pulling parts” in addition to the issue of the disclosed condition of the car. I reached out to Copart and here is what they said:

Copart employees do not “pull” parts prior to sale. Copart’s practice is to sell vehicles in the same condition as received from the seller (except when we are directed by our sellers to undertake certain limited modifications, including for example the issuance of replacement keys for a vehicle).

Prior to sale, for each vehicle Copart provides 10 photos for its members to view. In addition, we highly encourage all members, prior to bidding, to view the vehicle in person or send an inspector on their behalf. Before bidding, our members also have an option to purchase a condition report, which includes a video with more information about the vehicle. Also, if a member arrives to pick up their vehicle and it is not represented as described, we do offer the Member Protection Pledge to address that situation, which applies to all vehicles sold for less than $49,999.99.

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As for the purchase itself, salvage sales are not something I really deal with. How I see it is that if you are looking for a project car or something Copart and similar places can provide a cheap entry point, but for a daily driver it’s a bit riskier. While you can find some gems more often than not you are going to get what you paid for.

Got a car buying conundrum that you need some assistance with? Email me at tom.mcparland@jalopnik.com!

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About the author

Tom McParland

Tom is a contributing writer for Jalopnik and runs AutomatchConsulting.com. He saves people money and takes the hassle out of buying or leasing a car. (Facebook.com/AutomatchConsulting)