A Look at Car Dealership Service Departments

What to Know Before You Go

Mechanic working on car
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When you bring your vehicle into the dealership for routine maintenance or repair work, you might be unfamiliar with the process and work flow that each car undergoes while the work is being performed. But if it's a good department, it's run like the well-oiled machine it finally delivers back to you.

Initial Contact

Rarely do service departments accept drop-offs, except in cases of emergencies. Most likely you called the service department to schedule your appointment ahead of time. In the case of routine maintenance, either a service light will come up on your dash alerting you of the need to call, or the service department will contact you directly via phone, email, or regular mail.

When you first pull into a dealership's service drive, you'll be greeted by a service consultant who will present you with a repair order describing the work to be performed, which often includes a cost estimate. After signing the order, you'll head to the waiting area until your job is finished. If your service will take more than a few hours, someone from the dealership will drive you home or to work (and then pick you up), or they'll give you a loaner car to use for the duration.  

Most dealership waiting areas are outfitted with comfortable sofas and chairs, magazines, and even televisions tuned to a 24/7 news station. Upscale dealerships will also often have fully-stocked snack stations offering gratis coffee, tea, water, cookies, and fruit.

Dispatching Your Repair Order

Your service consultant is responsible for making sure your repair order is assigned to a technician, either by handing it over directly or using a dispatcher.

In most cases, whether performing an oil change or major repair work, the technician will need to order parts for the job. Sometimes these parts come from the dealership's own parts department, other times the parts are delivered from elsewhere close by. Sometimes, especially if you schedule work a couple weeks ahead of time, the parts are already in stock.

Additional Work

As the technician performs the work, he or she might look for other problems with the car or for routine maintenance needs that could be addressed, thus performing an "up sell." But this work won't be done without your approval. So expect a call from your service consultant to let you know what needs to be done, why, and how much extra it will cost. If you choose not to do the extra work, the sales consultant will note in your file that you were made aware of the conditions and chose not to approve any work, just in case any safety issues may arise. 

After Service

Once the work is done, your car will likely be washed and then parked in a staging area in front of the dealership (if you were waiting on the premises) or in a staging area out back, where it will sit until you arrive to pick it up. The service consultant will now complete the billing, add in any discounts, and also determine if the costs are covered under warranty, if you are responsible for paying, or if the shop is paying (which could happen as a make-good on a failed repair, for example).

Any sublet charges for work performed off-premises or by an outside contractor (body and paint repair, towing charges, etc.) will also be billed at this time. Once all billing is complete, the repair order is printed, handed to you, and you'll either sign it (if the work is under warranty) or pay for the repairs.  At this time the service consultant will once again explain what work was done, why it was done, and what may be recommended for next time. 

Good service consultants are some of the best PR a car dealership can have, and most of them work hard to make sure you understand your repairs, that they are done in a timely manner, and that if a problem arises, it is addressed immediately and to your satisfaction.