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Resident Curmudgeon
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Discussion Starter #1
My dad used to joke- three things you need in todays world: A good doctor, a good lawyer and....a good mechanic.

(He was a musician who could barely turn a screwdriver without hurting himself- I was working on the family cars when I was 14. Oh, and that joke works with 'a good bass player' too. ;) )

But this got me thinking about how owners and mechanics interact- and more specifically on how to make the jump from Dealer to Indy.

It isnt as easy as it sounds on a forum, right?

BMW wraps everyone into a warm fuzzy cocoon of dealer processes: 'just do what the dashboard says'; 'have a latte and a loaner, dont trouble yourself with what we are doing'... 'BMWs are highly complex engineering marvels- only dealers can fix them'; 'why take the risk for a few $', etc.

So folks go through life until the warranty expires, only to face a crisis when the CEL comes on or a service message pops up.... "What do I do now??"

So, what can an owner do to transition to non-dealer service?

I though this thread might collect a few thoughts on this...


1. The communication you have with the mechanic/shop is THE most important aspect. More important than price.

2. Begin the interaction with shops before you have a crisis. Drop in, say hello. "I am going to need a shop after my car comes off the BMW maintenance- Im trying to pick a place"......Test the communications. Do you like to be schmozed? Do you just want the straight dope? Are they listening to you and picking up on your clues? If you are a DIYer, but need a shop for 'the hairy stuff', tell them this- see how they respond. If they scoff, there is an answer- if they say "cool, they are pretty easy- but if you do get over your head, we are here" you have another answer.

3. Use oil changes, brake jobs as a lower cost test for how they will be if you need a valve cover gasket; a water pump; etc, etc. (ie when you get towed in and not driven...)

4. Ask about how they go about diagnosing. You arent testing them (well, some of you might- but YOU dont need these tips..) but more importantly you are testing how they communicate with you.

5. Recognize that a 'car expert' is everyone that knows one more layer than you know..... yeah, this is hard. This is why 80% of the public is lost talking to SAs. BUT, even if people cant tell the technical truth, they can get a BS sense. Better to feel that out over a brake job, then when the top of the engine is open and they are claiming "its 2800 to proceed".


6. Use Yelp and car-specific forums for references. BMWCCA has a listing- although my personal opinion is some of these "BMWs Only" shops with high profiles in the BMW world can be basically a dealer experience without the loaners. Or even with their own loaners! Just as expensive.


Many years ago, I had purchased my first BMW and walked into the service area at my local BMW dealer. Spoke to the service manager and said "nothing wrong, but in the future I am the kind of owner that ___, ___, ___. Which of your SAs is the guy I should work with?" My point is that conversations outside of repair transactions can shortcut the time to reach a relationship. This case it was in a dealer, but same applies outside.

So drive up to a shop and just say "Im looking for a shop- whats up with you guys?"

So, what else?



.
 

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My dad used to joke- three things you need in todays world: A good doctor, a good lawyer and....a good mechanic.

(He was a musician who could barely turn a screwdriver without hurting himself- I was working on the family cars when I was 14. Oh, and that joke works with 'a good bass player' too. ;) )

But this got me thinking about how owners and mechanics interact- and more specifically on how to make the jump from Dealer to Indy.

It isnt as easy as it sounds on a forum, right?

BMW wraps everyone into a warm fuzzy cocoon of dealer processes: 'just do what the dashboard says'; 'have a latte and a loaner, dont trouble yourself with what we are doing'... 'BMWs are highly complex engineering marvels- only dealers can fix them'; 'why take the risk for a few $', etc.

So folks go through life until the warranty expires, only to face a crisis when the CEL comes on or a service message pops up.... "What do I do now??"

So, what can an owner do to transition to non-dealer service?

I though this thread might collect a few thoughts on this...

1. The communication you have with the mechanic/shop is THE most important aspect. More important than price.

2. Begin the interaction with shops before you have a crisis. Drop in, say hello. "I am going to need a shop after my car comes off the BMW maintenance- Im trying to pick a place"......Test the communications. Do you like to be schmozed? Do you just want the straight dope? Are they listening to you and picking up on your clues? If you are a DIYer, but need a shop for 'the hairy stuff', tell them this- see how they respond. If they scoff, there is an answer- if they say "cool, they are pretty easy- but if you do get over your head, we are here" you have another answer.

3. Use oil changes, brake jobs as a lower cost test for how they will be if you need a valve cover gasket; a water pump; etc, etc. (ie when you get towed in and not driven...)

4. Ask about how they go about diagnosing. You arent testing them (well, some of you might- but YOU dont need these tips..) but more importantly you are testing how they communicate with you.

5. Recognize that a 'car expert' is everyone that knows one more layer than you know..... yeah, this is hard. This is why 80% of the public is lost talking to SAs. BUT, even if people cant tell the technical truth, they can get a BS sense. Better to feel that out over a brake job, then when the top of the engine is open and they are claiming "its 2800 to proceed".

6. Use Yelp and car-specific forums for references. BMWCCA has a listing- although my personal opinion is some of these "BMWs Only" shops with high profiles in the BMW world can be basically a dealer experience without the loaners. Or even with their own loaners! Just as expensive.

Many years ago, I had purchased my first BMW and walked into the service area at my local BMW dealer. Spoke to the service manager and said "nothing wrong, but in the future I am the kind of owner that ___, ___, ___. Which of your SAs is the guy I should work with?" My point is that conversations outside of repair transactions can shortcut the time to reach a relationship. This case it was in a dealer, but same applies outside.

So drive up to a shop and just say "Im looking for a shop- whats up with you guys?"

So, what else?

.
I would add subscription to a BMW server to ensure access to latest software and direct experience working with your make and model. Look on their parking lot. indys often advertise European specialty but work primarily on VW- not covinced they will be able to fix a complex problem. Everyone can wrench but our cars are more complex
 

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Great advice. I recently went to an Indy recommended on the CCA forums. It ended up being a pretty bad experience, and I actually caught their shop manager flat out lying to me. Long story short, he said they replaced a rotor after a stuck caliper pin caused a groove on the surface, and the same rotor was there after the caliper was replaced....I was just like wow.....untrustworthy on a simple job, it could only get worse.

So I found another Indy, and I'll be testing them soon with rear brakes/rotors.
 

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Nuclear engineer
02/2012 X5 35d M57Y CPO 100K miles NOKIAN WR G3 20K miles
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19,361 Posts
Good thoughts, great write up. Try 'em out with the cheap straightforward jobs.

I would add subscription to a BMW server ... [ ... ]
What does that mean please? Will you suggest more than one "BMW server" open with subscription?
 

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Resident Curmudgeon
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Discussion Starter #5
I would add subscription to a BMW server to ensure access to latest software and direct experience working with your make and model. Look on their parking lot. indys often advertise European specialty but work primarily on VW- not covinced they will be able to fix a complex problem. Everyone can wrench but our cars are more complex
I think you are saying "Ask if the indy has a BMW software license or access to the BMW server system, within their shop"
 

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Casual Fanatic
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You never mentioned referrals. Knowing that someone you know consistently has a good experience with a particular indy is a good lead in my book. Yes, you should do many of those other things too, once you've found one.
 

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Resident Curmudgeon
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Discussion Starter #7
You never mentioned referrals. Knowing that someone you know consistently has a good experience with a particular indy is a good lead in my book. Yes, you should do many of those other things too, once you've found one.
Good point.

Asking on BF, or other boards, is good. Open post or PMs.... A colleague was moving to Denver, I asked a member here who was a regular and who lived in the area for a referral for her.
 

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The Indy that I used last two times (transmission service, oil service and change of thermostat) was recommended by one of the regular visitors to this forum (in good faith, I believe!). My experience with this place is completely different then his: transmission leaked, engine oil overfilled, coolant not mixed correctly, SES light***8230; can I expect more after two visits?
 

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Just like with anything, there is going to be a difference of opinion among folks as to who or what is "best". However, I think you're more likely to have a good experience with a recommendation if you personally know the person who is referring you. That person doesn't want you coming back to say "why the hell did you refer me there?" Likewise, the indy doesn't want referrals from that person to stop if you have a bad experience.

Look at your contact list, determine who you know who drives a bimmer, and reach out to ask them who they use to service their BMW. Ask them about their experience, if the prices charged are reasonable and what accommodations the indy will make to retain your business long-term (e.g., loaners or ride to and from work, ability to supply your own parts, etc.)
 

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Great write up and. Have been going through the Indy vetting process lately due to a move. I fully agree with your approach, go jn for a chat, try them for basic stuff, hope your gut feel was right when something big hits.

I tried two in Reno, two in Healdsburg. Results:

Reno 1: Took X5 In for coolant and brake fluid changes. All seemed fine then as I was logging the maintenance in excel (I'm a bit OCD about this) I noticed they charged me 5 quart of brake fluid. I called and they said that's what it takes. They're off the list.

Reno 2: Took 330 for brake fluid. Seems like top notch shop, no red flags, although I feel like their passion is for the P cars. Labor rate is as high as my former shop in Berkeley which I thought was expensive even for Bay, but seems seems downright excessive for Reno. I'll go there again if I need to, but I may have found better...

Healdsburg 1. Total BSer. Failed at walk-in chat.

Healdsburg 2. Not the tidiest shop, and not BMW specific but drives an X5 and there is always a BMW or two there. He says he works on the MB diesel delivery and tourist vans that are popular there, so he has exposure to high mileage modern diesels. Tested him this week with the 650 for trans and diff fluid changes, plugs, belts. I was concerned they'd take the car for a joy ride because there was some excitement about a 650 with a stick shift attached to that big V8. They drove it less than a half a mile so concerns unfounded. No red flags, plus they'll let me supply my parts if I want to so I'll try them again.

The Indy that I used last two times (transmission service, oil service and change of thermostat) was recommended by one of the regular visitors to this forum (in good faith, I believe!). My experience with this place is completely different then his: transmission leaked, engine oil overfilled, coolant not mixed correctly, SES light***8230; can I expect more after two visits?
Sorry about the hassles. Hope it wasn't my recommendation.
 
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