Dealer versus Independent Mechanic?

This opinion piece is written from the perspective of someone who lives in a major metropolitan area and who has many choices of where to take his car for maintenance.  You may not have much choice if you live in a smaller burb like I do now.

There is one big reason I know of to go to the dealers for all your Boxster maintenance: You are the first owner of the car and hope, if there is a major failure, that Porsche will help you pay for any catastrophic engine failure even out of warranty because you have bought your car there, had it serviced there and the claim is coming from there.

For the buyer of a used Porsche, there are reasons to go to the dealers for service if you need something specific that only the dealer can provide.  That could be a service that requires a special tool, or one that requires special knowledge, or maybe you want someone with ready access to parts so your service doesn't take days waiting for parts (of course the parts all come from one of 3 places).  Or it could be you have developed a comfort in the dealer's knowledge and the way they treat their customers.

I have an '01 and I had my 60k done at an "independent mechanic" who specialized in Porsches, who raced them and who had around a dozen he was working on that required much more serious surgery than my simple services were likely to need.  He did an absolutely excellent job.

But if your "private mechanic" is just a general repair guy and he doesn't specialize in Porsches, then will he know what to look for as the 60k consists of many inspections?  When you take the car in for service, you are depending on the experience of the mechanic to look at the condition of various parts and determine honestly if they need (or when they will need) service.  Without your mechanic having that knowledge gained from many years of looking at the same car/engine, you might as well do the inspections yourself.

So my answer is go to the "private mechanic" only if you see a dozen Porsches parked outside his shop and a few inside.  And if he has either a PST2 or PIWIS which are expensive Porsche-specific test machines.  Possession of such expensive machines is an indication that the mechanic works on enough Porsches and to a level of complexity that he has invested in the tools to do it right.

If you are looking to save money, do some of the services yourself (anyone can replace the air filter and cabin filter) and go to the dealer or "private" and have them do the ones you aren't qualified to do yourself.  Or consider that some tasks can be gone by any general mechanic.  An example is the replacement of an O2 sensor can be done by any exhaust shop or you could do it yourself.

There are a few things a dealer can do that an independent mechanic specializing in water-cooled Porsches can't but not many (maybe the dealer has the special computer that sets options and the indie doesn't (though most Porsche-specializing mechanics at least have the basic Porsche PST2), can't really think of anything else).  What a indie can do is specialize in making the customer happy, something some Porsche dealers have forgotten.  Some  seem to cater to the "I have big bucks and don't mind spending it" crowd.  My indie mechanic charges me less in $ per hour, will do things my way, will use used parts or parts from other sources (but only when I ask him to), will give me a straight answer and will tell me what I should wait on or not do now.  He has talked me out of more maintenance than he has done!  You won't find that straight talk in a repair shop very often.

So I save and feel very comfortable I'm not being taken.  Not a bad combination.

The trick is to ask around and see who the good indies are.  Not just any foreign car specialist will do, you want one that has multiple P-cars in his shop, maybe does a little race prep on the side, drives one himself, advertises in the local PCA mag, etc.  Then you want to go talk to him, see his operation, discuss what you think you want done and see how you feel about the way he treats you as a prospective customer.  I generally make this visit during the mid-day when he isn't busy with drop-off and pick-up duties.  I also let him know I'm interested in establishing a long term relationship.

Your situation may be different.  You may not have a choice.  You may have a great dealer's service department in your area.  But at least ask around.  Stop fellow Boxster/Porsche drivers in the parking lot and ask them about their experiences.

And, if you are trying to save money, learn how to do some of the simple service items yourself.  Anyone can change the air and cabin filter, for example.  Oil changes save $ too.  Then have the dealer or independent do the things you aren't qualified to do or don't want to do because they are too hard or too messy.