Service Centres vs. Mechanics

Your car just hit the 90,000km mark. It’s starting to make a strange noise, and you know it’s been a long time since you got it serviced. What do you do? Option one: Visit the local mechanic and see if you can negotiate with them for a good deal to service your vehicle. Option two: Call a local vehicle service centre and ask them to give your car the full service it deserves. Time to make a choice.

The mechanic versus service centre debate has been around since cars started getting complex enough to need a professional to keep them running. Some argue that private mechanics are unreliable and will likely overcharge you for parts that don’t need replacing at all. Others complain that service centres in South Africa charge too much for something a mechanic can do for half the price. And yet, car service centres are authorised to service vehicles, while many mechanics can do excellent work.

This article aims to get to the bottom of the service centres versus mechanics debate once and for all. We look at the pros and cons, the risks and advantages and the convenience that each option offers to the everyday car owner.

Getting your car serviced in SA

Car services are like going to the dentist. Nobody wants to have to do it, but if you do go regularly, you’ll enjoy a beautiful smile for your entire life. Servicing your vehicle is a necessary task. And while we’d all love to get stuck into checking, cleaning and replacing worn parts ourselves, most people have no clue what’s going on under the bonnet.

South African roads are always testing your car

South Africa’s roads aren’t the greatest. From potholes and dirt to long distances and hectic weather, cars in SA need a little more TLC than vehicles on smoother, cleaner roads elsewhere – especially used cars. While some countries require cars to be serviced regularly by law, others – like SA – don’t. This means we can still get our cars insured, sell them and buy new used vehicles without a vehicle service history.

Why car services matter

But servicing your vehicle extends its life, increases its value, keeps things running smoothly and provides you with the peace of mind to know that your wheels aren’t going to let you down. Regular minor services are recommended every 15,000km or once per year (whichever comes first), with major ones suggested every 30,000km to 45,000km or so. Even the best, most expensive, reliable car makes need to be serviced regularly. To learn more about the difference between a major and a minor service, click here.

Picking the right car servicer

We have many vehicle service options in South Africa. From the neighbourhood car enthusiast operating out of his garage to local vehicle service centre franchises spanning the country. Everybody is free to choose who services their vehicles.

The trick is choosing right.

Service Centres vs. Mechanics: Types

Let’s explore the different types of mechanic and car service centres available in South Africa.


  • Private mechanics – These are the one-person shows who take care of everything service-related themselves. They are usually only able to work on one vehicle at a time and can take a long time to wrap up the service. It can be very difficult to ensure that the replacement parts they are using are authorised for your vehicle. If something goes wrong, there’s not much you can do to get your money back.

  • Vehicle Specialists – These are smaller, privately owned mechanics who specialise in things like wheels, shocks, batteries or even bodywork but also offer car services as an additional product. While many of them have the necessary equipment and tools to conduct a service, they may lack the knowledge and qualifications to be as thorough and detailed to meet your car's servicing needs.

Service centres

  • Basic service centres – These are ‘light’ service centres in South Africa, which can check your car and let you know what needs to be replaced or cleaned. Basic service centres are a good option if you’re trying to understand your car’s current condition. However, they may lack access to parts or special tools to conduct a full car service. These car service centres are good for minor services.

  • Dedicated full vehicle service centres – These service centres are dedicated service centres whose sole job is specialising in full, major vehicle services. They have everything they need to fully service your car and employ only trained, qualified service professionals. These service centres usually have multiple outlets around the country, and information on their performance and trustworthiness can easily be found online.

  • Manufacturer service centres - Manufacturers of cars made in SA sometimes offer their own service options. There aren't as many of them as regular car service centres, and they can get expensive. They may also not be willing to service a pre-owned vehicle not purchased from the associated dealership.

The Verdict

While there may be many more private mechanics and vehicle specialists around than qualified service centres in South Africa, this doesn’t mean they are necessarily a better option. A mechanic could be a good option for a quick fix, doing bodywork, or even cleaning your engine, but lacks the knowledge, tools and accountability to give your car the attention it needs.

Service centres, on the other hand, are part of registered franchise corporations that are required to adhere to strict regulations and laws. If they don’t do a proper job, they have the resources to correct any errors at little or no extra cost, and any local vehicle service centre relies on your positive reviews to stay in business.

  • Winner: Service Centres

Service Centres vs. Mechanics: Cost

Car services aren’t cheap. People must spend hours inspecting, testing and replacing different parts and components during a service. This is why car service costs are often a big sticking point when comparing car service centres with mechanics.



  • Cost certainty – Mechanics do not have to stick to recommended prices and fees for their services. They can set prices to cover their expenses, but they also determine their own profit margins. This leaves prices up to the mechanic, and when people receive a quote, they struggle to know if they are being over or under-charged. On top of this, there is nothing stopping a mechanic from charging you for added extras before you’ve agreed to them.

  • Parts – Mechanics will often tell their customers that they can secure parts at cost prices or a discount. Unfortunately, you won’t know for sure if these parts are of high quality, are OK to install in your vehicle or if they even need to be replaced at all. So, while you may save on replacement parts, the risk of them failing soon after is high.

  • Labour – Mechanics also charge for the time they spend working on your car. While some services can take many hours to service a particular model, others can be done quickly, with all checks and replacements taken care of in a flash. Mechanics will often charge labour costs based on how much time they claim to have worked on your vehicle.

Service centres

  • Cost certainty – Service centres are registered businesses. They must adhere to industry codes of conduct that govern how much they can charge for their operations. This means that car service prices are usually fixed and only updated periodically when necessary. Part of these rules also require car service centres to provide the total service cost beforehand and only begin working once you have given approval.

  • Parts – Approved service centres have a list of the parts they stock or are authorised to order. These lists include the prices of the different parts they can use, which cannot be changed or increased. They may also not use parts not designed for specific cars, and any replacements are checked and tested.

  • Labour – Walk into any local vehicle service centre and you’ll see more than one person working on the cars. Each specialist has their own area of responsibility, and they are almost always paid a salary instead of a per-hour fee. Nothing is outsourced to 3rd parties, and labour fees are usually fixed. Any additional labour costs will be communicated before being charged.

The Verdict

Private mechanics have a reputation for convincing people that they need to replace parts that are in perfect working order. They also have an unfortunate habit of adding costs that customers were not initially aware of. Some will even only return a car to the owner once all costs are paid in full, whether agreed upon or not. This can leave people out of pocket and sometimes even without a car.

Service centres in South Africa operate on a cost model designed to cover the same effort, parts and time for all vehicle models, no matter how much work they have to do during a service for a particular car. This is possible because service centres are part of large businesses that have the resources to absorb any unexpected losses. Car service centres also offer periodic specials that customers can take advantage of to save money.

  • Winner: Service Centres

Service Centres vs. Mechanics: Availability

Sometimes, an urgent service may be required, either to quickly sell a car or before a long road trip. People living in remote areas or who do not wish to travel far may also appreciate having a vehicle servicing option nearby.


  • Number in SA – There are thousands of mechanics around the country. From farming communities to small towns and big cities, finding a local private mechanic to service your car is not difficult. This is ideal for vehicles that can’t drive too far or customers struggling to locate a service option nearby.

  • Hours – Many mechanics will be prepared to work outside of business hours (especially if the price is right). This means that anyone in need of a quick, urgent service can get one done whenever they require it. Mechanics may also be available over weekends and public holidays, so you won’t need to worry about getting hold of them. Mechanics can also, when requested, rush your car service, completing the job in half the time they would normally take - if the price is, you guessed it, just right.

  • Accessibility – Private mechanics are usually happy to take on a service job, no matter how busy they are. With so many mechanics around, they usually don’t have many cars on the waiting list to worry about, meaning they are often more available during high-demand, busy service seasons than other options.

Service centres

  • Number in SA – There are fewer local vehicle service centres in South Africa than private mechanics. This is because an authorised full-service centre needs to get accredited and registered to operate. While most big cities have multiple car service centres, some small towns and rural districts don’t.

  • Hours – Service centres in South Africa must stick to operational business hours per the Basic Conditions of Employment Act. This means that most service centres are not open before 7 or 8 a.m., and they will often close by 5 or 6 p.m. On top of this, some service centres are closed over weekends and on public holidays, though a few of them are open.

  • Accessibility – Service centres can get busy. This means that you may have to wait a few days or even more than a week before they are able to accept your car. Since service centres must follow strict procedures for each vehicle, this can lead to backlogs and waiting lists. This can be frustrating for people hoping to get their car serviced quickly.

The Verdict

Mechanics are flexible when it comes to their availability. As many of them are small businesses, they can operate outside of business hours and are often willing to work when other businesses are closed. With so many mechanics offering services in SA, finding them isn’t difficult.

Service centres employ many people and are required to stick to business hours. Some towns and areas don’t have any car service centres, and the ones that do can sometimes get very busy. While many service centres do their best to accommodate everyone who comes to them, they are not always able to do so.

  • Winner: Mechanics

Service Centres vs. Mechanics: Quality of work

The whole point of a service is to improve the condition of the car, check for any problems and replace any parts or components that are getting old or faulty. If any of these functions are compromised, the vehicle can quickly become dangerous to its occupants. Quality of work is a critical measure of how successful a service is.


  • Inspections – Experienced mechanics know where to look for issues during a vehicle service. If they are familiar with a model, they will have a good understanding of what parts and areas of the vehicle need the most attention. However, without the checklists and resources they need to review every component, they can sometimes miss important checks.

  • During the job – When servicing a car, mechanics need to be extremely careful not to damage anything else or forget about anything while they’re working. Even missing a single nut or bolt can cause a car to break down or even crash. While most mechanics have their own checklists, it can be easy for them to miss something or to reinstall a part incorrectly.

  • After-sales service – Once a mechanic is done servicing a vehicle, you pay and leave in your car. However, depending on who you’re working with, if something goes wrong later, it can be a challenge to get a refund or to get them to correct the error. This is a big problem in South Africa and around the world.

Service centres

  • Inspections – All service centres in South Africa are required to conduct a full assessment of the vehicle before beginning any work on the car. This includes running as many as 116 different checks on the car, each one carefully documented and recorded. A report of the car’s condition is then compiled, ensuring nothing is missed or overlooked.

  • During the job – Service centres have different specialists for different areas of the car. Each of these professionals is tasked with servicing their particular area of the vehicle using specialised equipment to do so. Expensive tools are also used to test components and repair any problems, ensuring only the best quality of work is done.

  • After-sales service – Once a service has been completed, the local vehicle service centre will often contact the customer to inform them of any additional issues or elements picked up during the job that fall outside the service itself. This gives customers the chance to ask for extra work to be done. Once a service is completed and you have taken your car home, most car service centres will follow up after a period to ensure that you are satisfied with the work and that there are no outstanding issues.

The Verdict

Although many mechanics are capable of high-quality work, using them to service your car does come with the risk that the general quality of service is lower than expected. Without any fixed procedures or protocols, reports or state-of-the-art equipment, the standard of the service may be compromised. This poses a risk, not only to your vehicle but potentially to your safety, too.

Car service centres provide detailed reports and checklists on request, proving that they have covered all the elements of the car service. They also replace parts and components that don’t need to be swapped out as part of their protocol and will often leave the old parts in your car as evidence that you now have new ones installed. Any extra work will be communicated before they go ahead, and - with the expectation that a full service takes care of all issues – any later problems will be rectified, usually free of charge.

  • Winner: Service Centres

Service Centres vs Mechanics: The verdict

Service centres take the win in the debate.

While mechanics do offer extended business hours and are sometimes willing to work over weekends and public holidays, service centres take the crown in all of the other categories.

There are different types of car service centres, but each of them must be registered and approved by various industry bodies while subscribing to strict codes of conduct and ethical practices. Private mechanics are allowed to operate independently and don’t face the same scrutiny that service centres do.

While you may be able to snag a cheap service deal with a private mechanic, there is no way of ensuring they are doing a quality job on your car, leaving your vehicle at risk of breaking down. A local vehicle service centre will have far more resources than a private mechanic and employs many highly trained personnel, each focusing on a particular servicing area of your car. And don’t forget about the range of specials most service centres offer regularly, taking the heat off your wallet.

Ultimately, you want the best for your car. Private mechanics may be a good option for fixing individual issues or replacing the odd component on a budget. Car service centres, however, are dedicated car service experts who specialise in fully inspecting, checking, and servicing your car.

Conclusion – Find a service centre near you

If you’re looking for a complete, detailed and comprehensive service for your car, service centres are king on more than one front. You can visit a local vehicle service centre near you, like any one of Auto Pedigree’s 13 service centres located nationwide.