Let's envision a scenario for a moment. You're a car owner. You bought a vehicle used that had one previous owner, and it didn't have many miles on it.
The price seemed right, so you paid for it in cash. At the time, you took it to a mechanic who looked it over and said it was okay. It had some wear and tear, but you didn't need to replace any major components.
Now, it's three years later. Your vehicle is rapidly approaching 100,000 miles. You hear a distinct noise when you turn the steering wheel in either direction.
You now have a decision on your hands. You know that the car does not have a warranty on any of the parts. Since you bought it used, it was much cheaper than if you purchased it brand-new, but you know you're responsible for any repairs that it needs now.
You have two fundamental options: you can either take the car to your neighborhood garage and have a mechanic look at it, or else you can take it to the dealership to have them look it over. This, of course, assumes that you're not good enough with cars that you can pop the hood yourself and immediately figure out what's going on. Which option should you choose?
Your Local Garage
There are many situations where you have two choices, and it's tough to figure out which one is best. For instance, in web applications with single sign-on, you can use Azure Active Directory or Okta. If you're off to a job interview, you have to decide whether to dress more informally or try to impress the hiring manager with your sartorial choices.
With car trouble, going to your local garage and having a mechanic look it over might seem like the easier and more practical choice. Maybe your local auto body shop is closer, and a dealership that sells your specific car make and model is further away. Also, perhaps you've taken the vehicle to the local garage before if you need a new yearly inspection sticker.
The local garage will almost always charge you less to look the car over and figure out what's wrong with it, so this option has that going for it. One significant drawback, though, is that if this is a mechanic who doesn't know very much about this particular vehicle type, they might not be able to identify the problem as easily as the dealership can.
The Nearest Car Dealership
If you take the car to the dealership, they're probably going to charge you a flat rate to look at it, and that's likely going to be more than what the garage would. Most dealership flat rates to look at your vehicle start at about $150, though you might pay more if you have a high-end car like a Porsche or a Lamborghini.
The biggest plus if you go this route is that the dealership is likely to be able to figure out precisely what is wrong with the car. After all, they deal in these vehicles, so their mechanics know how to service them.
The potential bad news is that dealerships often have a reputation for trying to make you replace anything that's even the least bit worn down. You might take your car to the local garage, and the mechanic will say you need a new heat shield. The dealership may tell you that you should replace the heat shield, but also the shocks, struts, brake pads, and half a dozen other things.
What's the Best Move?
This isn't an easy choice, either which place to take the car or what to do if either the local mechanic or the dealership tells you it needs a lot more work than you expected. This is why knowing as much about cars as possible is so helpful.
When the dealership tries to tell you the car needs multiple thousands of dollars in repairs, if you know something about vehicles yourself, you'll be able to tell which repairs are actually critical and which ones you can put off. If you don't understand the first thing about cars, you don't know if the dealership is exaggerating and whether you can delay some of these repairs, so you don't have to pay for all the replacements at once.
Often, the best thing to do if the dealership tells you the car needs a ton of work is to get a second opinion. If you have a relative or friend who knows about cars, you can take the vehicle to them so they can look it over. If you don't know anyone like that, you might take the car to your neighborhood mechanic to see if they agree with the dealership's assessment.
Let's say you do get a second opinion, and both the dealership and the local mechanic agree that your car needs quite a bit of work. That's when you'll need to assess whether it's financially worth it to fix the vehicle or whether you're better off trading it in for a replacement. You might feel an emotional attachment to the car, but if it costs more than the thing is worth to keep it on the road, you should probably trade it in and call it a day.
In general, most car owners seem to agree that if you think the noise the vehicle is making indicates something minor, you're better off taking it to the local mechanic first. They likely will not charge you as much to look it over. They also can probably repair the damage without charging you as much for labor as the dealership will.
If you suspect the car has a significant problem, you're probably better off taking it to the dealership. Just remember that if you don't like what you hear from them, you're still free to get a second opinion before deciding how you want to move forward.