Questions about duplicate content

I’m going to explain a situation I’m dealing with. In my mind, it’s kind of gimmicky, and I feel like the client is being oversold on this, resulting in the implementation and management of these pages being complicated.

Let’s say there’s an auto shop brand with several chain locations. They have generic service pages like:

* /oil-change
* /tire-rotation
* /engine-repair
* etc.

They also have location-specific pages such that the URLs become:

* /illinois/oil-change
* /illinois/chicago/engine-repair
* /missouri/st-louis/tire-rotation
* etc.

The # of URLs is equal to the # of service pages multiplied by the # of states + cities, but some locations might not offer a particular service. Still, if there’s 7 services and 10 cities across 3 states, that’s up to 91 URLs.

Any human user (through various attempts to pinpoint their location) would generally only see one set of service pages. The idea being they feel like they are on a page specific to that location (but really they aren’t as I explain below). An SEO spider would find and index all of these pages.

Each service page is a template, such that any particular service page looks the same at a glance. At the location level, any of the default content can be customized for a service.

At a minimum, there would be dynamic city/state names peppered about the content. (ie. Template variables like `{LOCATION.CITY}`, `{LOCATION.STATE}`.) The next step up from that is specific sentences/paragraphs changing from location to location (eg. `{LOCATION.INTRO_COPY}`). And so on.

The thing is, I don’t see the client going beyond changing a few sentences here and there. An oil change, tire rotation, engine repair, etc. doesn’t change much (if at all) from city to city, state to state.

My first question is: at what point would one of these location-specific pages no longer be considered a duplicate of the default page?

Assuming this approach is indeed gimmicky, what is a recommended alternative?

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