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Tuesday, 15 August, 2000, 09:40 GMT 10:40 UK
Your garage nightmares

Motorists get unacceptably poor service from garages and some work carried out can be potentially dangerous, according to a report.

The Office of Fair Trading has found bad servicing and shoddy repairs provoke 1.3 million complaints a year and cost British motorists 170 million pounds to put right.

It also says 40 percent of garages are providing a "critically unsatisfactory" service and that the poor quality of much of the work done by mechanics could be putting lives at risk.

Have you suffered at the hands of a rogue mechanic? Have you paid way over the odds for your car to be serviced? What are your worst car repair experiences?

Your reaction.

My car needed some work done for its MOT. There were a couple of "fail" points and a couple of "advise" points - one of which was the rear exhaust was "starting to rust and could go anytime". At the time I couldn't afford a new exhaust so decided to run with it until it failed, which turned out to be almost a full year later.
Karl Peters, UK

I suppose the moral is not believe a single word that a car dealer tells you

Julie Sayer, UK
I was disgusted to learn recently that the garage from which I purchased my car does not offer a courtesy car. When I purchased my new Ford less than a year ago this was an important factor in my purchase because my job etc depends very heavily on my transport. I suppose the moral is not believe a single word that a car dealer tells you.
Julie Sayer, UK

I just had my car repaired...they replaced the clutch cable. Fine I thought until I drove it...coming home from work last Friday the car overheated all the red warning lights went on...when I called out the AA they said the garage simply hadn't pushed in one of the connections to the fan!

In most trades, the crucial element is the individual workman. A dealer in my home town had my car in for replacement of a part they said would take five days to order from the distribution center. I mentioned this to the mechanic. He phoned a local parts store, acquired the part within an hour, and repaired the car that day. The machined metal part was delivered to the dealership at no charge, at a cost 30% less than the dealer would have charged for the "genuine" (plastic, I later discovered) item. On thanking the mechanic for his service, I learned that he was not yet a regular, working only Saturdays at the dealership. I hope he never learns to do things the "right" way.
Stefan, USA

My Vauxhall Cavalier failed its MOT some years ago for a rust hole in its sill the size of your thumbnail. I was told it needed welding over and filler was no good. I was livid however the examiner failed to see the previous filler I had used in the sill and there was loads of it. Obviously I did a good job.
Peter Fry, UK

Modern cars are now so complex that even with all the right equipment problems are often hard to diagnose. The days of your backyard mechanic are numbered. We are very fortunate to have found a garage some 20 years ago who's owner is talented and honest and has literally saved us hundreds of dollars in repairs. Keep it up John!
Pat Doyle, Canada

Why do dealerships continue to charge high prices for spare parts?

Mark Withington, England
Why do dealerships continue to charge high prices for spare parts? I recently changed the alternator belt on my car. The price for the belt from a dealer was 700% more than one from a reputable garage. I guess it pays to shop around.
Mark Withington, England

My garage is not cheap, but the work is always good. Unfortunately, they are always so busy it can take over a week to book an appointment. I guess you can't have it all ways.
Clive P. Mitchell, UK

As an Engineer it always amazes me what garages are prepared to try on when my Mother takes her car into the garage. The only thing I can suggest is to get someone reasonably knowledgeable to give their opinion, although modern cars are so complex sometimes even the manufacturers don't understand them.
James, UK

There should be a national scheme of fixed price servicing

Nathan, UK
There should be a national scheme of fixed price servicing. Main dealers rip you off on high labour charges, with the excuse that they carry all the spares for current models. Most people that I know, who use main dealers are often find that repairs are delayed because the garage is waiting for a part. Perhaps they should learn some stock control, or reduce their charges when you have to wait for parts. The motor trade is run by to many 'cowboys', with no real accountability.
Nathan, UK

The only safe solution to your car is to get to know it after a period of time through not only manuals but practicals for small services. Use the same mechanic say on weekends for a regular service. You could buy spares specified by your mechanic and keep a diary what has been done. Remember ignorance is very expensive.
J. Mwinshehe Tanzania

The Franchises place their mechanics under severe time pressure and often pay commission on the extra parts

John D, UK
An excellent mechanic from a well-known recovery organisation recently recovered me from a roadside breakdown. He had extensive experience of working in Franchised and Independent garages. In his experience the Franchises place their mechanics under severe time pressure and often pay commission on the extra parts they can sell by discovering 'faults'. His explanation certainly bears out my recent experience when my wife was badgered to replace all the brake disks on our Galaxy even though they where well within limits. One of the most feasible explanations given by the garage was that there was some rust on the outer edge of the disks. The vehicle has subsequently passed its MOT without disk replacement.
John D, UK

You don't have to be a genius to carry out a basic service on a car yourself. There are many manuals available to the novice which can save you hundreds of pounds. A lot of people are put off because they think that cars are 'too complicated ' these days for the amateur to work on. It's true that you can't do much to the electronics in an engine management system but only call in the experts when you really have to.
Tim Bloomfield, UK

My new car came with tyre pressures of 34/34/34/31. But the Service Manager from where I bought the car tried to convince me that this was "no problem"...I had phoned the AA before going back who told me they were totally go back "armed" with professional advice!
Peter Bennett, UK

I've had bad experiences with franchised dealers and fast-fits. Nowadays I get my car serviced by a father-and-son independent that was recommended to me, and they've been consistently first-rate. (Cheers, Steve and Brandon, if you happen to read this!)
Stephen Driver, UK

The media appears to have an agenda here - to destroy the motor trade

Pete, UK
Once again, the motor trade gets a bashing. First prices, and now workmanship. Who gets hurt? The vast number of good dealerships in this country (I know, because I work for one) that have a high standard of customer care and would never even contemplate doing a shoddy job. The media appears to have an agenda here - to destroy the motor trade. Then they will complain when 1000s of jobs are lost.
Pete, UK

, Tanzania

I had a set of brake pads changed on my Rover. They lasted less than a month! When I challenged the garage, they denied ever seeing my car, or doing the work! The garage was paid in cash, so it was hard to prove anything. I now use a trusted local garage who has a good reputation. The only advice I can offer, is go for recommendations on garages, before getting work done!
Chris Bullion, England

Time something was done about it all and I am sure the European Commission will see to it soon!

Margaret Carre, Belgium
I agree totally with all the comments so far, especially David Morris and Andy Brown, as I have had the same experience. I work for a Japanese car manufacturer and although I had total confidence until three years ago, that has gone out the window. My car also always develops "other problems" after services. Latest was the alternator which packed in two weeks after a service. Quoted FB22,000 by franchised dealer. We found an independent garage of a rival Japanese manufacturer who replaced the part (non-Japanese) for exactly half the price! Franchised garages are the problem as the manufacturer controls them. Time something was done about it all and I am sure the European Commission will see to it soon!
Margaret Carre, Belgium

Last summer I took a 1974 Kombi to the Bush. In the middle of nowhere a brake calliper snapped and the Kombi was undriveable. The first person who stopped was a real Aussie Bush Mechanic who had an idea he had seen an old Kombi in a paddock somewhere, 3 hours later he had driven off, found it, got the calliper off it, installed it on our Kombi and we were on our way again. The cost - A packet of Dunhill Reds. No problem.
Kevin Wills, Australia

In British Columbia I have only found one competent garage in the main city, and many duds. I even found one, a "Main Dealer" that went back and damaged my car in the rear workshop when I complained energetically to the service Manager about the dangerous work that had been done. He put a bar into the oil filler hole and bent one of the rocker arms
Grant K, British Columbia, Canada

As a former UK resident, I found it quite interesting that the very same garage that can fail my car in the MOT inspection can also repair those items it finds not up to standards. Still, all in all, it's a better system than where I live now. There is no such thing as an auto safety inspection.
Bill, US

At last, the worst and most unregulated and incompetent industry has finally been revealed. The whole motor repair industry should be licensed like most other major industries with undercover 'test' cars brought in for repair anonymously to check the garages competence. Car repair is the biggest open-cheque rip-off sham in existence. No wonder that manufacturers are designing cars that need less and less servicing.
Bill Grove, UK

Here is a good one. Last week I took my basic VW Polo to have new brake pads. The original quote at the desk was 22.00 - 10 minutes later after my car was in bits the quote had grown to 74.00. I do not trust any automotive mechanics, period.
Tony Humphreys, UK

Having had a mixture of good and bad experiences, my advice would be:
(a) to find a small independent local mechanic who is also an MOT test centre;
(b) to avoid main dealers and anything that resembles the Mitchell Brothers' Arches;
(c) to be prepared to pay a fair rate; and (d) pretend to be knowledgeable about engines etc. even if you're not.
Alister McClure, UK

I don't have a car, but all those who I know who have one, tend to bring their cars to friends of friends, or friends of the family who are mechanics. Ireland with it's smaller population makes this possible. Due to this system you know that you can trust the job they do because of this family/friends connection.
Michael, Ireland

As a mechanic myself I would strongly advise unwary people to avoid fast fit centres like the plague

John, England
As a mechanic myself I would strongly advise unwary people to avoid fast fit centres like the plague, remember the fitters are all on a commission based pay scheme which is surely not in the interest of the motorist!
John, England

The mater is quite fresh in my mind as I had my Volvo MOT'd yesterday. The local garage noticed that one wing mirror was cracked and kindly cut one for me to avoid my having to travel 40 miles to get one. The MOT garage were very pleasant and offered me a coffee and a newspaper while I waited in their little room. It was all done in just over 45 minutes. But then - this is Scotland! Where service counts.
Alasdair, Scotland

Car owners, stand-up for your rights!

Han de Min, UK
Garage workmanship is generally shoddy, grossly overpriced and if you have a comment you are portrayed as an incompetent customer. My cars are maintained in the Netherlands as I am there regularly. I have tried the UK and compared standard prices between UK and Dutch dealers of the same make. Not only is the UK some 45% more expensive (sometimes easily paying for the trip), but there is no formal guaranty and clear legislation. Car owners, stand-up for your rights!
Han de Min, UK (formerly Netherlands)

Motorcycle garages are just as bad as car ones. A recent "repair" left me with a bike on which the petrol line had not even been re-connected resulting in petrol spraying over the engine, and a throttle cable replaced so the bike revved madly when the handlebars were turned to the right! Could have been extremely dangerous. "Ride" magazine is running a "dealerwatch" scheme in which all visits to all garages are logged by the customer and sent off to Rides database. Bikers taking part attach a sticker to their machine so the garage knows its quality of work is being independently logged.
Adam, UK

I used to cringe when I had to take my car in for service until I found a reputable, reliable mechanic. He knows what he is doing and doesn't gouge me on the bill either. My husband, however, owns an Audi and can only take it to certain garages. He gets skewered all the time.
Faye, USA

Unless you're an expert yourself, you're at the mercy of those who claim THEY are.
Ben, Netherlands

Here in British Columbia auto repair shops are inspected by the insurance company ICBC. If you pass their strict guideline of service you are certified ICBC recommended. If they don't have that sticker on their door don't go there they failed in service, repairs or price.
Robert Tisdale, Canada

Mechanics know what their job is - they can tell when they can fool someone and when they can't

Craig B, UK
Mechanics know what their job is - they can tell when they can fool someone and when they can't. My wife will not take her car to the garage as she thinks (quite rightly) that as a woman the mechanics will just try to get as much from her as possible, while doing as little work as possible.
Craig B, UK

Well I think it all boils down to how much you know your car. Its helpful to buy car series books and get to know your car. The more ignorant you are, the higher you pay. Its that simple. It pays to read on what your car is all about and it will be cost effective in the longer term. It's almost always helpful to shop around at first and then basically keep taking it to the same mechanic. Its no different then your accountant, doctor or attorney except that its not you, its your car!
Guru Shenoy, United States

With my previous car (an unnamed French make), I would always try to get the work done at a main dealer. What a mistake that was - after three visits to get one problem fixed, and a two week wait while they got the wrong part, sent it back and got the right one, I replace my car and used an independent garage. I got stung by a dodgy small independent doing a non-existent service.
I now use a larger independent outfit which is family run. The fact that they are always busy is a good sign, the work is always to a good standard, and any subsequent problems are sorted quickly and with an apology (and no extra charge). Much better than the rude, reluctant, inefficient service I got from the main dealer.
Alex S, UK

People try to cut corners and do it on the cheap and then wonder why they get ripped off

Ian, UK
More people need to realise that cars are expensive to own. You don't just pay for them once and then they run forever, they need regular maintenance that costs. Hence people try to cut corners and do it on the cheap and then wonder why they get ripped off. You only get what you pay for.
Ian, UK

I've never been ripped off by a garage. Firstly, I accumulated knowledge of my own cars over a period of time, tackled what I could with the help of a workshop manual, read all I can from different sources, etc., and I leave the really big jobs to the experts. People who are ripped-off deserve to be, They should know more about their own vehicles. Years ago every one knew at least the basics of car maintenance.
Randy, UK

Garages do over charge for work and as the quality is never guaranteed, there is no come back. There should be a star approval system for all garages so that we can compare them (like we can now for hotels and B&B).
Quality, workmanship, service and price are things that should be measured and inspected on a regular basis. An informed public can then make comparisons, so that garages do not get away with dodgy work, which is overly priced.
Riad, UK

Repair facilities attached to dealerships are, in my opinion, the absolute worst, and I avoid them like the plague ... find a reliable and honest "little guy" with a gas station, give him all your business (fuel and servicing), and he will treat you like a king.
Mark M. Newdick, USA/UK

Isn't it about time some sort of regulatory service was set up?

Paula, UK
Cars are a law unto themselves, and most people know very little about them. There are those of us who can just about cope with servicing a car and making small repairs but most of the time we are completely at the mercy of mechanics, whatever they say goes - after all they are the "experts" aren't they?
One of the things I find most upsetting about being a car owner is there is generally no recourse against dodgy dealers short of taking them through a small claims court. You can't exactly take a car which has broken down back to the garage for a refund - even if the reason it broke down was supposedly fixed in a repair job the day before (speaking from bitter experience)! Isn't it about time some sort of regulatory service was set up?
Paula, UK

Tell me about it. Having just been pranged by some imbecile who readily admits to have been "busy talking to my sister" whilst driving, I'm going round garages getting quotes, which are ranging between 100 and 1000. As a non-mechanic, how can anyone realistically assess whether they're getting a good deal?
Nick, UK

If you try an independent garage make sure they're registered with the Retail Motor Industry Federation first. When my car broke down, I tried an independent garage instead of my usual VW garage in the belief it would cost less. They had my car for nearly 4 weeks during which time they kept telling me they thought they knew what the problem was and were close to fixing it.
When I tried to get the car back, they said the cost (for not even repairing it) was 550. I managed to negotiate 280 in the end for an unrepaired car and ended up taking it to a VW garage.
Emily, England

If it makes anybody feel better, garages here in Germany have the same reputation as those in the UK

Nick, UK now in Germany
When I lived in Reading I took my car in for an MOT and in the process they changed a ball-joint. In so doing they broke the ABS, it took 3 subsequent visits for them to fix that problem - and they tried to charge extra. After "discussion" with the manager I only paid for the original work. Since I drive a Ford Escort it is unbelievable, any mechanic in the land should be able to fix one of them. If it makes anybody feel better, garages here in Germany have the same reputation as those in the UK.
Nick, UK now in Germany

I'm with Paul B on this one - I've gone to franchised dealers *only* while the warranty is still in force (the manufacturers cartel ensures this is the only way the warranty will be honoured), but once that's over my cars go straight to a trusted independent. My advice - find someone who's good and use him/her ALL THE TIME!
Andy Brown, UK

My brake pads needed changing as they were making a noise, I took it to a local garage and left it with them. When I got the car back there was no noise which was nice but a month later the noise returned and upon inspection realised that all they had done was turn them around. I had to buy new disks and pads (the garage had closed down).
Dave Eyrl, UK

My car regularly leaves the dealer with a completely different set of problems to those that it went in to have fixed!

David Morris, UK
My car regularly leaves the dealer with a completely different set of problems to those that it went in to have fixed! These usually appear when I am well clear of the dealer and unable to take it straight back! It is one way of increasing the amount of repeat business I suppose!
David Morris, UK

In the past I have suffered badly from the rip off mechanics. Bodged jobs, expensive unnecessary work and rude people. But last year I decided, as a Christian, that I would contact a local firm who advertised themselves as a Christian set-up. Fantastic service!
They probably weren't the cheapest I could have found but the friendly service was excellent and I slept sound knowing that I'd had an honest job done, without any 'extras' being applied for no good reason. I'll keep going back to these people because I know I can trust them 100% not to scam me and my car will be safe to drive afterwards.
Mark Dickinson, England

My experience of garages basically boils down to this: stay away from franchised dealers/service centres and stick to local independents. Franchised garages charge far more than independents, they cannot source parts any quicker than independents, and in my experience the quality of their work is far worse than independents, usually causing more faults than they fix.
This rule not only applies to big names such as Ford and Vauxhall, but even to specialist makes such as TVR. The only exception I've found is with Subaru, whose dealers have impressed me with their efficient, value-for-money service. Remember that at main dealers you're dealing with a bunch of mechanics who draw a wage and hate their jobs, while independents generally need to do a decent job to survive and they are in the business because they like what they do.
Paul B, UK

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