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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?
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 illegal...so go back "armed" with professional advice!
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!)
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Having had a mixture of good and bad experiences, my advice would be:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Unless you're an expert yourself, you're at the mercy of those who claim THEY are.
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.
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!
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'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.
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).
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.
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?
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?
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.
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!
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).
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!
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.
10 Aug 00 | UK
Garages give 'terrible service'
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