Are you being serviced?

From back streets to main dealers, James Ruppert reveals how to ensure you don't get ripped off
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online

Another week, another report slamming the state of the UK garage industry. This time it's the National Consumer Council (NCC). They accuse the £7 bn a year industry of "inaction" and "lack of engagement" with the problems suffered by consumers - estimated to cost them £4 billion a year.

Another week, another report slamming the state of the UK garage industry. This time it's the National Consumer Council (NCC). They accuse the £7 bn a year industry of "inaction" and "lack of engagement" with the problems suffered by consumers - estimated to cost them £4 billion a year.

The industry, say the councils, is failing to regulate itself effectively despite no fewer than 11 attempts to raise standards over the last 30 years. Indeed just a year ago I was at a regional meeting of independent garages when they too were promised that the proposed Carwise scheme would be heavily promoted by in national advertising and transform the way they were perceived by the public. Carwise was meant to provide a set of nationwide standards that accredited garages would have to abide by. However, Carwise failed to materialise and that is why the NCC is so upset.

A lot of mystery shopping exercises on car repair and servicing businesses proves people are getting a bad deal. Government mystery shopping in 2002 showed that 40 per cent of garages missed or did not replace at least one item on their service schedule. In the case of cars owned by women, a higher percentage (58 per cent) of garages failed the test. However, the Office of Fair Trading report said that 1.3m motorists complain annually. The report also suggested that 40 per cent of garages give poor service and motorists are forced to spend £170m rectifying the mistakes. That's what the NCC want, a full OFT investigation and at the end of it some sort of action and ultimately regulation. But would a Government backed scheme actually stop these problems?

There are two options, either a positive scheme whereby stars or spanners are awarded because of a high level of workmanship. Alternatively there is a negative approach, so every garage is licensed, but loses it depending on the number of complaints.

Certainly any ratings schemes can never address the problem of fly-by-night operators and exactly what criteria is used to judge a garage? At The Independent and at Car magazine the majority of complaints I personally receive are not about so called back street garages, but the shiny palace-like main agent structures who seem incapable of fixing problems cost effectively or satisfactorily. Indeed some of the very best garages are the small independent operators who came out best in What Car's own undercover garage survey in 2004.

A proprietor with his name over the premises has a lot to lose if his reputation is poor. Membership of a trade organisation is helpful, but not always conclusive when it comes to finding the best garages. At least the Retail Motor Industry Federation means that you will have someone to moan at and they have an arbitration procedure. You can find a garage on their website ( although many members are the larger franchised dealers.

The Motor Vehicle Repairers Association (, 0870 458 3053) has agreed operating standards and can guarantee that the garage you use is clean and professional.

Also, the garages are regularly assessed. The only independent network of servicing garages is the Unipart Car Care Network ( which puts you in touch with 1500 accredited garages, all of which are obliged to be members of a trade organisation and whose members regularly win independent garage of the year awards.

As well as local recommendation, why not join a car club specific to your car? Most have recommended garages that may offer discounts on parts and servicing to members.

Once you have found your garage you then need to set your own agenda and be aware of the costs involved. Money seems to be at the root of a lot of service related problems. Calculating the cost of work is not difficult. There are manufacturer standard times for all procedures, whether it is unscrewing a bolt, or a major crash repair as calculated by the Motor Insurance Repair Research Centre at Thatcham. Most manufacturer customer help lines will tell you what the times are and then all you need to know is the garage's labour charge.

If there are service and repair related problems, talk to the service or garage manager straight away. If the problem cannot be resolved, you will still have to pay the disputed bill to get your car back. However, give the garage a letter, detailing your complaint, saying that you are dissatisfied and that payment is made "without prejudice". This will ensure that the trader cannot say in court that you accepted the repair because you paid the bill.

It will be interesting to see if the UCC can get the OFT to act. Whatever they come up with they need the majority of garages to participate and for consumers to understand the significance of any ratings. Otherwise any nationally accredited garage scheme, like some of the cars currently being bodged in the nation's workshops, will simply break down.

Garage guide

* Ask friends/relatives for recommendations.

* Are they members of a professional body?

* Ask manufacturer for repair times and what is actually serviced.

* Tell garage in writing what you want done

* Check whether costs for labour, parts and VAT are all included.

* Ask if workmanship and parts are guaranteed.

* Get quotes and second opinions from other garages

* Request that you be consulted about any additional work/expenditure.

* Agree collection and payment arrangements

* Get a detailed invoice showing a breakdown of all parts/labour costs.

Search for used cars