Motoring: Putting the ease back into grease: Car need fixin? Rather go to the dentist? James Ruppert finds garages that offer service with a smile

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Getting your car serviced in London ought to be a simple enough affair, but often it is more painful and distressing than a visit to the dentist. The hassle of getting to the garage, arranging alternative transport, then returning to collect the car before the mechanics knock off for the day seems bizarre. Surely there are some easier alternatives that could make this whole business less traumatic?

The most time-consuming part of the servicing operation is driving out of your way to drop the car off, then making your own way back there to pick it up. But some garages offer a collection and delivery service. Exan Car Services, for example, based in Holloway, will collect your car from home or work - within a 'reasonable area' of central London - and deliver it. It specialises in servicing most of the premier makes such as BMW, Porsche and Volkswagen, but will happily attend to any car. It will also clean and MoT your car for free.

Main agents are also keen to stress that they, too, can provide a very competitive service. Henlys Jaguar on the Edgware Road uses fully warranted Jaguar parts and provides a free collection and delivery service within a 15-mile radius. Be warned, however, that for many dealers, a collection and delivery service is just that - a service which will have to be paid for. But when it comes to the common courtesy of being dropped off at the nearest station, virtually no service department worth its existence would refuse. It is bad PR for them to refuse, so make sure that you ask.

Getting a loan-car is, however, much more complicated. To get one from a car dealership, it helps if you bought a car from there in the first place and can thus be considered a loyal customer. You should also give plenty of notice so arrangements can be made. The fact is that many garages find operating a loan-car scheme costly and complex. If they have a hire-car operation, some will offer you a lower rate or, in exceptional circumstances, loan you a used car. It all depends on who you know and how much fuss you make as much as anything else.

Have you ever noticed that garages tend to open when you have already been in the office for half an hour and then tend to shut just as you are negotiating the rush-hour scrum in a frantic effort to collect the car? Charles Ivey, an Alfa Romeo dealer based in Richmond, is one of the very few garages in London to put the customer first in this respect, operating a flexible service-schedule according to demand. A late-night shift runs from 6pm to 10.30pm at the moment. And you don't need to own an Alfa. It will tackle all makes of car and currently describes itself as very busy. At last - you can stay in town, see a film, have a bite to eat and collect the car on the way home.

Another dealer prepared to work around a customer's schedule is Heathrow Ltd, a BMW franchise near the airport. Book your BMW in for a service, giving flight details and times, and it chauffeurs you to the airport and collects you on your return. The first two days of car storage are free, thereafter it's pounds 6.50 a day - which is still significantly cheaper than the airport's long-term car parks.

Of course if you don't want to go to a garage, why not get one to come to you? The mobile-tuning franchises will attend to your car at your home or work. Three of the best known companies are Hometune, Computa Tune and Mobiletuning; all of which offer a competitive and convenient service. They will provide diagnostic checks, engine tune and basic oil services for the 6,000- and 12,000-mile intervals.

I recently tried this service for the first time. I contacted Hometune's head office, which put me in touch with a local engineer. The man, Mr Taylor, was on my doorstep to tune a 1980 Triumph Dolomite within a day. It took just over two hours to complete a full 'Premier' service, plugs, points, filters and a complete tune up, all for a reasonable pounds 89.95 including value-added tax. He also pointed out the small jobs that needed doing to get it through an imminent MoT and even gave me a condition report on other parts. You won't be surprised to learn that I'll be calling on Mr Taylor again.

Charles Ivey: 081-876 7636 Henlys Jaguar: 081-205 4031 Heathrow Ltd: 081-848 8866 Toyota: 0800 269423

Exan Car Services: 071-609 1960

Computa Tune: 0254 391792 Mobiletuning: 0303 248473 Hometune: 0829 260030

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