Letter: Depressing standard of garages

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your leading article 'Lifting the bonnet on mechanical failure' (7 October) raises some interesting questions on why the standards of service are so poor in this country and what can be done to raise them. On garage servicing, depressingly, standards have not improved since the last time we sent cars for servicing incognito, three years ago. As you say, there is no way the consumer can be certain whether a service has been performed to the highest safety and quality standards, or whether the engineer has merely lifted the bonnet as a prelude to a leisurely stroll around the car. This alone exposes the absurdity of the common, even hackneyed, excuse that 'no one's ever complained before'.

What, then, is to be done? Our research found that garages franchised by manufacturers were no better or worse than independent outfits. In the short run, more inspections on anonymous lines, like our own, would help to raise standards. Longer term, there has to be a recognition among manufacturers, who have franchising clout, and garages, whose employees actually wield the spanner, that the consumer deserves, and must get, safe and satisfactory servicing.

Of the 36 garages we investigated, two - Drive 2000 of Manchester and Vantage of Altrincham - advised on, or corrected, all service items. One of these garages responded that it had 'put a lot of time, money and effort into training'. If that proves anything, it proves that improvement is certainly achievable; for the UK's commercial future in world markets, it is eminently desirable, too.

For the moment, though, that improvement will not necessarily come through the Government's enigmatic Chartermarks, the award of which is made by Whitehall mandarins on criteria that are shrouded in mystery. Ironically, in the same edition of Which? magazine, we highlighted the tariff and performance of South Western Electricity, awarded a Chartermark last year for its supposed 'improvements in service'. South Western sells England's most expensive electricity and has a poor record in keeping appointments and warning of planned power cuts.

Yours faithfully,

JOHN BEISHON

Chief Executive

Consumers' Association

London, NW1

8 October

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