Ask your friends and colleagues if they can recommend a garage close to your home or work place. However, if anything goes wrong (and it often does), you have a better chance of redress with a main dealer or a garage that’s a member of a trade association (such as the Retail Motor Industry Federation or the Scottish Motor Trade Association) or approved by one of the motoring organisations. When a car is under warranty, it must usually be serviced by an approved dealer in order not to invalidate the warranty. The date or mileage at which services are due may be calculated from the previous service, and not according to the standard periods and mileage indicated in the service record. Check in advance. Most main dealers have ‘set price’ published fees for regular services and certain repairs. Many garages, including most main dealers, provide a free replacement car while yours is being serviced, although you must book it in advance and arrange for comprehensive insurance. Some garages collect your car from your home or office and deliver it after the service, or drop you off at a station or local town and pick you up to collect your car.
Always obtain a number of quotations for major mechanical work or body repairs and tell the garage if an accident repair is to be paid for privately, as many increase the price when an insurance company is paying. Quotations for accident repairs usually vary wildly and some garages include the replacement of unnecessary parts. Always get a second opinion if you’re quoted a high price for a repair, e.g. by simply ringing an approved dealer. High-tech systems are often replaced needlessly, often in ignorance rather than deliberately. Poor workmanship and overcharging by garages are the biggest concerns for motorists in the UK. Always instruct a garage what to do in writing and, for anything other than a standard service, get a written estimate that includes labour, parts and VAT. Ask the garage to contact you (give them a telephone number) and obtain approval before doing anything that isn’t listed or if the cost is likely to exceed the original estimate. Large official dealers typically charge around £50 an hour for servicing and you can usually save two-thirds or more by having your car serviced in Belgium or France (and enjoy a ‘free’ day out).
If you must buy spare parts, you can save 50 per cent or more by buying them from a specialist company advertising in the motoring press or in weekly magazines such as Exchange & Mart. Wherever you buy parts, beware of cheap, supposedly branded parts, which can prove fatal (the UK is a prime target for counterfeiters, as motorists often go for the cheapest parts). You should never buy second-hand tyres, many of which fail to meet legal standards and are liable to suffer blow-outs and to cause serious accidents. Always make sure that your tyres are correctly inflated, as they’re the most crucial part of your car with regard to safety.
Check how a bill is to be paid and make sure there’s no misunderstanding about the collection time and date. If the car isn’t ready, the garage should supply you with a replacement car free of charge. Always obtain a bill listing all work completed, showing parts and labour costs. A garage must use reasonable care and skill when servicing your car. This includes car washes, and tyre and exhaust replacement companies, Department for Transport testers or anyone else who does work on your car. If your car is damaged in any way while it’s in a garage’s care, they’re liable: a sign disclaiming liability isn’t legal.
The motor trade business in the UK has the same poor reputation as in most other countries, although admittedly only a relatively small percentage of garages are real rogues (which is no consolation if you fall victim to one of them). In checks carried out after servicing, many jobs are found not to have been done properly or indeed at all, and the percentage of complete and satisfactory services is often as low as 10 or 20 per cent. Probably every experienced motorist in the UK has had unsatisfactory service from a garage at some time or another. Women are particularly vulnerable to crooked garages and mechanics, who routinely charge women two-thirds more than men for the same work. A garage is usually entitled to keep your car until you’ve paid the bill, even if the work was done badly, and you must pay the bill and try to obtain satisfaction afterwards.
Free legal advice can be obtained from a Consumer Advice Centre (CAC) or a Trading Standards (or Consumer Protection) Department. British motoring organisations operate a free legal advice service for members and if you have a major problem it may be worthwhile getting them to carry out an independent inspection of your car. If a garage is a dealer, you can complain to the manufacturer or importer, although some manufacturers seem to prefer bad publicity rather than ensure that customers are satisfied. If the garage is a member of a trade association or is approved by the AA or RAC, you can make a complaint to them.
Although you’re covered by law against shoddy workmanship and overcharging, trying to obtain redress through the courts is a long and arduous business, with no guarantee of success. It’s often not worth the time and effort unless the sum involved runs into hundreds or thousands of pounds. Not surprisingly many motorists do their own servicing.
This article is an extract from Living and working in Britain. Click here to get a copy now.