Some parts of the motor trade have a very poor reputation, not helped by media coverage of 'rip-off garages'. To address this, the Motor Industry Code of Practice encourages garages to raise standards and rebuild confidence. But there are two sides to every relationship. Here’s what you can do to help:
Try to pick a quiet time
If you need to chat to your garage about something, try to pick a quieter time – late morning or early afternoon – rather than first thing when cars are being dropped off, or early evening when they’re being picked up.
If it's a ‘car service' you want then tell the garage the car's age and mileage so they can match it to the manufacturer's schedule. If you’re booking a 'standard' or 'menu' service then you’ll have to check if any additional items are needed – ask the garage's advice. If there’s anything you’re not sure of, or you don’t understand, ask.
Ask for an estimate as costs can vary quite a lot depending on what needs doing. If you want to ensure you’re getting good value, compare estimates from two or more garages.
Mention the extras
If there’s a specific problem you want them to look at, make sure you tell the service receptionist when you book in so they can allow extra time. Overruns or unscheduled work can cause chaos with congested workshop schedules.
It's the garage's job to know about cars not yours. But you must explain clearly and precisely what you want them to do. It can help to write it down, particularly if you need a lot of work doing or the symptoms are hard to describe.
Don't treat the garage staff like a bunch of crooks – most are honest businessmen with your own best interests in mind and many mechanics are highly skilled professionals. Not all customers are angels either, remember.
Understand problems can arise:
- access is very difficult as so much is packed under the bonnet
- components can break even when you're being really careful
If a bolt or spark plug breaks while it's being removed, you’ll still be responsible for the cost of repair so long as the mechanic was working correctly and using the right procedure. Where possible, the garage should alert you to the possibility of such a problem and get your permission to proceed.
Speak to the mechanic if you can
If the garage doesn't manage to fix the fault the first time then ask to speak to the mechanic – sometimes details get confused or the customer’s explanation of the fault doesn’t reach the person who’s working on the car.
Tell him every detail – knowing for example "it only happens when the car is reversing" can make a big difference to fault diagnosis.
It can help to leave a written note in the car explaining the symptoms, too – particularly if the fault, or your description is very complicated.
The garage should give you a fully itemised invoice, detailing everything done to your car, how long it took and how much the parts cost. If you’re not happy with the charges, ask the service receptionist to explain. Remember that oily rags, antifreeze, engine oil and tyres are all classed as toxic waste and the garage has to pay for this to be disposed of – so it’ll be on your invoice as an environmental charge.
Ask for the parts
Unless parts have been replaced under warranty, or returned as exchange units (alternator, starter motor), all parts which have been renewed (eg clutch) belong to the you – so you can ask for the old ones back.
Warranties and known faults
The car manufacturer or importer pays for repairs carried out under warranty – but they pay the garage for fixing the fault, not for hours spent trying to track it down. This is why garages sometimes seem a bit reluctant to look for a vague, intermittent fault. Help them by providing all the information you can.
Sometimes with new models, faults occur and there’s no known fix – you have to wait until one is available. The manufacturer will be working on it and will pass information and modified parts to the garage as soon as they can.
Got a problem?
If you're not happy with work that’s been done, ask to speak to the workshop foreman, service manager or the garage's appointed customer services representative. Don't lose your temper – good calm and clear communication is essential.
If you're dealing with a garage that has signed up to the Motor Industry Code of Practice and it all goes wrong and you can't resolve any dispute with the garage direct, call the free consumer advice line 0800 692 0825.
(Page updated 13 December 2016)