The Big Question in almost every girl's mind when dealing with a garage is – am I going to get hugely ripped off here? And the answer to it is – yes, you might be.
Here are some examples of scams used by dishonest garages
Charging two hours labour for a job which really only took them an hour
Using a cheap brand of oil but charging you for the top of the range variety
Spraying oil on your shock absorber and telling you that it's leaking
Telling you that the cost of repairs to your vehicle is more that it's worth and then trying to flog you a car from their forecourt. Driving past a few weeks later you're likely to see your 'unrepairable' car tarted up and for sale at a tidy price.
Saying that your clutch was damaged and they had to replace it but actually not doing anything at all.
Some people will give you strategies for trying to catch out slippery garages – but most are either impractical (unless you stand over someone with a stopwatch you're going to have to take how long a particular job took on trust) or require a level of mechanical knowledge that most of us just don't have.
'A colleague warned me that if a garage was going to replace something on my car I should ask them to keep the old part and show it to me, so I could be sure they'd really done it. But I've also heard that dodgy garages have got wind of this strategy and keep a supply of old parts that they'll wave in front of customers to keep them happy. And I know so little about cars anyway, they could hand me something and say 'this is your clutch' and it could actually be a bit out of an old washing machine and I wouldn't know the difference.'
Basically, if a garage is determined to behave dishonestly then it will – and if it's not able to bump up its bill via one method then it'll do it by another. So in much the same way that it's more sensible to dump a cheating boyfriend rather than than waste your time trying to purloin his phone so you can check for incriminating messages, it's also wiser to just avoid garages you suspect might be trying to put one over on you. Far better to channel your energy into finding a garage (and indeed, a man) you can trust.
There are plenty of good garages out there – you just have to be prepared to put in a bit of legwork to track them down.
As has been mentioned previously, personal recommendation is the best way to find a good garage. Asking around friends, family, work colleagues and on car-related motoring forums will help point you in the right direction.
It's good not to become over-dependent on a particular garage however.
'I live in Glasgow but I always have my MOT done when I go back home to Peterborough. A friend of my dad's runs a garage and we've always used him – I wouldn't trust anyone else not to rip me off.'
Such loyalty is touching, but doesn't necessarily make good financial sense. It's important to have someone local you can rely in case you need emergency repairs – so if you move somewhere new start asking around as soon possible.
Membership of a Trade Association
Anyone can open an independent garage and start trading – it's not necessary to have any formal qualifications. So if you use a garage where the mechanics are trained, certificates are displayed and they are member of a recognised body such as The Retail Motor Industry Federation then that is at least a start.
The Motor Vehicles Repairers Association www.mvra.co.uk Call 0870 458 3051 for details of member garages in your area
The Retail Motor Industry Federation www.rmif.co.uk – has a search facility for local members or you can phone them on 0845 7585350
The Scottish Motor Trade Association www.smta.co.uk – 0131 331 5510
Could this be the start of a beautiful relationship?
Hopefully the various routes outlined above will prove useful and help you narrow down your search to a few potential garages. Once you've done that it's time to investigate further.
Like any relationship, it's best if you can get to know each other gradually rather than plunge in at the deep end. So in an ideal scenario it would be wise to just have a few minor bits of work done first – maybe a headlight bulb change or a service. That way you can get a general feel for the place and suss out how friendly and reliable they are and whether they appear to be dealing fairly with you.
It's a bit like if you were trying out a new hairdresser – you'd probably go in for a trim or maybe a few highlights first and check out the way she worked before asking her to transform your waist-length chestnut hair into a blonde urchin cut.
Hanging on the telephone
It's a good idea to phone a couple of garages on your shortlist and have an initial chat with them.
When talking to different garages always make sure you compare like with like. Services in particular are an area where vagueness can prevail. When garages talk about 'doing a service' they can be referring to a procedure that's as brisk as an an oil and filter change to one that involves a thorough check of the car and replacing loads of important stuff like spark plugs and brake pads. So it's important to clear about what you're actually getting. Services are covered in full in the following chapter.
If you're describing a problem with your car it's important to be as specific as possible about what happens and when the problem occurs. For example - 'there's this scraping noise when I brake' or 'there's this blowing noise when I accelerate'.
Ask about how long they think the work might take and when they might be able to book you in for it.
Ask them what their hourly labour rate is and what sort of parts they might use on your car
When discussing prices it's important to be aware of whether you're being given an estimate or a quote.
Quotes should be given in writing and cover exactly what the garage plans to do and gives a definite price for the work.
Estimates are a rough idea of what the garage thinks it will cost
Also ask them whether the figures they're quoting include or exclude VAT – you don't want to go for one that sounds like a good deal and then only realise it's because they left VAT off!
If you get the chance to discuss your car problem with family, friends or colleagues beforehand then do so – that way you can say stuff like, 'my friend thinks it might be worn brake pads' or 'my dad thinks there's a problem with the starter motor'. It will at least let them know you've got knowledgeable people in your social circle and that you're not totally a poor defenceless female all alone in the world. That can feel a bit like cheating for those of us who take a 'girls can do anything and we don't need to rely on a bloke' approach to life, but there you go.
Even if you feel a bit out of your depth avoid playing the 'helpless female' card. 'Be confident and don't go on about how little you know,' says Vanessa Guyll of the AA. 'Ask questions and show you're open to learning more about your car.'
This is a time to mention any particular requirements. For example, if they're going to be doing anything to the wheels and you want to be able to change them yourself then ask them not to tighten the nuts too much.
If there's any uncertainty about how much the work might cost agree a price and ask them not to go above it without calling you first.
It's best to pick up your car when you're not on a tight schedule as well. That way you'll be able to have a talk with the mechanic or service manager. Ask them to go through the list of what they've done with you. If a tyre was replaced, for example, then ask why. Was it damage or a poor tread? If you're uncomfortable about how this might come across as if you're checking up on them (though this is of course exactly what you're doing) say that you're trying to learn more about your car. Phrasing it that way will make for a more positive vibe.
Many garages hold back the parts they've removed and will show or offer to give them to you. It can feel a bit odd going off with a plastic bag with some dusty brake pads in it, but it is worth doing as it's all part of the learning curve.
Discuss what you had done how much it cost you with family, friends and colleagues and see if they nod approvingly or splutter out their coffee and squawk about how you've been robbed.
Hopefully you've found a fantastic garage and can start settling into a long-term relationship – but if you're not happy with how your initial visit has gone then try another one next time. There are some great, good-value garages out there and you'll find one in the end!