/ Motoring

Can you trust your local garage?

Mechanic working on car

If you’ve taken your car for a service recently, did the garage do a good job? The scary truth is that you may not even realise if they hadn’t – as we went undercover to find out…

Our latest findings on garage servicing are released today, and they make for pretty depressing reading.

Nearly 90% of the garages we tested missed (or perhaps simply ignored) at least one potentially dangerous fault on our doctored cars.

Putting garages to the test

We put garages to the test, by finding 62 cars between three and six years old, and introducing the same four basic faults to each car:

  • Reducing brake fluid level to minimum
  • Blowing one of the reversing light bulbs
  • Deflating nearside rear tyre to 20% below required pressure
  • Deflating spare tyre to 10psi (almost flat)

All these faults should have been fixed as part of a routine service. Yet just eight of the garages returned the cars fault-free – and five failed to fix any of the introduced faults.

Keen to see how they measured up in the honesty stakes, we went one step further. Each car’s screen wash bottle was filled to the maximum level to see how many garages charged for it anyway.

Again, the results were shocking – 39% of garages charged for screen wash that wasn’t supplied.

Is there any good news about garages?

Tales of shoddy, dishonest garages are nothing new, of course. Sadly, we found similar issues in our last garage servicing investigation three years ago.

But it would be unfair to say nothing’s changed since then. The industry has made some effort to raise standards and consumer confidence with voluntary codes of practice such as Motor Codes, Bosch Service and the Good Garage Scheme.

Encouragingly, the codes do seem to be making a difference – both Bosch and Motor Codes garages outperformed those that weren’t affiliated to any code of conduct in the study. But, for me, these codes don’t go nearly far enough.

Time for compulsory qualifications

Mechanics currently don’t need to have any formal qualifications at all – how can that be?

If a plumber comes to fix my boiler, he or she has to be registered with Gas Safe. Yet the mechanic fixing my car may have had no training whatsoever.

Poorly-maintained cars put the lives of drivers and other road users in danger. To my mind, a recognised, industry-wide qualification, such as that offered by the Automotive Technician Accreditation (ATA) scheme, should be compulsory for all mechanics.

Motor Codes and the Good Garage Scheme must also introduce mystery shopping to keep garages on their toes.

As cars become ever more complicated, even those of us – like me – with a limited degree of mechanical knowledge are left increasingly reliant on the garages that service them.

We put our trust in garages, and many of them betray that trust. Now it’s time for the garage industry to clean up its act.

Do you trust your local garage?

I have a reliable garage I use regularly (49%, 76 Votes)

I use one but don't trust them (32%, 49 Votes)

I avoid garages because I don't trust them (19%, 29 Votes)

Total Voters: 154

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Last three services, Ford and Citroen

I had already filled my windscreen wash to the very top – to see what happens.

Yes – they all attempted to charge a fixed fee for topping it up, thus it seemed to me that they never even checked it.

Citroen main dealer Aylesbury also told me the window motor had gone kaput and also the rear window wiper.
Gave me a story about running a new live feed and not working (Total Bull it turned out)
and wanted £250 for the rear wiper and £150 for the rear door window.

A local garage fixed both in seconds for £50 – a wire was shorted on the door post – very common.
Guess where the Citroen goes now?

£50 for a new seconds work!

I need some customers like you LOL

JASON says:
25 October 2010

i also run a small independent garage in bolton where quality and customer satisfaction counts, my advise to any customer for any purchase is ask friends and family if they can recomend anywhere as this is the best way of avoiding cowboys , and ask if you can see the mechanic or technician so they can explain to you what they have found , and people resent paying for work on their cars when the tools and training costs thousands of pounds but dont begrudge paying for clothes or hair styles where the tools and training for that costs hundreds

Jeff says:
16 January 2011

I was in a depot of national chain of tyre /exhaust suppliers recently and over heard.

Customer – ‘How did my free safety check go on?

‘Well love ,all your four tyres are borderline and your windscreen wipers are duff. We’re looking after your safety and while the tyres would pass an MOT, they will need replacing, and if you’ve got kids in the back – you can’t be too careful can you?’

Customer: ‘ Well i suppose I better have them done then’ ……………………

Done …she was.

I have not been very impressed by official VW servicing. I have no real horror stories and most of my disappointment relates to work overlooked and material paid for but not used. I am not saying that all VW dealerships are poor, but reporting on my own limited experience.

To be positive, I have discovered an independent garage that has never given me any cause for concern and has charged reasonable prices. I was impressed how carefully they did an MOT (some garages don’t do a thorough job) and now I use this garage for any jobs that I cannot do myself.

If I had not done a lot of work on cars in my younger days I would probably have no idea of the quality of work.

markystace says:
24 March 2011

I own and run an independent garage in West Yorkshire and have done for almost 26 years. We are part of the Bosch franchise which means we are approved by the Office of Fair Trading.

We are, and always have been, very honest with our customers. In fact 80% of our customer base is returning customers. My reception staff are female so other females feel okay to come to us without worrying that they’re being ripped off. We rely on our reputation and word of mouth. If you have a problem with your garage – tell them!! We give you the opportunity to look at your old parts before we dispose of them. We also take you into the workshop and show you where the problem is on your car.

Main dealers are the worst culprits – we have had so many customers coming for second opinions after seeing the main dealer and being told they need work for things when it’s complete rubbish. This tars all garages with the same brush, main dealer or independent and is not fair on the garages that work hard and are honest.

Also, beware of ‘offers’ – this is more than likely just to get you through the door – as we say in Yorkshire ‘you don’t get owt for nowt’!!

JF - Dunmow says:
2 April 2011

Had car serviced 3 weeks since when its taken almost that long to get an invoice that adds up. Drove 200 miles and battery then flat, won’t recharge so its a new battery, when fitting noticed an engine to body earth wire was hanging loose, easy to recrimp and refit so I checked the tyre pressures – shld be 33, actual 20 – should I ask for my £600 (for an oil change) back? Mercedes SLK 230

markystace says:
3 April 2011

Go back to the garage. Don’t go elsewhere then go back, you need to give them a chance to put it right otherwise they only have your word that there are these problems. Ask them for a full breakdown – tell them you’re not happy with the service and ask them to put it all in writing. After you’ve been go to another garage and get a second opinion. Have they changed your filters? Did you get break fluid change when they’ve charged you for a break fluid change, etc. Go back to them first because if you don’t you don’t really have the right to ask for a refund. Good luck.

clive bunch says:
23 April 2011

Having spent a number of years in the motor trade as a mechanic I have now quit and taken up another occupation. It has been my experience that most small garages are not interested in quality..only quantity.Owing to the complexity of modern cars and the unwillingness of my last employer to fund even basic training I found myself lacking the skills to do the job properly.
It is about time the trade was regulated and a minimum skill level established along with ongoing training made compulsory.

A Robinson says:
16 September 2011

Hi with the new law on L.E.Z. and having to put a new exhaust system on my campervan, i got a few quotes these range from £2000.00 to £4000.00 + V.A.T. + £45.00 for the smoke test; this almost gave me a heart attack, it’s seems that garages doing the fittings are ripping us off ( the units can be purchased for about £600 ) but can only be fitted by certified garages. Transport For London / The Mayors Office / or V.O.S.P.A. did not seem to know the price or wish to comment on this subject. Why is it only within the M25, if a law is passed surely it should include the entire country? I feel this will cause a lot of small buisnesses to close; putting more people out of work. The bigger companies will pass this on to the consumer along with the public transport with a price rise to pay for this new L.E.Z law ( does the tax payer pay for re-fit to public transport vehicles )? Why is there no help, in the form of reducing petrol / car tax / mot’s / even insurance as the roads are in a dreadful state that causes us to have our vehicles repaired all too often.

Roger spencer says:
19 February 2013

I had a so called service at road runner in church village Pontypridd when I checked the oil it was really black after two weeks I emailed road runner and they said that’s normal since then I had the mot and the hand brake was so corroded it could have failed any time , I will not be going there again and will not be recommending this garage as the charge was £130 for doing nothing on my van

On a diesel engine it is normal for oil to be black after it has been changed.

A service covers a list of points – either that specified in the manufacturer’s handbook or offered by the company (these can be different). The handbrake problem might be spotted but unless the service schedule mentions inspection of its condition, the garage has done nothing wrong. An MOT inspection should identify problems like this. Combining a service and an MOT should ensure that a vehicle is properly maintained and safe, at least on the day that the work was done.

Tracy fisher says:
14 May 2015

Hi just brought a mini from riverside motors in brigg only had it a week and gearbox has gone i have got a warranty with it but they are messing me about when I took it back to seller he not really interested really think I have been had is there a website that I could warn people to be careful when buying from him many thanks tracy

Tracy – You must persist to get either a full refund or a complete repair [replacement gearbox probably]. Which? guides are available to help you – look under Consumer Rights – Sale of Goods Act.

“Riverside Motors – Quality Cars at Excellent Prices” proclaims their website. “All our cars are inspected thoroughly giving you complete peace of mind”. I notice that a lot of the cars on sale do have relatively high mileage for their age and the three minis currently on offer have each done over 10,000 miles a year, one of them for over twelve years. So the condition of the gearbox should be a critical part of the dealer’s pre-sale examination. The price you paid might have reflected the age and mileage of the car you bought but if you also bought a warranty that should have insured you against a major failure. A gearbox failure is not necessarily predictable but does become more likely with increasing age and mileage which is why you bought a warranty.

Unfortunately, used car warranties are a controversial subject and many are just not worth having. Study your warranty carefully to see what it covers. There is an informative Which? Conversation on this subject called “Used cars: when warranties aren’t worth it” [look under “car warranties” in the index at the top right of this page].

As to a website where you could warn other people off this trader, I should try to settle your claim first; it won’t help your case to be in public dispute before they have made their final decision.