/ 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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Ronald Seal says:
23 August 2010

Unfortunately the retail sector of the motor industry, due to the opportunities presented by transactions involving relatively large amounts of money, is riven through with “Del Boy” types with seriously challenged honesty and a keen eye for the main chance.

The situation is just as bad in franchised dealerships as in back-street operations.

The going-in position in all negotiations always seems to be “The Customer is basically stupid”.

Even with my extensive experience in the motor industry I have to take extreme care in any dealings I undertake with the retail sector of my industry.

I take solace in the fact that the manufacturer I am employed by enjoys outstanding satisfaction ratings in most surveys of its retail and after-service operations, which shows that things do not have to be the way they are currently.


I used to use a local garage but that one always gave me my car back with something wrong with ignition or carburettor that wasn’t there before. It was fixed FOC but I became fed up of the imposed faults.

Changed to Main Dealer with “new” car – the service is far better though more expensive – but not perfect. As far as I can tell it has virtually nothing to do qualifications but all to do with conscientiousness in doing the work as is normally described in the Garage Repair Manual). Nor does qualifications stop “rip offs”

One problem now is cars are controlled or monitored by ‘computers’ making DIY repairs far more difficult.

One example of over price is a new key for my car – they charge £60 for the key and “validating” the key. Validating is just turning the new key three times in the ignition. Yet I can’t buy the key cheaper on it’s own.

But there are no guarantees that other sorts of work is done competently as there are many cowboys – Again nothing to do with qualifications.

I used to teach Electrical Craft Practice – the difference between those that scraped a pass and those that could pass well was staggering – Many of those “competent” ones I wouldn’t trust to do a good job for me. A good number of the “scrapers” I would trust without question.

No name says:
23 August 2010


Last time I took my car to a garage for an MOT the guy blown the engine after taking it for a joy ride, and then wanted to fix it for me.

I am dreading taking my new car for it’s first MOT.

I service my car myself, and car becomes more reliable and runs better.

Carlos Bridges says:
23 August 2010

I won’t say it’s the only reason for poor performance – but one of the contributing factors to poor garage performance is due to the rotten way the mechanics are treated. The main dealers charge £70 – £80 per hour for work carried out, and yet they pay their guys a pittance – the mechanics have to provide their own tools, wear their own protective clothing and safety equipment, and are altogether treated shabbily. The main dealers provide a ‘service’ which is more or less a licence to print money, they have negligible outgoings and a huge profit – at the expense of the blokes doing the work. I will never use a main dealer, because I don’t feel they deserve the business. I use a small independent guy, who I know will try harder, because he gets to keep a proper share of the fee.


I worked for a Main Dealer four years ago, I agreed my wage before I started so as far as that goes I could not complain. The other workshop staff were in my opinion under paid, they were also on a bonus scheme which for me is a no go area. My experience in this Main Dealers at that time over a period of 12 months proved beyond all doubt that the workshop staff replaced parts on customers vehicles even when those parts were not required. I am a fully trained vehicle engineer who has recently Graduated in Forensic Science, I have over 25 years of training and workshop experience within the Motor Trade.

I was walking past one of the workshop staff one day when he was talking to the workshop foreman, they were having a conversation with regards some Brake Discs fitted to a Vauxhall in the technicians work bay at that time, the technician was asking the foreman if he agreed with him changing the Brake Discs on this vehicle, as I was passing by I looked at this disc through the road wheel and said to the technician, what is wrong with that disc?

He replied, it’s my bonus if I change them and if I don’t my wages will be very poor at the end of the week.

A second experience I had at this Main Dealers where a customer had spent around £1000 on his car engine management system because the instrument display warning lamp illuminated when driving at speed, then the engine lost power before returning to normal. I was given the job of sorting out the problem when the customer was threatening court action, the car had been into and out of the dealers many many times over a few months, after spending two hours on the customers vehicle I found that plenum chamber swirl valves were heavily carboned up which was seriously restricting their movement, which caused a serious depression in the inlet manifold when they would not open correctly, hence the power loss and warning lamp operation. I spent two hours stripplng and rebuilding the inlet manifold and cleaning it, no new parts required at all, just two hours labour and a diagnostic charge would have sorted that problem out.

It’s no good complaining to a Dealer Manager who has been to college and learned to talk, they all know too well what goes on in their dealerships and in my experience they are in agreement with it.

Maybe we should all go to the NHS or the Police force or the Government and tell them to give us their jobs without professional training and qualifications to suit?



Can anybody tell me whether the garages tested include those affiliated to, or part of the official dealers? By that I mean the garages at official car dealers like Kia, Ford, Fiat etc.

Thank you

pickle says:
23 August 2010

I go to a local independant garage which specialises in my make of car. Having used them for quite a while, I feel confident they do a reasonable job and prices are reasonable too. Their reputation is on the line and they have an interest in maintaining it.

Mick says:
23 August 2010

I have used various Bosch affiliated garages around the country and have had no end of problems. Filler plugs left out on the rear transfer box, which lead it to seize ( I took it back to the garage in Stafford and told them there was a oil leak and they did nothing), the front prop shaft dropping off within 200 miles of a service as I was doing 70MPH on the M6, the power steering pump leaking oil within 1 day of the old one being replaced and went back for the seals to be replaced and then started leaking within 1 day.
I have no confidence in these garages but driving a lease car the lease company uses them to save money!
I think not

slybeano says:
23 August 2010

Is it responsible/legal to knowingly drive cars with “at least one potentially dangerous fault” on the public highway? .


The driver of the car is legally responsible for the vehicle with regards to Construction and Use Regulations and the Road Traffic Act section 41 at all times it is used on the public roads.


Within the last 9 months purchased my first BMW, an 8 year old 3 series convertible. It needed some work on it when I got it which I took to local independent garage. Only because I asked on the phone prior to it going in did I know the prices, payng the bill I had to prompt for the correct price.. Come the routine service decided to take to BMW main dealerand was surprised. Fixed price service, no extra’s and got 3-4 miles per gallon after service. It also went in with an oil leak which they advised was no more than a old washer that had been replaced in the last service. Fixing this was part of the fixed price service. Next time it is going back to BMW main dealer!


I have been reading the comments posted by i assume which subscribers as to their poor experiences dealing with a small ammount of un-professional garages, i feel it is important to try and redress these points by offering evidence to the contray, i am a subscriber to which and i welcome the comments but also i am proud to say that i also subsribe to the Motor codes for service and repair.
Whilst some of the statements made are true it can appear that all garages that subscribe to a code are not fullfilling their responsibilites, I own and run a independent garage in Bolton Lancashire for 18 years and i can say that integity, honesty,and a traditional approach to our customers works! I would add if you are not happy with the garage then TELL THEM otherwise how will they ever know how to improve their services .


When i purchased my Corsa auto second hand at end of three year warranty i immediately took it to a Vauxhall dealership for its MOT. i found the experience an expensive one. Some time later i had it serviced and again was charged hundreds of £’s without really knowing if they were trying it on with a female.

I found their customer service shoddy and they did not even just give the car a clean on return
even though the car was not ready for collection when they said it would be and i had to wait 3 days before i could collect it and even then wait.

They did not put ensure tyre pressure was done either – i would have thought this was a basic courtesy – even though i requested this in light of the wait etc. My impression was that they were tired and no one was leading with a ‘can do’ approach to customer service. A few months ago, surprise, surprise, they contacted me (had not done that before) with regard to my MOT this year.

So this year i took the car to a Nationwide, where the mechanic proved to be very responsible and checked a lot of details: lights, tyre pressure, etc before i took it in for the official MOT a few days later. He also checked the timing belt warranty and made me aware of the forthcoming work that i should get done. I felt very reassured and safe with their attitute and response and will be going back to them this month

enna says:
24 August 2010

My recent experience with garages is not only with the poor car service but also the attitude they have towards towards the clients. This particular garage in Isleworth the manager was pushy, rude and obnoxious. When I caught them not fixing one of the issues with the car the manager hit the roof and I was on the receiving end of it even though I was the customer.
When I complained to the insurance the insurance just openly took his side the garage side. It seems that what ever the garages do or not do the insurance always back them up and they are never in the wrong.
I wonder what happened to good old service and being polite to the customers no matter if they are female or male.


In answer to everlong’s question above, the Motor Codes garages we tested were mostly franchised dealers. We tested three dealers each for Audi, Ford, Peugeot, Toyota and Vauxhall respectively.
These franchised dealers were easily the worst offenders in the screen wash ‘honesty test’. It’s obviously just an easy money-maker for them.

And while I accept that all the qualifications in the world won’t prevent the ‘cowboys’ from taking advantage of consumers, a recognised, industry-wide qualification for mechanics is surely a positive step towards raising standards?


I would say that a licence to allow a mechanic to work on customers vehicles is the right way forward, kind of like the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency VOSA have with the MOT Scheme, although in my professional opinion it is seriously undermanned when talking about keeping an eye on testers. VOSA have a points scheme whereby if a nominated tester makes serious errors then the local vehicle examiner VE has a national guidline to use when enforcing standards against the tester, once the tester has gained more than 50 points he is disqualified out of the mot scheme.

If the garage trade had a licence along those lines then maybe garages and individuals might think twice about what they do before not doing the job to a required standard.

Herbert Lonsdale says:
24 August 2010

It is again so disappointing to hear about some garages abusing their customers trust and confidence . Fortunately, many reputable car dealers want to deliver great customer service and value and they rigorously enforce compliance with the correct internal processes to ensure good practice and customer care and value . These garages also invest in systems and staff process to drive efficent assessment of a vehicles wear parts and consumables such as bulbs , air con, brakes etc. Known as autoVHC ( vehicle health check ) these forward thinking garages and dealers can discuss the aspects of “vehicle health” which are described in detail on the printed document produced for every customer by this innnovative and tranparent approach to the vexed question of work needed on the customers vehicle . Next time ask your dealer or garage do they use autoVHC to assess their vehicle condition. Its a good indicator of a dealers view about customer care and trust .

Nathan Ricket says:
24 August 2010

I agree! We use a similar system called evhc (electronic vehicle heath check) and it provides a printed document with the technicians signature on it. We get the customer to sign it too and store it online. We have customers coming back in with the printed sheet because it looks so official! Well chuffed with it!


I’ve had two Volvo estates over the past 17 years: a 740, and a 940 which I bought from the Volvo dealership. (The Sales Manager kept my old one to tow his cars to the race track.) I used this local Volvo garage and built up a good relationship with them. I could chat to the Service Manager, Steven, was (almost) on first name terms with Emma, the front desk lady, and felt that I was valued. Ninety percent of the time, I was happy with their work, and when I wasn’t, they got it right second time round. Repairs and servicing were expensive, but, until the end, the cars did what I asked of them during the year, and I never once broke down on the road. (The flat battery was my fault and the A.A. got me going once more as they did when another gave up the ghost on my front drive. )

When a number of expensive red lights appeared on the dashboard, within a couple of months, I made the calculation that it was time for a change. I also needed something more economical for regular 50 mile journeys that now became necessary. My current Jaguar estate has given me an extra thirteen m.p.g. and a new garage to work with. I felt bad enough about the change, to visit the Volvo garage and thank them for their long service. There was just nothing on their forecourt to keep me there.

That was 2008. The Jag is brilliant, but I’m not so impressed with the garage. (The salesman was very good; no complaints there.) The ladies on the desk don’t really know much about what goes on inside a car (Emma did) and the Service Manager is kept locked away. The ladies wander out to consult and come back almost as clueless. At the last service, the tyres were inflated wrongly, none of them were the same pressure, and the oil was overfilled in the sump (Not dangerously so in each case). Little things perhaps, but extrapolating those, what else had been botched? They charged me £25 for changing a wheel nut that had been mangled by the tyre garage (last time I go there). Given the nut I’d have done it in about a minute. They were going to ask sixty something pounds for s******g in a new retaining clip in the spare wheel bay. Eventually after a consultation ‘out the back’ the lady decided that £15 might be more reasonable for this. I don’t think it was a deliberate rip off, more a case of making a stab at what had been done and tossing in a price that seemed to fit.

On the plus side, they diagnosed and changed a leaking rear tailgate seal and it’s now watertight. The car has performed without a hitch all year except for the reversing sensors which will have to be repaired. So, I’m booked in again next month for an MOT and service and I’ll then decide what to do next time. I do get a courtesy car and they have offered to collect and return mine to the house. I declined. I need to be there to check things on the spot. Oh, and it gets a wash and vac. as well.

Part of me says “It’s a Jag, and they’re a Jag garage, so pay up and let them know I understand the oily bits”, from the times (long ago) when a garage was just for petrol and spares. (Happy days and scuffed knuckles.) The other part complains that I haven’t got the bottle to take it to the one man, in his shed down the road, who keeps my sister’s Nissan going. Does he, or those like him, really know what all those little black boxes do inside the bonnet?

I suppose there’s only one way to find out….next year perhaps.

exdealership worker says:
24 August 2010

as to tim pitts post above all toyota technicians are ata certificated this is the first line of training toyota give to its technicians and is constantly updated,
there are loads of garages out there that do a good job considering the high targets set upon them to do the job on or under the times given, what anoys me is there is to much wrong with the trade to put right you have garages that have high over heads so quantity over quality,
then there is the attitude of the technician do they care about the vehicle they are working on and are they trained to diagnose and fix the car correctly,
then there are the types of garage that are dodgy and have not done hardly any work at all to the vehicle or have fixed it wrong or mised a mojor item,
then there are the types of garages that say work is reqired on the vehicle when its not,
then you’ve got the issue that technicians are paid a very low wage for the skills and work they have to under take and stress put upon them,
in the air craft industry every thing is double checked with saftey in mind in the car industry its mostly profit led i can’t see how ever much these governing bodys are introduced into these garages ie good garage scheme etc it will resolve these issues as they are not in the garages on a daily basis to monitor or set quality control, pehaps if they do you will see better quality of work with labour times going up and the labour rate coimng down.

A.Kamp, Mr. says:
27 August 2010

I get a very friendly service from my local Garage Management and they appear to have good
technicians mostly from Eastern Europe. However, they appear to keep the car longer than neessary and I swear there is always some petrol sucked out of the tank. Even when they do not add any mileage for trial runs, my average consumption on mpg goes down considerable.
I told the owner of my suspicion, but he trusts his staff or maybe , he does not want to loose
qualified but cheap labour. Has anybody had similar experience with missing petrol?


Draw a diagram showing the position of the fuel gauge and ‘accidentally’ leave this on the passenger seat. That should discourage opportunists (or convince you that your fears are ungrounded). Take a photo of your fuel gauge when you leave and return your car in case you need evidence.

Try to avoid taking your car in when it has a full tank, because some models will do almost 100 miles before the gauge moves off the full mark. It is not uncommon to get a hire car or van that has a tank that shows full but isn’t. If you know that is happening, you can play the same game when filling up a hire car before returning it.

Laura says:
20 August 2011

I swear I have at least a quarter of a tank of petrol missing since having MOT repairs done yesterday. So someone has been driving my car around while I’ve been at work?!? If a garage is dishonest enough to do this, then I can’t help thinking that the repairs they said were necessary to get it through its MOT may be imaginary – so I could have been ripped off by several hundred pounds? Any expert out there know if there’s anything I can do?

Geoffrey Dodwell says:
29 August 2010

I have used Jemco Croydon many times but will not be using them again-except for warranty work FOC.
I think they are rip off merchants and give lousy service.

[This comment has been moderated.]

john stirk says:
30 August 2010

I took my car to Nationwide Autocentre for an MOT which it, rightly, failed for minor reasons. The MOT seemed exhaustive and a number of ‘amber’ warnings were given but no comments regarding tyre condition other than there were signs of undue wear on one wheel attributable to tracking. I booked the car in to effect repairs and to complete a service. Whilst the car was with Nationwide Autocentre I received a ‘phone call informing me that the mechanic had discovered two nails in one rear tyre and a single nail in the other. One could be repaired but the other would need replacing. I declined the exorbitant quote and made arrangements for the work to be conducted elsewhere. On examination, the second garage could find no sign of any nails in either of the tyres and proposed no further action. Nationwide Autocentre has AA approval. Is it any wonder that garages receive such a bad press and are treated with the deepest suspicion?

David says:
1 September 2010

This type of conspiracy to defraud customers is very common in the industry, in my experience, and very difficult to prove. What we need is an undercover investigation that will gather evidence and actually prosecute – perhaps Which could do this?

Maybe after a few prison sentences are meted out, the prevailing attitude will change.


Also Nationwide

My daughter needed a new rubber band on her rear Polo exhaust.
I suggested nationwide – they came back having pre-paid for a new Catalytic converter to be ordered in £450 plus new rear section when it came.

I jacked the car up, photographed it and took it to Formula One.
The was no problem whatsover and the exhaust lasted another 3 years until she sold it.

Trading Standards Aylesbury refused to help.

Nationwide answered the complaint by asking another manager to have have a word, they claim to have no head office, its all franchises (!)

He reported that the local manager would be sent for re-training.
What for? Prevention of outright fraud.

This happened because two women went there – he did not even try to defend his actions when I turned up and demanded evidence of the damage. Nasty nasty man.

Of course being NHS we made sure every local Nurse knew the story, I hate people like that – they deserve the reputation they get.

b singh says:
8 September 2010

whilst i agree with some comments above i do find it a bit offensive when some honest indipendent garages do a very good job to highest standard. I have run a independent garage for 35 years in Hammersmith, London and have had almost no complaints, and if there was a dissattisfied customer we would do everything possible to please and keep them and not try to wash our hands of the problem. Its about time some Indipendents spoke out for ourselves and not be downtroden by media


I could show you quite a few photographs of exhaust systems fitted by garages where customers may have complained about noisy operation, i.e. banging on the rear axle etc. Investigations have found that mechanics had put “tyre” valves between the exhaust rubber mountings to stop the rattle!

Other exhaust systems fitted, “New Systems” didn’t even have new exhaust rubbers fitted leaving the partly split old ones on to support the new exhaust fitted!


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