Rip-off garages under the spotlight

The motor industry has launched a new code of practice to stop consumers being ripped off by garages. Surveys have shown that car owners could be paying as much as £4billion a year more than they need to for vehicle servicing.
From now on motorists will have the reassurance of a new scheme and a tough enforcement regime to ensure fair and honest treatment by garages.
The new code – administered by a stand-alone body called Motor Codes and which is backed by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) and the Retail Motor Industry Federation (RMIF) – commits subscribing garages to honest and fair services, open and transparent pricing, completing work as agreed, invoices that match quoted prices, competent and conscientious staff and a straightforward, swift complaint procedure. John Hutton, the Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Secretary, said: “For too long the bad practices of a minority have damaged honest businesses and ripped off consumers. I’m delighted that the industry has got together to tackle this problem and drive up

So in light of the fact that this new scheme has been introduced we now present you with the first few in a series of horror stories and shady practices from inside the trade, which unscrupulous small workshops and indeed bigger garages have carried out on unsuspecting customers. We can’t reveal our sources for obvious reasons but these stories are genuine and have been going on up and down the country for years.

If business is slow a customer who had brought their car in for an MOT which they might have reasonably thought would sail through, would be shocked to be told that their drive shaft gators were split. Of course these gators actually weren’t split until the MOT tester cut through them with Stanley knife and then charged the unsuspecting customer lots of money to replace them, so a £40 mot would now be £250!

A customer came in needing a new clutch and having been quoted extortionate amounts elsewhere were pleased with the quote from this particular garage which was a fraction of what they had been quoted elsewhere. What the poor customer didn’t know was that the clutch which was fitted was in fact a re-furbished clutch which had been used previously and there is no way of knowing this as it’s an internal component (until perhaps when it wears out a lot sooner than expected!).

When the VW Transporter came out they would often run low on oil, the hydraulic tappets would dry out to such an extent that it sounded like the big-ends had gone which is obviously much more expensive to repair. The cure was to top up the oil and run the engine for 15 minutes, job done, but the dodgy mechanic would say that the big-ends did indeed need replacing which was hundreds of pounds more expensive.

And on it goes, the little independent garage will often carry out work and MOT’s for local cars sales garages and sometimes when a car fails a catalytic converter test the unscrupulous mechanic will carry out a cat test on a similar car but put the paperwork through on the car that failed and given it the all clear. The end result is that eventually the customer ends up with a car which has a faulty cat which can easily be £500 to replace and as they can go at anytime there is no recourse to the dealer it was purchased from and of course he has a certificate saying that it was working properly at the time of purchase!

This new code of conduct can only be a good thing for the consumer and there are so many stories like this that we are sure that every customer, at some point has felt that they have been overcharged or ripped off and whilst it is very difficult to prove and there is no easy advice on how to avoid these things, the advice will always be the same.
The best thing is to check how long the garage has been going and try where possible to use a specialist as they will often have invested in the right equipment for your type of car. In today’s high tech world and modern cars being what they are there are not many traditional mechanics left as most cars have a central computer which when a special machine is plugged into it can usually diagnose any faults which are rarely repaired but more usually replaced which is why these people are now more likely to be known as fitters rather than fixers.

Always get a written estimate before any work is carried out and insist on an explanation if you are not clear as to what the problems are, remember these places are there to make money from you and if you blindly except the estimate you will usually pay through the nose, so always try and haggle the bill down and make sure that everything that is on the estimate is necessary. We will be bringing more horror stories in our quest to clean up the whole business and ensure these establishments offer a first class service for a fair price and in fairness most do, beware the sharks though if something seems too good to be true it usually is!


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One Response to Rip-off garages under the spotlight

  1. admin September 2, 2008 at 7:13 am #

    Industry repair code finally gets OFT’s amber light

    The Motor Industry Service and Repair Code has finally gained stage one approval in the Office of Fair Trading’s Consumer Codes Approval Scheme.

    Stage one approval shows that the wording and framework of the code satisfies the OFT in that it will promote and safeguard consumer interests beyond the minimum requirements of consumer law.

    Now the motor industry must show that the code has sufficient buy-in from workshops and will work effectively in practice.

    Motor Codes, the organisation established to run the code, will now carry out comprehensive monitoring procedures, including visits to garages and customer satisfaction surveys, to demonstrate this.

    This is likely to take around a year, after which the OFT should grant stage two approval, which gives the green light for qualifying workshops to display the OFT Approved Code logo.

    To address concerns about the sector and build consumer confidence, the code will require that:
    # When member garages provide a quote or estimate for work, they also offer a breakdown of costs including the charges for labour and parts in writing;
    # Where it becomes apparent that further work is required, the member garage must first get the permission of the customer before carrying out this additional work;
    # Member garages do not take upfront deposits;
    # Independent disciplinary procedures are in place with a range of sanctions including warnings and termination of membership to deal with garages who do not comply with the code;
    # A low-cost independent redress scheme is available to customers;
    # Comprehensive monitoring procedures of member garages take place, including inspection visits by independent RAC engineers.

    The RMIF is among the industry stakeholders that have been involved in the creation of the new scheme.

    Ray Holloway, director of the RMI Independent Garage Association (IGA), said: “Improved standards of service and consumer care are best achieved through industry self regulation so the motor industry code of practice will be a great boon for the further development of our industry.”

    Sue Robinson, director of the RMI National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA), agreed the code would promote and safeguard the interests of consumers.

    She said: “This will benefit the reliable and professional businesses that make up the vast majority in the sector. ‘The Code is the route to success for the motor industry.”

    Paul Everitt, chief executive, Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said: “Most garage businesses will meet the criteria needed to comply with the code and so we are confident that consumers will soon be seeing more and more of the motor codes logo appearing on service and repair outlets up and down the nation.”

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