Finding a Garage to Trust
Taking your car for repair or service can incite fear in some and, as it possibly one of the least trusted professions in the UK, it is hardly surprising. So, how can you be assured your garage know what they are doing and be able to visit with confidence that they can carry work out for you competently?
Why do garages have such a poor reputation?
With so many media reports from covert investigations in programmes such as Rogue Trader or Panorama to numerous surveys from consumer organisations, customer misgivings appear well founded.
When Which? put garages to the test, they introduced four basic faults on 62 cars aged between 3-6 years old. Their results were alarming with only 8 of the garages returning the cars fault free. In addition, 39% of garages charged for screen wash that wasn’t supplied.
In a later survey by RAC, concerns continued as their survey revealed that 38% of motorists said their garage failed to fix the problem, and 36% felt they were overcharged. Most concerning was, one in four (24%), said they were very concerned about hidden costs.
This emphasises a how variable consumer experience can be. The good news is that once a relationship has been established, consumers generally remain loyal to that garage, but it can be a minefield to find a good reliable garage.
So, what do you look for in a good garage? Surprisingly, price doesn’t come first. According to Fleet News, when choosing a garage, people value reliability (56%), customer service (19%), with only 14% citing that cost was their prime concern. This was confirmed in a later survey by the RMI where convenience and customer service were valued most.
How to you find the right garage?
Prevent yourself being bamboozled by a mechanics terminology, lack of knowledge, corner cutting, over-zealous fault reporting or sometimes just plain guess work!
Understand that every now and then a garage will get something wrong…. It’s how they handle it that will tell you if they are a good trustworthy garage. The good news is, there are fantastic garages who will exceed your expectations. The issue is finding them!
1. Quality Marks
Look for quality marks where garages have to follow a code of practice. There are numerous marks such as:
• Industry Specific: Motor Codes, Trust My Garage, etc
• Consumer Organisations: Which?, Consumer Reports, etc
• Government Departments: Trading Standards
By far the most rigorous mark to achieve is from Trading Standards where they check everything from the consumers point of view. Ideally, look for garages who are specifically Trading Standards Approved, or at least they have been reviewed by an organisation that have a TSI Approved Code. All CTSI (Chartered Trading Standards Institute) approved traders operate under a sector-specific code of practice and must demonstrate that they are committed to the highest levels of customer service.
If you prefer a mobile mechanic, you can check to see if they are on the IMI professional register. (www.imiregister.org.uk)
Look for an industry specific organisation mark such as RMI’s Trust My Garage (www.trustmygarage.co.uk). This ensures the latest diagnostic equipment is being used, Health and Safety is in place and checks current qualifications and knowledge of all staff. Should something go wrong, you also have the comfort of knowing any issues can be resolved using the National Concilliation Service.
Be aware of schemes that have been ‘checked’ but not necessarily endorsed! It’s a marketing exercise. The garage pays a fee to be on the list, but haven’t necessarily received a visit or been assessed.
2. Check knowledge
As you can imagine, there are many components in a car from brakes and electrical faults to highly flammable fuel and explosives. When a vehicle has been serviced by a garage, they are confirming that the vehicle is safe to drive. You are putting your trust in them that this is the case.
Technology and complexity in cars have changed considerably from the humble combustion engine to intelligent cars with Advanced Driver Assistance Systems, (a family of safety systems that are designed to work together to automate and enhance vehicle safety by alerting the driver to potential problems and avoid collisions). The knowledge and a high level of skill that Technicians need to operate to keep us safe in our vehicles is phenomenal and cannot be underestimated.
It’s unsurprising that, a survey conducted by the IMI (Institute of the Motor Industry) revealed that 98% of people wouldn’t let anyone work on their car who didn’t have an acceptable level of skill, but only 9% admitted to check if this was the case. The reality is there are an insufficient number of garages that can demonstrate this.
There are different levels of technician from Apprentice, through Service to Diagnostic and Master. Each level has their specialisms, but you won’t have access to Diagnostic or Master Technicians in many garages including fast fit centres.
This isn’t time to be shy! Ask to see what their level of expertise is whether a mobile or dealership technician, they are all expected to keep up to date with continued professional development. Afterall, if they are not currently competent, how do you know they are doing the right repair?!
The internet has made it very easy to check someone’s reputation. Take a look at their google or social media reviews and you’ll soon get a feel for a business. Remember it’s all too easy for people to leave negative feedback, so check if the company gave a reasonable response and then put it in context of other reviews and ask yourself if they are a business you could deal with? If you received good service, it means so much to the business if you could leave them a review too!
4. Fair Price without Compromising Safety
The price you pay should reflect the knowledge and expertise, labour time, quality of the parts and peace of mind that you will be safe in your car.
Warrantywise, found that most drivers felt baffled by technical jargon around modern cars and worried that garages would take advantage of this to charge more. 96% of customers thought they would pay more in a franchised main dealer, with some charging £250 per hour.
Another frightening statistic by ClickMechanic, was that one in five drivers never have their car serviced at all, preferring to risk breakdown or accident by putting off essential routine maintenance.
We can’t emphasise enough that it is your responsibility to keep your car in a roadworthy condition to ensure that, should the unexpected happen, your insurance is not invalidated.
A regularly serviced car is less likely to be involved in an accident and is proof that you have taken reasonable steps to protect yourself and other road users.
Annual servicing means that your car had received an in-depth check to confirm no parts are expected to deteriorate over the coming year.
An MOT is not the same as a service. It is a visual safety check to ensure the car is roadworthy on that day.
If you have received a repair and it feels expensive, ask for more details or you could even ask to see the broken part. It is a complex industry with so many variables, so it is important that you feel comfortable that a good job has been done.
This is where trust is so important as only the Technician who worked on the car can be absolutely sure that the course of action was right. In a workshop with many technicians, sometimes they work together on complex issues. You are relying on their competency to get the job done for you to keep you safe.
5. License the Industry
The IMI’s survey revealed 41% of people wouldn’t let an unlicensed technician work on their car with 70% assuming that a license existed. The reality is that the motor trade isn’t licensed. Anyone can set up as a mechanic and work on your car.
When there was an increase in injuries in the electrical and gas industries, the Government regulated them. The cost of getting it wrong is so severe, that they strongly advise you to employ a licensed electrician or gas engineer as their level of competence has been checked. Of course, there will always be cheaper options, but with safety involved, would you risk it?!
Steve Nash, Chief Executive of the IMI, says “We are concerned. There are a great number of people working on cars and as far as the general public are concerned, many of them believe that there is a higher degree of qualification than, in truth, there is. So, we are trying to make the differentiation between those people who are properly trained and those who aren’t.”
“It is an unregulated sector. I don’t want to frighten people, but most people chose their garage because it’s local and convenient, and we can all understand that. A two-minute check can help them find out whether or not the person working on their car is competent to do so. They need to check that the person is currently competent. Not just got a qualification 20 years ago and has just decided to work on cars again, because cars are incredibly sophisticated things and unless you’ve continued to work on them, over time you just wouldn’t be up to speed.”
The parts industry is also unregulated and to offer you the ‘cheapest’ price, a garage or individual may turn to cheaper parts to gain your custom. These are often a false economy, with poor quality, ill-fitting parts leading to longer labour hours, and can compromise safety. Consumers should also be aware of counterfeit parts, which have become an issue on auction websites.
Even where some consumers feel safer with main dealer pricing, Auto Express has exposed a major discrepancy within the main dealer network. They mystery shopped main dealer franchises by asking for a quote to supply and fit a replacement battery. One Mercedes-Benz dealer quoted £1,248 to complete the job on a Mercedes C-Class, compared with the lowest quote of £315! So, it’s not about relying on a brand above the door, make sure you trust the people you are buying from.
So, with all this in mind, wouldn’t it be easier for the customer if the Motor Trade was licensed? Isn’t it appalling that anyone can work on your family vehicle, or even the largest of Lorries, and not be competent to do so?
If you don’t have a sufficiently capable technician working on your car, they can miss the small faults that over time become larger and more expensive to repair.
Next time you are on the motorway or travelling to do the shopping, look around at how many cars you see and how confident would you be that they have all been checked thoroughly and safe to drive.
Remember that ANYONE can set up as a mechanic or garage! Check their certification either as an individual or as a garage, and at the very least ask to see their credentials.