How to Choose a Garage to Repair Your Car


Many people still believe that if they own a new car they must get it serviced at a franchised dealer to retain the warranty, but under EU law manufacturers can only require that the car must be serviced according to the manufacturer’s schedule.

Easier warranty claims

Of course, if you have a warranty claim you may have to prove the correct servicing has been done, where a franchised dealer would have a record of it. Indeed, dealers in a franchised network often have computer access to records of work done at other dealerships, so you shouldn’t have problems getting warranty work done if a fault develops away from home. In addition, many manufacturers give you more leeway on warranty claims if you have had the car serviced by their network, so they might forgive the odd late service or pay for a repair when the car is just outside the warranty period.

Garage to Car Repair How to Choose a Garage to Repair Your Car

Franchisee! dealers

The other benefits of using franchised dealers are:

  • You know they use original equipment parts, which are usually warranted for a year.
  • Their technicians are factory trained.
  • They have the latest diagnostic technology.
  • They are regularly updated on potential trouble in the cars.
  • They have instant access to a wealth of knowledge about the marque.
  • If anything goes wrong you can go to the manufacturer if you don’t get satisfaction locally.
  • They usually offer collection and delivery, a lift to or from the garage or a courtesy car.
  • All accept credit cards where some small garages want cash. The drawbacks to franchised garages are:
  • They are sometimes more expensive because they have to maintain a large showroom.
  • Some appear to have little time for owners of older cars.
  • Most routinely use the high specification oils required for current models on older cars that do not need them.
  • They can get very busy at peak times of year, like the plate change periods when the majority of new cars are sold and then need servicing a year later.
  • The dealer serving your area may be a long way from your home or work.

Independent garages

The benefits of independent garages are:

  • They are often cheaper because they have lower overheads.
  • They depend on a good reputation locally to get work.
  • They may be closer to your home or work.
  • They usually have more experience of working on older cars.
  • They will use cheaper oils and non-original parts on older cars if you want them to.
  • The drawbacks of independents are:
  • Warranty claims on new cars may not be so easy.
  • They may not be able to offer franchised dealer levels of service, like courtesy cars.
  • They may not have the latest equipment.
  • Few use menu pricing.
  • They do not have the manufacturer backup on technical information and notification of potential problems.
  • You do not have recourse to the manufacturer if their service is poor.

Comparing prices

The general view is that franchises charge more than independents, but this isn’t always so. If you compare prices make sure you compare like with like. As we’ve seen, each service involves different amounts of work, so comparing service bills isn’t always fair.

If you ask for labour charges, the independent will almost always be cheaper but many franchised dealers (and some independents) now work on what the trade calls ‘menu pricing’. This means that for certain jobs they have a set price, like a dish on a restaurant’s menu, so those jobs cost you the same whether it goes without a hitch or takes them 30 minutes to free a stuc nut. If you pay by the hour, the stuck nut increases costs. However, the menu charge is usually labour only and there are parts on top.

The best advice when seeking prices is to ask how much a 20,000 mile service on your car would cost and check what that includes. Ask the independent whether they use original equipment parts, what warranty they give and whether they have the diagnostic equipment necessary. A franchised dealer automatically plugs your car into electronic diagnostic equipment to ensure everything is running correctly but a poor backstreet garage might only do it if they have trouble tracing a fault and then send it to a bigger firm and charge you a mark-up on what they paid.

Trade bodies

If you decide to go to an independent, see what trade bodies they belong to. The Retail Motor Industry Federation (RMIF) ensures minimum standards and offers arbitration if anything goes wrong. Its website, at www.rmif.co.uk, also has a search facility for member garages in your area. The Scottish Motor Trade Association (SMTA) does a similar job in Scotland, though to find a local member you have to call them on 0131 331 5510.

Garage to Car Repair 1 How to Choose a Garage to Repair Your Car

Some Trading Standards departments run ‘Good Garage’ schemes so it may be worth contacting your local one or looking on its website. If Trading Standards isn’t listed in your phone book it may be under the county council or equivalent. You can also do a postcode search to find your local Trading Standards at www.tradingstandards.gov.uk.

Phone a friend

There are good and bad garages among both franchises and independents, so ask around. You get some franchised dealers who treat customers and their cars badly, giving as little customer service as they can without losing the franchise, but there are others who go beyond what manufacturers demand. There are some very good independents, especially the classic family-owned village garages who rely on a good reputation locally and provide many of the extras dealers do, like courtesy cars, but there are also some serious crooks and you only find out by trial and error.

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