When an unsuspecting customer is given an exhaustive list of defective car parts on occasion of a winter check or a minor rattle is explained as serious suspension damage, they are possibly being taken for a ride by auto workshops. These repairs aren’t necessary and cost a lot of money.
Dubious auto workshops apply several methods to press money out of their customers.
This begins with the rather harmless listing of required spare parts and can go as far as wilful damage:
- Especially short-life spare parts such as glow plugs or spark plugs, oil filters, air filters and even the oil are easily found fault with, irrespective of their actual condition just for sales’ sake.
- When symptoms are difficult to determine and the garage notices the customer doesn’t have a clue, possibly major spare parts such as brakes, shock absorbers, exhaust, clutch or the suspension are listed for repair.
- Downright fraudulent and audacious are garages provoking a problem by, for example, pouring water in the fuel tank or adding food dye to the oil, simulating residue which is not really there.
- Often “unforeseen complications” are used as a pretext for pushing up costs or selling an expensive spare part at the last minute.
Not always the seller has fraudulent intentions and could actually mean well by putting the worn brakes on the repair list instead of pointing them out first. Competitive pressure plays an important role as well, especially in the larger garage chains, where employees are expected to meet unrealistic sales figures.
What you can do
Prior to check:
- You can make a general estimate of the damage by researching the symptoms on the internet so that you are not completely clueless. This will give you the advantage of noticing unrealistic repairs being suggested.
- Take a good look around in the garage! If it is dirty with tools lying about or its staff is insolent, make a U-turn and find an alternative.
- Ask friends and family for reliable auto workshops. Word-of-mouth propaganda is the best advertisement.
During the check/price negotiations:
- If possible, be present during the check and have the mechanic explain the context. By doing so you prevent manipulation and you will possibly notice a mechanic getting lost in his own explanation.
- Do not immediately accept cost estimates. Check the list carefully. Does it match the symptoms? Any unnecessary repairs listed? (Unnecessary oil and filter changes) or is the quoted amount of working hours unexpectedly high? In case of doubt: get a second opinion and come back.
- A cost estimate is not binding, though should be more or less adhered to. If repairs last longer than planned or if spare parts are not available, the garage should inform you. You should never pay invoices which turn out to be considerably higher than agreed.
The garage is not always to blame
Even though it sometimes appears to be misleading, the cause of expensive repairs not necessarily lies with auto workshops. An example: The Mazda 6 has electric headlight adjustment. In case of defect it cannot be repaired by merely replacing motor and mechanism. The entire headlight has to be replaced as well. Costs: more than 500 EUR (± £440). Similar situations could occur with premium brands such as BMW and Mercedes. Small defects sometimes cause expensive repairs.
Authorised workshops are generally linked to manufacturers and therefore exclusively purchase original spare parts, which due to the so-called “design protection” are often considerably more expensive than those of OEM-quality with similar specification and performance. There is a way out: by buying the spare parts from free traders and having them installed by the workshop, you can save a lot of money. If the garage refuses this or asserts you will lose your guarantee, do not fear. Your guarantee remains intact even in case of repair with parts of your choice.
Which spare parts are affected?
Often: typical wear parts, requiring regular replacement
Occasionally: long-life wear parts with up to 200.000 km operational performance
Rarely: Long-life parts with visible wear
What to do when you’re being ripped off
If you feel you are being ripped off, or in case of disagreements with the garage, you can contact the National Conciliation Service (NCS), established in 1964. This is an independent service offering advice, arbitration and assistance in resolving disputes with regard to the retail motor industry. Its only disadvantage: The NCS only accepts automotive retail complaints between consumers and NCS subscribers.
Alternatively, a lawyer can help you in defending yourself against rogue traders. It is important to dispute the invoice timely and to insist upon correction within a limited time frame. Refuse payment and sign estimates “under reserve”. The chances in court are generally good. Especially if the estimate has been exceeded for more than 20%, judges tend to rule in favour of the customer. Without a legal expense insurance, proceedings might turn out to be expensive and lengthy.
Auto workshops’ rip-off
This is how you are being scammed:
These spare parts are often involved:
1. Everything requiring regular replacement such as filters, spark plugs and operational fluids.
This is how to protect yourself against tricksters:
How to protect your car:
An alternative: DIY buying and replacing
The so-called DIY auto workshops or garages are companies supporting DIY spare part replacement by making tools and space available. Professional car mechanics are often present and able to help you. It should be clear that by using these facilities no guarantee applies for the repairs, even after using assistance. Nevertheless this is a possible alternative for the traditional repair by a garage, as you buy the spare part independently and only the really necessary repairs are conducted.
Foto: Cube29, Syda Productions, Nestor Rizhniak, wavebreakmedia, Aleksandar Malivuk, withGod, astudio, Minerva Studio, Joyseulay / shutterstock.com