Hit and miss garage servicingWhich? probe uncovers slack practices

02 August 2007

Slack practices are rife in the garage servicing industry, according to the latest undercover investigation by Which?.

We took 50 cars, all less than three years old, to garages throughout the country for servicing.

Five adjustments were made – four simple faults were introduced and the screenwash bottle was topped up - before the cars went in.

But 46 garages (92 per cent) missed at least one fault, and two - Central Garage (Raunds) Ltd, 23 High Street, Raunds, Northants and Motormaster in Leatherhead - missed all five.

Low brake-fluid

Shockingly, 26 garages (52 per cent) missed the low brake-fluid level.  Even a half-competent mechanic should notice this, while a good mechanic would try to diagnose why it’s low as this could lead to brake failure.

More than three in four (38) garages failed to adjust the very low spare tyre pressure, and nine garages failed to adjust the other tyre pressures properly. Low tyre pressure increases the likelihood of premature tyre failure – so could be life-threatening.

Thankfully, few garages carried out significant unnecessary work, but 20 still charged for windscreen-washer fluid, even though it had been topped up just before taking the cars in.

Only two garages achieved top marks from the Which? inspectors.

Top marks

Highams Park Motor Company in North-East London, and Colliers Jaguar in Tamworth, Staffordshire spotted all five faults and had high overall servicing standards.

However, the average inspection rating was a poor 2.28 out of 5.

Which? found no discernible difference in standards between franchised garages and independents, although independents were considerably cheaper.

Franchised dealers charged an average price of £255 for a service, whereas independent garages charged £166 on average – 35 per cent cheaper.

Code of practice

Only 12 out of 50 garages said they followed formal codes of practice.

We think there are too few regulations to make garages toe the line and that tougher rules are needed to sort out the rogues.

Which? Editor Neil Fowler said: ‘UK owners spend more than £21 billion a year maintaining their cars. We reckon this should go to reliable businesses with sound service procedures, not gambled on rogue traders.

‘Unacceptably, getting your car serviced is still a hit-and-miss affair. We’ve found a generally lax approach to servicing, unbelievable basic errors and cases of plain ineptitude.’