Blackcircles.com branches out into servicingOnline tyre retailer now offering car servicing
11 December 2009
Online tyre retailer Blackcircles.com is branching out into car servicing - is this good or bad news for the consumer?
For the latest car deals, sign up to the Which? Car email
Blackcircles.com has established a strong business model selling tyres online in arrangement with local tyre fitters, who then fit the tyres for a pre-paid fee accepted via the Blackcircles.com website.
Now the company is branching out into car servicing using a similar scheme - online pre-payment for bespoke servicing at a local garage. There are more than 1,000 ‘approved’ service centres signed up, and the scheme has been established in association with Unipart.
Vehicle specific servicing
It works like this. You enter your postcode, car numberplate and mileage, and Blackcircles locates your nearest appropriate garages, gives you the price of the service and, once you’ve selected your favoured garage, a choice of appointment times.
The numberplate and mileage search are designed to make sure the service requirements exactly match your vehicle, rather than being generic. This should ensure the prices are kept as competitive as possible, as it works out the exact parts and oil needed for the service your car requires. These are dispatched directly to the garage by Unipart once you’ve selected your appointment time and paid.
Currently the servicing options are limited to an oil or interim service, but you can contact Blackcircles.com to get a price for extra work, such as an accompanying MOT.
Paying up front has the advantage that the garage is unable to charge you for any unwanted extras, but the disadvantage that you can’t refuse to pay if you are unsatisfied with the work. Blackcircles.com has a customer service telephone line to resolve any such issues.
Other online servicing options?
This is not a totally unique proposition. Companies such as ServicingStop, Prestige and Nationwide all offer a broadly similar internet shopping option for car servicing, and all promise cheaper than main dealer pricing. They also offer a wider range of servicing options.
However, Blackcircles.com has more associated garages than any of these others - the closest being ServicingStop with more than 750 garages. It is also the only one of the four that allows you to pre-pay online, and the only one, apart from Nationwide, that has a numberplate based search system. Nationwide has the lowest number of garages at around 220, but they are all AA approved.
What does it cost?
Blackcircles.com is also competitively priced. We asked for example pricing for a 54-reg Ford Focus 1.6 petrol and a 55-reg BMW 320d, and Blackcircles.com quoted interim service prices from £105.90 and £154.25, respectively.
A generic Ford Focus interim service at Nationwide costs from £89, at Prestige from £125, and at Servicing Stop from £127. A generic BMW 3 Series service costs from £210 at Prestige and ServicingStop, while Nationwide’s website suggests it will cost as little as the Ford - something we would seriously recommend checking before you arrive on the day.
Prices for Blackcircles.com and Nationwide do vary from region to region, so make sure you check your local rates. Also note that part of the reason ServicingStop and Prestige are more expensive can be accounted for by the fact they both collect your car and deliver it back to you, complete with wash and vacuum. Blackcircles.com and Nationwide require you to drive the car to the garage.
My car is still under warranty - do I have to use a main dealer?
Since 2003, EU regulations have ensured that as long as servicing is carried out on schedule using manufacturer approved parts - as is the case with all of the above - no carmaker can invalidate your warranty because you didn’t use their dealers for servicing.
Anything that makes motoring more affordable deserves consideration and commendation, and as the number of these online servicing schemes increases prices are sure to get even more competitive. Blackcircles.com points out that arranging vehicle servicing in this way also helps support local businesses.
If these schemes can also provide some kind of assurance of quality, then so much the better - Blackcircles.com’s established online tyre business provides user reviews of fitting experiences, and we hope to see this implemented on the servicing side as well.
As ever, it always makes sense to shop around when looking for competitive pricing - so make sure you check your local main dealers for any servicing offers they might currently have as well.
Follow Which? Car on Twitter
The Which? Car team is on Twitter, to offer you help and advice as and when you need it.
We're monitoring our Twitter account every day, so if you have an account, please send us you thoughts and questions to @whichcar.
Don't worry if you haven't got a Twitter account - you can still stay in the loop by regularly checking www.twitter.com/whichcar.