How to get the best from your local garage

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There are two sides to every relationship and there are a few things you can do to reduce the risk of something going wrong as you deal with a garage for car servicing or repair:

Be a good customer and try to pick a quiet time.

Garages can be busy places, particularly first thing in the morning as cars are dropped off on the way to work and in the evening as they’re collected on the way home. If you need to discuss anything with the garage try to pick a quieter time – late morning or early afternoon perhaps.

Be specific and get an estimate

If it’s a ‘service’ you want, then tell the garage the car’s age and mileage so they can match it to the manufacturer’s schedule. You need to ask for an estimate too as standard items like brake fluid, timing belt or antifreeze may need changing as well depending on the mileage, so the cost can vary quite a lot.

On the other hand if it’s a ‘standard’ or ‘menu’ service you’re booking then you should check yourself if any additional items are needed or ask the garage’s advice. Again, get an estimate before any work is started.

Mention any extras

If you want specific problems addressed then make sure you tell the service receptionist at the time of booking so that the extra time can be allowed for – overruns or unscheduled work can cause chaos with congested workshop schedules.

Explain clearly

It’s the garage’s job to know about cars not yours. But it is important that you can explain clearly and precisely what you want them to do. It can help to write it down, particularly if you need a lot of work doing or the symptoms are complex/difficult to describe.


Don’t treat the garage staff like a bunch of crooks – the majority are honest businessmen with your best interests in mind and many mechanics are highly skilled professionals. Not all customers are angels either, remember.

Car repairs are beset with potential problems, so understand that problems can arise.

Access is very difficult as so much is packed under the bonnet. Components break, even when you’re being really careful so replacements have to be obtained and fitted and repair times/costs increase.

If a bolt or spark plug breaks while it’s being removed you will still be responsible for the cost of repair so long as the mechanic was working correctly using the correct procedure.

Speak to the mechanic if you can

If the garage doesn’t manage to fix the fault the first time then ask to speak to the mechanic – sometimes customer explanations of the fault don’t reach the person who is working on the car or details get lost/confused.

Tell him every detail – knowing for example “it only happens when the car is reversing” can make a big difference to fault diagnosis.

It can help to leave a written note in the car explaining the symptoms, too – particularly if the fault or your description of it is very complicated.

Labour rates

Garage labour rates vary a lot across the country and between garages in the same town. Franchise dealer rates are generally higher than in independent garages – main dealers have to maintain smart premises, comfortable sales and service reception areas and provide a well-stocked parts department. Good, well-qualified mechanics have to be paid salaries which reflect their skills and have to attend regular training courses provided by the manufacturer. All these costs have to be recovered through the labour rate.

Environmental charge

Oily rags, antifreeze, engine oil and tyres are all classed as toxic waste and the garage has to pay for this to be disposed of properly.

This may appear on your invoice as an environmental charge.

Itemised invoice

The garage should provide you with a fully itemised invoice, detailing everything which has been done to your car, how long it took and how much the parts cost. If you are not happy with the charges, then ask the garage to explain.

Warranty repairs

Repairs carried out under warranty are paid for by the car manufacturer or importer who pays the garage for fixing the fault, but not for hours spent trying to track it down.This is why the garage may seem a bit reluctant to look for a vague, intermittent fault. Help them by providing all the information you can.

Parts are your property

With the exception of parts replaced under warranty, or parts returned as exchange units (alternator, starter motor), all parts which have been renewed (clutch, for example) belong to you – you can ask for them to be returned to you.

New model faults

Sometimes with new models faults occurs for which initially there’s no known fix. The manufacturer will be working on it though and as soon as a solution is available they will pass information and modified parts to the garage. You might have to wait until a fix is available.

Not happy?

If you’re not happy with the work that has been done then ask to speak to the workshop foreman, service manager or the garage’s appointed customer services representative. Don’t lose your temper – good calm and clear communication is essential.

If you’re dealing with a garage that has signed up to the Motor Industry Code of Practice and it all goes wrong and you can’t resolve any dispute with the garage direct then a free consumer advice line is available. Call 0800 692 0825.