Having your vehicle serviced, especially when it's out of its warranty period, can be a daunting experience.
While there are many reliable, and reputable, operators around, there are also those who take advantage of a lack of knowledge of modern vehicles in order to fleece consumers.
One indication of how bad this problem is, is the fact that the Motor Industry Ombudsman (MIOSA) handles more than 4000 calls a month. Any disputes relating to work done on your vehicle can be forwarded to this body for dispute resolution, but it can be avoided with a little forward thinking by the owner.
According to the Automobile Association, it is important to do your homework before selecting a technician to work on your vehicle.
"Word of mouth is a good way of determining who the good mechanics in your area are. But, as a responsible owner, you should also be visiting workshops, and speaking to the mechanics to get a feel for how they operate and what their hourly rate for labour is," the association said.
The AA adds that it is also a good idea to ask for references and to inspect the workshop. A clean workshop where everything has its place sends a far stronger message than a workshop that is dirty and cluttered, where mechanics struggle to find their tools.
Once you have decided on a workshop, the AA says, it is important to obtain a detailed list of the work that the mechanic plans to do and the projected costs and timeframes. Again, do your homework and research the cost price of spares that may be needed. Remember, though, that workshops will add a mark-up to the parts and will charge for labour.
When your car is ready for collection, look for signs that the work which has been billed for has been completed.
"It may not always be possible to see what was done, but you may, for instance, be able to see that a new fanbelt has been fitted because it will look new and have easily identifiable numbers on it. If you are unsure of what was done, ask the mechanic to go through it in detail with you," said the AA.
If you have any concerns about the work that was performed, go back to the workshop immediately and speak to the mechanic. If you let a third party work on the vehicle before taking it back to the person who worked on it first, you may have no recourse. It is also important to go back to the mechanic as soon as possible.
"It is very important that your car is serviced regularly to maintain its mechanical condition. If your car is out of its warranty period, selecting a good, and fair, mechanic is vital. But remember that having your car serviced at a cheap, low-cost rate should also be a warning of the workmanship you can expect," said the AA.
Tips from the AA for owners having their vehicles servied:
1. Agree on a timeline for the completion of the work, and on the costs involved, prior to any work commencing.
2. Clarify if there are any other risks the mechanic identifies prior to the work being started, or if there are any potential problems that may arise from the initial work being done.
3. Ensure you get a detailed written quote from the workshop before any work starts. This means you and the workshop both agree on the work to be done and the costs involved.
4. Clarify with the workshop if the specific repairs/servicing will fix the problems you have highlighted; remember that diagnostic repairs can be expensive.
5. Remember that cheapest is not best. If you are unsure of a quote because it is too high, get a second quote, or cost the parts yourself through a parts dealer.
6. Don't allow a repair to drag on. If work has not been completed within the set timeframe, contact the workshop and get answers.
7. Keep track of your repair and service history, to protect you in future and to assist your mechanic with the diagnostic process.
8. If you have your vehicle serviced by a workshop that forms part of a group, you can escalate your complaints to a higher authority within that group if you are unhappy with a mechanic's response.
Useful links: the Motor Industry Ombudsman and the AA's Quality Assured service.