Garage owners have been ripping off customers for decades, so I was stunned to discover that I’m the first to consign the lying, thieving car repair trade to the dungeons here at Room 101.
The problem is that although you can prepare yourself for the onslaught, actually not getting ripped off is so much harder than you think. From the “All your brake pads needed replacing and I’m afraid while we were at it we discovered you needed a new engine” approach to the “we didn’t find the problem but we did change your oil, filter, starter motor, alternator and four bulbs” number, you just know that the moment you hand over your keys your stress levels are guaranteed to rise as fast as your bank balance plummets.
In the unlikely event that you survive the experience in the black and without popping an aneurysm, the worst part is that whatever they’ve done to your precious car, it will never be the same again. The brakes will be squashier, the heating won’t work and it’ll be pre-programmed to break down every few thousand miles just to make sure the thieving blighters can carry on raking in a fortune from you on a regular basis. No matter if you don’t take it back to the same guys that did the damage – they can rest confidently in the knowledge that they will be mopping up plenty of dissatisfied customers from their equally dishonest competitors.
So this week my car broke down – right on cue, a few thousand miles since its last failure. I called my breakdown company who were quick to arrive and equally quick to diagnose a leak in my water pump. The guy asked if I had a “trusted” garage to take it to and to his credit, when I told him I didn’t thanks to my previous shocking experience when my car was just out of warranty, rather than recommend one of his mates to rip me off, he primed me on what part to buy, how much it should cost, how to get it delivered to my door for free the same day and how long it should take to fit (yes, he deserves a place in Room 102 for his honesty). He checked every surrounding part and told me categorically that nothing else was damaged or needed replacing but that any garage I went to would tell me that they did, and would hate me for not giving them the opportunity to stripe me up. He wasn’t wrong.
Armed with the knowledge that I knew the cost of the part and that fitting should be an hour and a half of labour, I felt fairly confident as I picked up the phone to a local garage. Their quote? £350 plus VAT and they wouldn’t use a part supplied by me. Next up was even worse – £440 plus VAT, followed by a third at £290 plus VAT, which began to look quite reasonable compared to the others until they dangled the possibility of a whole host of added extras in front of me. This time I was more confident arguing the toss, and batted back hard as they threw replacement cam belt, coolant housing unit, hoses, clips, filter and pump my way. With my energy draining as fast as the water from my engine, we settled at two hours’ labour with the part supplied by me. A little over the odds but a damn sight better than £440 plus VAT. But boy, haggle with these people and they seriously make you suffer for it.
It’s bad enough having to deal with them at all. You arrive to an identikit line of fat, hairy, greasy, overall-clad mechanics who lift their head out from under the bonnet just far enough to speak to your chest. They wait till they’ve got your keys then tell you they can’t get the car finished that day after all, but they’ll make a start (just to make sure you need to clock up maximum cab fares to pay you back for beating them down on price). To be fair, on this occasion I didn’t get the inevitable call to tell me that they’d found an unexpected life-threatening, budget-busting injury once they got under the bonnet but they did take three days to complete a 90-minute job and still managed to hit me with a replacement water filter after brandishing a damaged one in my face which was supposedly impossible to argue with. I can’t be sure that the fresh damage to the paintwork at the rear happened in their care as I didn’t notice it until the morning after I collected, but I would hazard a guess that it did.
So here we have it. A moderate assault on my bank account, a major rise in my blood pressure and another few years off my life expectancy. Kick the thieving snakes into Room 101 – I’m done with them for another few thousand miles. Or until next month’s service at least.