10 ways to cut the cost of car repair

Taking your car to a garage can be a daunting experience. Since most of us know next to nothing about the mechanics of our vehicles, so how can we tell if we’re getting a fair deal or being ripped off?

More than a third of car owners say they have been left unhappy by a garage experience, according to roadside assistance company Green Flag, but you don’t need to be one of them. Here are 10 steps you should follow to take the stress out of a visit to the garage.

1. Do your homework

Knowledge is power. It’s unlikely you’ve got the time to learn the ins and outs of your car’s system but a glance at the manual should give you a better idea of what might be wrong.

Even if you can’t be bothered to lift the bonnet, write down your vehicle’s model, age, mileage, engine size, fuel type and registration so you at least have the basic knowledge to hand.

A workshop manual left in your car when it goes in for a service will suggest to the mechanic you know something about your car and could lessen the risk of being ripped off – just make sure it looks like you’ve opened it.

2. Listen to your car

Every car has its own diagnostic system and there are websites and forums to help you discover what’s wrong with yours. “As cars become more complicated, the internet is creating ways for you to diagnose problems quickly,” says motoring expert Nick Gibbs.

This is especially easy with a high-end car, such as a BMW or Jaguar, that will display fault symbols on the dashboard. It’s possible to enter the brand, model and fault code on the company’s website to find out exactly what is wrong. That way, when you go to the garage you can be clear about the work that needs doing.

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3. Shop around

Prices can vary considerably so get a few quotes and then negotiate. At whocanfixmycar.com, you can post the repair you need for free and you will be given a choice of quotes from the nearest garages.

4. Take a car maintenance course

Whether you just want to learn enough to protect you from being scammed or be able to fix your car yourself, a car maintenance course can help. There are evening and weekend classes available for all levels of expertise.

For more information visit openstudycollege.com and hotcourses.com. The money you spend on the course could save you a fortune in the long term.

Also, don’t just choose your mechanic based on price. "Compare what different prices include because there isn’t one industry standard," says Steph Savil, owner of the Foxy Lady Drivers Club.

An £80 oil change may seem expensive but it could include a whole lot more than the £40 one offered by a competitor.

5. Look for industry-recognised garages

There are several schemes out there that insist member garages work to recognised industry standards. Gibbs recommends the Motor Industry Code of Practice. It’s approved by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and has a number of regulations garages must adhere to, such as providing honest and transparent pricing and giving invoices that match the quoted price.

Garages in the scheme will display the Motor Code logo and you can also search for them at motorcodes.co.uk/garagefinder.

6. Be specific

Tell the garage exactly what you want doing and ask for an estimate before work is started on your car. Check these costs include any extras such as brake fluid, labour and VAT.

Ask to be contacted before additional work is carried out and before you pay ask to be shown any new parts, or ask that the old ones to be left in your boot – that way it’s clear what has been replaced.

A reputable garage should have no problem with any of these safeguards and if it’s unwilling to do this, or you’re unhappy with the predicted costs, don’t be afraid to take your car elsewhere.

7. Watch out for extra costs

Some garages will charge you for a lot more than just fixing your car. “Extras such as a replacement car, lift service and coffee facilities may sound lovely but you could end up paying for them through higher servicing costs,” says Kieren Puffett, editor of car review website parkers.co.uk.

If the garage says it can’t give you a fixed quotation because of the nature of the job, try to agree to a spending limit. You should also make sure you receive an itemised invoice so that it’s easier to spot unreasonable charges.

8. Use a local council MOT centre

When it’s time for your car’s MOT go to a local council test centre. These are primarily meant for council vehicles, such as buses or ambulances, but are also open to the public. The benefit of these centres is that because they only perform MOTs and not repairs, there is no incentive for a mechanic to fi nd extra faults. Go to ukmot.com to find a centre.

9. Have a little faith

Mechanics have a bad reputation for ripping off customers but they aren’t all out to get you. “Garages have a reputation for shoddy workmanship as well as overcharging but you must understand that problems can arise and sometimes cars will require more work then originally thought,” says Savil.

So while you should be on your guard, don’t always assume you are being ripped off – it may cost you a good relationship with a reliable mechanic.

10. Don't be afraid to complain

If you’re not happy with the service or you think you’ve been unfairly overcharged then speak to the garage directly. If you don’t get an adequate answer go to the OFT. If you’re dealing with a garage that has signed up to the Motor Industry Code of Practice, a free consumer advice line is available (0800 692 0825) and you can leave feedback for other customers at motorcodes.co.uk.

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