When the garage inspector calls…

Foxy -under-car-blue-125Did you know I am also a garage inspector in that I visit garages and dealerships as part of my job?

Any that join the FOXY Lady Approved network expect to be visited as part of our compliance scheme. For as long as I can do this myself I like to visit as many personally to make sure they meet my standards, before handing over to others for future visits.

Among other things, I am looking for signs of measurable quality, value for money (not the cheapest, more the best value), cleanliness and customer service. You need to visit a business and ‘feel’ their culture – I say I can tell just walking through the door…

Some businesses want to be seen as female friendly and perhaps they are, but their location lets them down. It’s rare for garages to be in shopping areas but that’s really where we want them to be so we can catch up essentials whilst the car is MOT’d, serviced or repaired.

When I find myself in a dreary industrial estate I have to judge whether this is likely to be a good place for women to visit on a dark wintery day when the location is likely to look even more depressing.

Another bad start is when I drive into a forecourt and there is no parking space or I am expected to reverse out of a tight spot, with staff watching. Signage can also often be improved upon and surely customer parking should take precedence over unattractive cars for sale?

Then of course I’ll assess the garage amenities inside, but a less than favourable start has been made to any customer visit.

Garage cleanliness

An important area that many garages neglect is cleanliness. I can see at a glance if a workshop is clean, neat and tidy by the state of the floor, the state of the overalls the staff wear, whether they wear gloves, have tool cabinets and such like. Whilst this isn’t part of my typical FOXY checklist it always sets the cultural scene for what I expect to find in the customer reception area. As I see it, if a workshop is dirty and disorganised it is likely that this disregard will translate into customer areas.

Having seen immaculate garages, bodyshops and dealerships with gleaming customer facilities I know it can de done. In my book there is no excuse for a grubby waiting room – just a poor cleanliness regime. For example, try the finger test for yourself. Wipe it over the desk counter or any coffee tables in the waiting room. Then check your finger. Could you live with that at home? Should you have to as a paying customer? If it doesn’t matter to you, that’s fine of course.

I’m often told ‘we clean on a Friday’ as if a Thursday customer (or when I call on a different day) will feel any better for knowing this. Business cleanliness needs to be ongoing, not just a weekly chore.

Reading materials are interesting too. If a business is female friendly and women are likely to have to wait for their car to be ready or paperwork completed then it’s a nice touch I feel. I’m not sure if it’s better to provide aspirational-related magazines such as Superstar Homes or Celebrity Holidays (imaginary titles both) but I’d prefer to see these than magazines full of gossip about soap stars I don’t know. But that’s just me. So I realise it can be tricky to get the reading choice right for women but I like to see garages try.

I am often told “we used to get x title but women went off with it…” so I always suggest they provide colour supplements from a recent quality weekend publication. There’s no excuse then.

Needless to say, men are always catered for in this area assuming they want to read about performance cars, motor sports or mechanical/trade matters.

Washrooms ie customer toilets are the ultimate barometer of cleanliness for me. Why some garages feel the need to list one as a customer facility when the mechanics use it as well remains a mystery. Nothing can be more off-putting than the loo seat lifted revealing a stained bowl and just as bad, oily marks on bar soap at the sink and a dirty looking towel for afters.

pinklooThis pink toilet inspection was one of the most memorable for me. The garage owner had asked his staff to walk the extra two yards down the corridor to use the male facilities, urinals and so on, without success. So one weekend he painted the ladies in shocking pink and the mechanics have never used it since. That’s all it took, it’s a bit startling I know but it’s proof of the pride the owner takes in the facilities he provides.

Some men don’t see this need for cleanliness, despite most of them thinking their garage is a female friendly one. If it’s a garage on our network I simply remove this so-called amenity from their listing but wonder what possessed them to think women would want to use this?

As a customer, I’d mark their card as a dirty business (in my mind) and never return.

And if you think these comments are simply about back street garages, think again. Some of the smartest and cleanest facilities have been in small and family run garages whereas some of the scruffiest and unkempt ones have been in dealerships. Where I’ve found lewd calendars too, by the way. So you can’t be sure of getting better facilities by paying more.

As I always say, if a garage has facilities that are better than the rest and they pay everyday attention to maintaining a spic and span workshop and customer area, they should be shouting about this to women because we all know that other varieties exist.

In my experience, women will choose the female friendly garage variety as soon as they realise they have a choice in their area.

That includes females who jump ship after putting up with second rate services for too long, once they discover that things can be better elsewhere. So comments from garages such as ‘we treat all customers the same’ don’t resonate with me. This level of complacency is either a lazy excuse for not trying harder for women or a missed opportunity for not marketing to women as ‘better than the rest’ which is what most of us expect to be treated as.

FOXY Steph

Rumer has it for women

Rumer_accentuateOne of the songs I can’t get out of my head for days after hearing it is Rumer’s version of “You’ve got to Accentuate the Positive, Eliminate the Negative and Latch On to the Affirmative…”

It really should be FOXY’s signature tune in this unregulated motor industry.

It can equally apply to a lot of gender-based news this month.

1/ Sports

The good news is that the men won The Ashes this year, even if it was a close call. Hurrah. Whilst we surely would have wanted the women to win their Ashes, they get less attention here yet the likes of Olympian Jessica Hill-Ennis and other winning female athletes in Beijing seem to command similar admiration compared to Mo and Greg in their respective disciplines.

That’s the positive nature of sporting success of course, regardless of gender.

I wonder if the gender Ashes tables will be turned in Australia after their women won the summer trophy in Hove?

2/ Music

There’s no positive news about music if you’re a teenage fan of One Direction this week. It’s all negative, unless you’re a member of the band of course, wanting a more normal life at just 22.

Any female who’s had male crushes (mine was Rod Stewart) knows how all consuming this adulation can be although I don’t feel the need to either accentuate or eliminate this far lesser emotion nearly thirty years on. I don’t think males feel the same, unless it’s about sporting role models perhaps?

3/ Education

If you’re female or looking to recruit graduates in future, you might want to big up the gender statistics that more young female students than male ones are off to university this year. This makes women the future gender target for many graduate recruitment agencies and will surely add to her shopping profile as the independent and wealthy gender responsible for some 80% of household shopping.

In the USA they say that women buy or influence up to 90% of all car sales and that is where we’re headed it seems. That’s serious gender buying power and yet so many females don’t think that motor manufacturers are accentuating the positives of cars with women in mind. That’s a mistake and the ones that get their cars and dealership service levels right (not just the promotions and advertising) will surely get her custom ahead of the rest.

4/ Radicalisation

Yet another Muslim Mum is thought to have taken her four young children to Syria this week. Clearly she doesn’t see the positive of life in Great Britain and has been misled by those doing a better job about Syria? With such negative consequences for her innocent children.

5/ Train safety

In big cities like Tokyo and Osaka there are women only carriages on trains.
In big cities like Tokyo and Osaka there are women only carriages on trains.
How wonderful that the positive actions of such a brave quartet prevented a train massacre in Belgium last week.

Maybe this event encouraged Jeremy Corbyn to suggest a way to keep solo women travellers safer in a women’s only railway carriage at night?

This has caused the usual gender divide between those who see the positive of this and those who think this is a patronising and a negative step backwards.

As readers of my blog know, I run a motoring club for women so I have a feminist business agenda here, operating in what is perceived to be a mainly masculine world, even today.

As a result of putting my head above the parapet here, I am occasionally accused of discriminating against men or patronising women, simply by helping women enjoy a better motoring deal wisely whilst steering clear of the bad ones.

Yet these comments are often from a woman who’d buy cheap car insurance from us, but can’t see that many females like her worry about being ripped off/intimidated in car showrooms and garages.

The positive impact of information…

The fact is, we’re all different and we surely deserve informed choices, especially when these influence our personal and family safety. I use the word ‘informed’ with care. Surely no ‘informed’ Muslim Mum would take her children to Syria if she knew the facts? Were she to be better informed she’d be less likely to be brainwashed or radicalised as it’s called today. As would be the case were she informed about tyre safety rather than the high numbers of us found driving on illegal and unsafe tyres when caught in a roadside check.

Which is what FOXY does of course. We exist to inform and empower women drivers of all ages, across the UK, to do with their car safety. Having explained the risk of buying cheap in an unregulated industry, time and time again, we help Club members save money wisely without cutting safety corners. It’s this very information and female oriented message that enables us to cut the cost of car insurance for 9 out of 10 members. Because the women who join the Club are either (or soon become) safer motorists – they aren’t boy racers but they are more interested and better informed about safe motoring choices than others…

… versus gender negatives we’d rather eliminate

Sadly there are some females that we wouldn’t want in the Club and our Club Rules are designed to reflect this if need be.

For example, I don’t want to travel with females like the foul-mouthed pair of drunks who were in the same train carriage as me from London to Lancing late one night recently. Not only were they unsteady on their high heels, their language was offensive, they left a most unpleasant toilet for others and after changing trains at Hove, one was sick all over the seat and floor behind me.

So Jeremy, whilst in principle I support any objective to provide a safer and more pleasant train travelling choice for women at night, please make this a female choice and consider ways to hold ‘women behaving badly’ to account.

How sad we need to do address this negative consequence of gender equality – presumably these women didn’t learn about the Suffragettes at school?

Much as FOXY ‘outs’ the bad garages and car dealerships who treat women badly– it’s increasingly the case that some women are letting the rest of their gender down in their motoring dealings and/or car neglect.

I’m thinking about those women who think it’s clever to tell me they simply put fuel in their cars and sell them on before their first MoT. Which might explain why so many cars fail their first MoT and so many female motorists don’t know how to check their tyres for themselves…

automation-communicationAnother group FOXY needs to be talking to, but I’m not sure how, are those women who say ‘My husband takes care of this for me’.

These are the same ladies that are totally lost and vulnerable to do with their car when he isn’t there to do this for them or the car safety penny finally drops at accident time; that he didn’t check her tyres properly or regularly.

At which stage she realises that she, the driver, has to accept full responsibility for the consequences of any accident that the condition of her car might have contributed towards. And which might never have happened had she known…

In short, there is no excuse for ignorance when there’s a service dedicated to helping women drivers become more aware re car safety and so they might save money wisely. The ‘doing something about car care ignorance’ needs to be the positive outcome here.

Now, how do we get that message out to more women drivers, Rumer?

Savvy Woman interviews FOXY Steph

Savvy woman interves FOXY StephLast Saturday I was interviewed by the Savvy Woman, Sarah Pennells as part of her excellent ‘Women and Money’ radio programme on Share Radio.

The programme involved expert author Maria McCarthy and Charlotte Halkett from leading telematics insurer ‘Insure The Box’ whose brands include ‘Drive Like A Girl’.

Sarah was exploring the fact that women are increasingly wealthy customers in the motor industry yet it still seems to be a blokey environment when it comes to buying cars and going to garages.

A topic after my own heart!

But rather than rewrite an interesting conversation here, here’s the link and I hope you enjoy this discussion.

If you’d like to add to the debate, especially to do with preferential insurance for safer women drivers, please do so via Twitter.

My personal account is @FOXYSteph and the business one is @FOXYTweets.

FOXY Steph

Car tax disc nostalgia or apathy?

creativetaxdiscs.co.ukDespite the abolition of car tax discs, a recent survey suggests that one in two motorists continue to display car tax discs. But is this simply a case of genuine nostalgia?

I’m not so sure. Might it not simply be down to inertia or apathy? The fact that the number of drivers paying out of court settlements to the Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) has nearly doubled since, appears to confirm this theory.

If drivers don’t pay the penalty they’re taken to court and even this figure has risen by 29% since discs were abolished, according to Auto Express magazine. Most surprising of all, I thought, was that one in six motorists didn’t know the tax disc had been abolished? Clearly not Club members of course…

On the other hand, there seems to be some nostalgia and definite speculation among the velologist community (that’s car tax disc collectors to you and me). I loved reading about Jude Currie’s collection but I’m definitely suspicious of eBay claims that any individual tax discs might be worth as much as £1000.

From a business point of view I have always thought (but have yet to do this) that a FOXY-branded car disc holder would be a great place to remind motorists of their MOT and/or VED expiry dates. In the good old fashioned way – in writing on a familiar looking circular disc and a reminder of these time critical deadlines every time you sit in the car.

Then the passenger corner of my windscreen wouldn’t look so forlorn…

Car tax disc reminder tips

To remind us all where we’re at re car tax discs, and in case your tax reminder goes astray, I hope these tips will help.

1/ It’s not worth considering driving an untaxed vehicle because the fine could be as much as £1000. In some circumstances even more as it can be up to 5 times the cost of your car’s annual tax…)

2/ It’s quick and easy to tax your vehicle online using the 16 digit reference code from your vehicle tax renewal reminder (V11) or 11 digit reference number from your log book (V5C). If you know someone who isn’t online, why not offer to help them do this online when the time comes?

3/ If you (or a car dealer) sell a car, it’s up to the vehicle owner to tell the DVLA before handing over the keys to a new owner. The owner will then receive a refund of any full months’ unspent tax. Fiddly and time consuming, I agree.

4/ If you buy a car, it’s up to you to tax it before you drive it away. Much as you do with insurance. NB: Remember to allow more time than before for any car seller to tell the DVLA before you’ll be able to tax it in your name.

5/ If you hire a car or need to check if a car you drive is taxed (for any reason or concern) you can do so via the Vehicle Enquiry Service.

6/ If you move house and forget to tell the DVLA, or their reminder letter goes astray, it’s still your fault if you don’t pay your VED on time. We are all expected to know when our car tax expires and because the DVLA works with debt collection services, rest assured that all tax evaders will eventually be found…

In short, it makes compelling financial sense to set up diary reminders and an automatic Direct Debit Instruction to pay non-negotiable motoring essentials like your car tax. Then you can forget about this when you’re on holiday, working away from home perhaps or during other domestic or work-related distractions.

Special Citroen offers for Club members

citroen_offersCitroen is the FIRST car manufacturer to give Club members a 10% discount off their best dealership offers.

Check them out if you are considering buying new or nearly new.

Members will do better buying NEW with this combination of deals in August 2015.

Choose a new Citroen on the following cash or HP rates, as below, and members are eligible for the Club’s 10% discount.

For example, that’s a further £799 off the already reduced C1 below, and so on.

That’s a fantastic deal for Club members (who need to have been members for 3 months+) and any family members living at the same address.

Terms apply: vehicles must be ordered pronto and delivered BEFORE 30 September 2015; all offers are subject to availability and eligibility (you need a form from us to prove your membership joining date); quote FOXY affinity reference RT808 in a Citroen main dealership to confirm discounted deal (they might need to check this in their offers folder).

The latest offers include:

Citroen C1

+ Citroën C1 available from just £7,995 OTR, including a £350 Citroën Reward
+ Citroën C1 VTi models from £99 per month on Elect 4 Personal Lease
+ 4.9% APR representative finance for 3 years with no minimum deposit available on selected models

Citroen C3

+ Citroën C3 available from just £8,995 OTR, including a £2,080 Citroën Reward
+ From £149 per month with Elect 4 Personal Lease
+ Citroën C3 Selection special edition models available with no VAT and 3 years 0% APR representative with a 10% deposit
+ 0% APR representative finance for 3 years with 10% minimum deposit available on selected models

Citroen C3 Picasso

+ Citroën C3 Picasso available from just £11,485 OTR, including a £2,005 Citroën Reward
+ From £159 per month with Elect 4 Personal Lease
+ Selection special edition models available with no VAT and 3 years 0% APR representative with just 10% deposit
+ 0% APR representative finance for 3 years with 10% minimum deposit or 4 years with 20% minimum deposit available on selected models
+ No VAT equivalent Citroën Reward on Citroën C3 Picasso Selection special editions

Citroen C4

+ Citroën C4 available from just £13,645 OTR, including £1,000 Citroën Reward
+ From £219 per month on Elect 4 Personal Lease 
+ 0% APR representative finance for 3 years with 10% minimum deposit or 4 years with 20% minimum deposit available on selected models
+ No VAT equivalent Citroën Reward on Citroën C4 Selection special editions

Citroen C4 Cactus

+ C4 Cactus available from just £12,990 OTR
+ From £149 per month on Elect 4 Personal Lease
+ £1,500 deposit contribution with Elect 3 & Elect 4 finance
+ Citroën C4 Cactus models available with 4.9% APR representative with Elect 3 finance with no minimum deposit

Terms apply: Vehicles must be ordered pronto and delivered BEFORE 30 September 2015; all offers are subject to availability and eligibility (you need a form from us to prove your membership joining date); quote FOXY affinity reference RT808 in a Citroen main dealership to confirm discounted deal (they might need to check this in their offers folder, or suggest they call us on 01903 879988).

FOXY Steph
August 2015

NB: These are cash/HP offers reserved for Club members after 3 months membership and can be extended to family members living at the same address.

A blog for women about motoring