The UK garage industry isn’t regulated which means that anyone can open a garage, set up a used car showroom and service or repair our cars without the latest know-how.
I have a statistic on my wall to remind me why this matters. It is that 93000 of us complain to Citizens Advice centres each year, about a combination of used cars and garage services. That’s a lot, bearing in mind that many of us never take it any further than the garage.
When I first uncovered this unsavoury fact, some 15 years ago now, I was quite shocked. Like most motorists I expected anyone who carried out repairs that could affect my personal safety to be licensed to do their job. As gas fitters and electricians are for example.
Types of Garages
Businesses and individuals who do garage work fit into several different categories in my experience. There are very good ones, ones who hide their light under a bushel, those that can do better and those that’ll never be good enough.
Fortunately the best ones are usually licensed to do their job and do it well or at least adequately. Sadly this doesn’t always make them best at customer service but at least your car should be safe.
Then there are others who are good enough and caring enough to be licensed, but aren’t because they don’t have to be and can’t see the cost benefit. Some of these businesses are among the most friendly I’ve spoken to on the phone and often have excellent customer feedback. But without evidently-qualified ie licensed ie ethical staff in their workshop I couldn’t sleep at night recommending them to female motorists. Just in case their work wasn’t good enough.
But the ones that aren’t good enough to be licensed and couldn’t care less about being so are the ones that really wind me up. This is because they can earn a decent living doing a mediocre or worse job, getting off scot-free because too many poorly informed motorists think it’s a good idea to buy cheap MOTs, car parts, servicing and repairs – not realising what good garages need to pay for licensed staff, the latest diagnostic equipment, car parts and the cost of premises and customer services.
It’s just commonsense that the cheapest prices are unlikely to be the best value for money in today’s unlicensed garage industry.
Minimum Garage Standards
So how do you find out who your best local garages are based on signs of measurable quality. Here are a few clues.
To begin with, if you use a franchised dealer you can be sure that their technicians have been trained to provide repair services that are approved by the car manufacturer. And whilst you might pay a tad over the odds compared to a good independent garage, you need to decide if their (typically superior) facilities, customer services and specialist training justifies this. Certainly most motorists driving new cars within their warranty period favour franchised dealers, in case they need to make a claim.
There are two main schemes to check if your local garage is as good as it gets. The first one is the IMI Professional Register where you can check for a licensed garage and/or mechanic near you.
The second is to see if the garage is a subscriber to a Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) Approved Code of Practice scheme.
Incidentally if you have a run in with a Motor Codes approved subscriber you can apply to the new Motor Ombudsman to review your case. With that name you might expect them to look after all motor industry complaints but they don’t. Perhaps that’s what they’re hoping to do in time?
It’s a shame that the motor industry feels the need to brag about complaints handling processes but with 93,000 complaints on the horizon and dysfunctional businesses allowed to trade, maybe it’s better to be prepared than let it happen to you.
We hope it’s not you, but if you do get fleeced at any stage, we help Club members sort things out. And if need be (this rarely arises because this is a genuine deterrent), we share the experience with local Club members.
If you’d like to contact me about any of this please email firstname.lastname@example.org or get in touch via the Club’s Twitter account @FOXYtweets.