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Like it or not, your car needs regular servicing at least once a year unless you carry out more than average miles, when more regular servicing is required. It needn't be such a drain on your resources as you may think. Ignoring regular servicing is not cost effective, a vehicle that constantly misses its regular services will use more fuel, run less efficiently, emit more emissions, be more likely to breakdown and cost you more in repair bills in the long run. Modern cars require less attention that vehicles built in the past twenty to thirty years. Many will require only one service per year and possibly only one major service every three years. Popular models require very little in terms of servicing, although many luxury cars, 4 x 4 vehicles and sports cars require just that little bit more. Manufacturers have done their best to reduce service labour times over the years. Most modern cars no longer have contacts to replace, clutches to adjust, batteries to top up, suspension joints to grease, ignition timing to set and many more time consuming jobs. Some only need their spark plugs changed every 60.000 miles and an oil and filter changed every 20.000 miles. There is a general perception with many people that a service will convert the vehicle back to what it was like when new, it won't. However, a service will keep it in good shape and prolong its existence for a lengthy period of time. Even if you don't cover many miles over an annual period, don't ignore the service. Components can still deteriorate through lack of use and the safety related ones need regular checks which a service provides.
It is beneficial to know exactly what your vehicle requires at service time. Have a look at your handbook; each one has the service schedule clearly explained, if you don't have a handbook, ask your local franchised dealer for a copy of the models service check list which will explain the schedule. You'll get that free. This will allow you to see in terms of time and mileage your servicing needs, seek quotes from various garages and budget for it. Years ago an average service would include checking and adjusting wheel alignment, headlamp alignment, brakes and many other components. Today, sneaky manufacturers in an effort to keep service times low, often only include checking of many components. Any adjustments that are required are extra cost options, an opportunity for the garage to make extra revenue. Always check the service schedule that the garage is working from and ask them if adjustments are included in the service. Wheel alignment adjustment can be more time consuming than a simple adjustment of a headlamp or handbrake. Always ask how much extra the garage is likely to charge for these routine adjustments.
What should be my first move in finding a garage to service my car? You are looking for three things when it comes to service and repair work, trust, value for money and a good standard of work. Ask your friends and work colleagues where they go for service and repairs and see who they recommend. Often, recommendations are all that is necessary as someone else has done the dirty work for you. Have a look at the premises they recommend, first impressions count for a lot. Is the garage clean and organised with friendly and helpful staff or does the place look like a bomb site with grumpy staff with the personality of a Dalek. Compare their hourly retail charges; some are so cheap that it appears to be too good to be true and quite often it is! Many garages are members of a motor trade association who will act on your behalf with an arbitrary decision making process should a serious problem arise. These garages can be franchised dealers, independent garages or even 'fast fits', and are usually more professional in running their business.
Where should I take my car for a service or repair? The big franchised dealers are the most expensive because they have the biggest over heads usually because of the pressures put on them by the manufacturers. Around the country labour rates from franchised dealers than ranged from £40.00 per hour in rural Scotland to £140 per hour in London. Running a budget priced vehicle it would be madness to take your pride and joy to one of these places as you will pay dearly for the work. Even if your vehicle is still under the manufacturers warranty period, by law you do not have to take it to the franchised dealer. As long as your vehicle is serviced by a VAT registered garage, using parts designed for the vehicle and sticking to the manufacturer's service schedule this will not affect your warranty.
Smaller independent garages are a better choice and many charge about half of a franchised dealer's rate. Their overheads are much lower and many offer first class service, they can't afford to have a bad reputation or they simply wouldn't survive. They can't rely on car sales to bolster their profits. No matter if you choose a franchised dealer or an independent garage there are always good and bad garages. Most are bad through incompetence rather than dishonesty. Whichever garage you decide to use it is important to find out which trade association they belong to. As members they have to adhere to a code of practice and information regarding this is usually displayed at the garage concerned.
The 'fast fits' (tyre fitting and exhaust fitting companies) are a good source for value for money servicing and limited repairs, they will often quote very competitive prices. However, their weakest point is to advise on work that is not required. Their workers are paid a bonus based on extra work they can find when a vehicle is in their premises. I have lost count on the number of people who have been quoted for work that is not required. They have the knack of scaring people into authorising unnecessary work, specially a woman on their own. Be warned, get the basic work done and seek a second opinion if they advise on any extra work required.
If you are lucky enough to have a parent, brother, uncle or friend who is a mechanic and able to look after your car, then you will save a fortune. Here you can trust a family member or friend to look after your car at a minimal cost. However, do remember that even with good intentions things can go wrong and you will have little comeback if a friend has badly repaired your car.
The last option you have and the most cost effective one is to do it yourself. If you have the enthusiasm for the job, why not go to your local college at night and study basic car maintenance. It really doesn't matter if your male or female these classes are set up to show you how to carry out basic tasks on your vehicle. Why not go with friends, have a bit of fun and help each other out. The initial outlay may be a little expensive as you will need some basic tools and equipment, but if it is shared between friends it will quickly become very cost effective. One word of warning though, these classes are very good at teaching you how the car works and how to do some basic jobs such as changing oil, brake pads, fan belts and so on. What they can't teach you is how to be a professional technician and to be able to spot problems before they need expensive repairs. Only the professional technician with many years of expierence behind them can do that. If you do decide to do it yourself I would strongly advise you to carry out a service just after a MOT. Thereby you have your vehicle professional checked over for the safety related items as part of the MOT leaving you the less important items to service a couple of days later. Doing this, will stop any chance of missing something important that can be safety related.
Once I have found a suitable garage, what then? Let us assume you need a service or simple repair, always ask for a quote for the work involved, not an estimate. An estimate is just that, an estimate, someone tells you a service will cost £100.00 but it ends up £200.00. A quote has to be more accurate, always ask for the quote in writing. Always ask what you are getting for your money including what parts will be replaced and ask how long their work is guaranteed for. A recent survey revealed that men usually received smaller quotes than women. I can only assume that unscrupulous traders take advantage of the fact that most women know little about the mechanics of cars. If you are a woman and feel vulnerable in this situation, ask a male friend, father, your husband or someone else's husband to get your quote.
Once you have the quote ask the garage if there are any hidden extras such as sundries/consumables and environmental charges that are likely to be added on later. If you respond to what the trade calls a 'loss leader', this is a very cheap lubrication service (usually £29.99 + VAT) usually offered during quiet times, find out what exactly you are getting for your money. Many will try and 'sell up' to a more expensive service once you have committed yourself and many garages can be very persuasive. If and when you leave your vehicle with them for any work, always insist in getting the displaced material returned for your inspection. Obviously you don't want old oil filters and the smelly oil returned but things like old air filters, switches, spark plugs, lamps, bulbs and so on should be returned to you for inspection. Never sign for any work to be carried out other than what you have authorised from the job sheet. Always inform the garage to contact you should any extra work be required and always leave them a contact number for this purpose. Lack of communication is still the biggest complaint from car owners about garages, in the 21st century. There is no excuse with emails, mobile phones, text messages and faxes available.
What are sundries/consumables and an environmental charges all about? When a car is serviced you pay for the oil and possibly brake fluid if it's used within the service. There are many other items used on your car on an average service, a finger full of petroleum jelly for the battery terminals, special oil for the door locks, high melting point grease for brake components and so on. Rather than charge you for a tin of each of these items, they charge you a one off fee to cover them all, anything between £5.00 - £10.00 is fair, anything above that is extortion. This is classed as consumables or sometimes sundries.
Since stricter environmental legislation was introduced in the 1990s, garages can no longer dispose of certain items by throwing them in the dustbin. Items such as oil, oil filters, batteries, fuel tanks, asbestos linings, tyres and so on, must be disposed of in a more responsible manner with purpose built containers being collected by specialist companies who specialise in their disposal. It all costs money and that charge is passed on to the consumer, again a charge of £5.00 - £10.00 is reasonable, anything above that is extortion. Companies usually charge £1.00 each to dispose of old tyres. I did hear of one garage that was about to charge a customer £20.00 to dispose of a set of brake pads!!!
What about extras that the garage advised me to have? These are often items such as engine flush and fuel treatment that many garages like to add and make some extra revenue from. Although there is nothing wrong with these extra items, in most cases they are a waste of money. Engine flush is a good idea for an old high mileage vehicle that has missed a service or two. Flushing out the engine will do no harm and keep everything inside reasonably clean, but it is wasted on a low mileage car that is regular serviced with good quality oil. Some garages automatically do it and unless you request otherwise you end up paying for it, always check first. Fuel treatments are rarely recommended by the manufacturers; once again they will do no harm but are rarely necessary. Modern good quality fuels that are sold in the UK can do much the same job; check first before you leave your car with the garage.
My garage advised me to have my brake fluid changed, is this another rip off as my brakes feel fine? If the brake fluid has been properly tested and found to be containing moisture it is advisable to have it changed. Many garages advise on changing it unnecessarily just to be on the 'safe side' or to make extra money, the best way to avoid any confusion is to have the test done whilst you are present. It takes seconds to test with a little pen sized instrument with red, amber and green lights for guidance inserted into the brake master cylinder. Green usually indicates it is all right whilst red indicates that the fluid should be changed immediately. Amber gives you advanced warning of a change, any doubts and I would recommend a second opinion.
Is there a good time to have my car serviced? Usually during quiet times is the ideal time to get a bargain. Small independent garages are usually kept busy all year round as they offer better value for money and rarely do special offers. However, bigger franchised dealers endure quiet times for weeks on end and will try to offer reduced servicing costs to encourage extra business. This is usually (but not always) from around mid-November to just before Christmas when most of us are spending our hard earned cash on presents. Another quiet period is often around May and June when we often have to pay the final instalment for the summer holiday and cash is in short supply. The franchised dealers usually go for 20/30/40 point checks or low price services for four cylinder cars; watch out for free checks as they usually end up costing you dearly through unnecessary work. The low cost services are often no more than oil and filter changes and an extensive check over, don't expect new spark plugs or air filters, but ask the garage first what work is involved. Some do offer good value for money but always check first before you commit yourself.
Anything else I need to be aware of with garages? Seek a second opinion if you're not happy with anything from technical advice to ridiculous quotes. Check your mileage before and after the repair has been carried out, allow for the garage conducting a short road test. Be wary of free a check over, garages are extremely well trained in 'selling up'; the hardest part for them is getting you through the door. A free check over for summer or winter is a good way of getting your car checked over free of charge but the garage will find faults and try and get you to have the repairs carried out at extra cost. Just like the 'fast fits' they often quote for unnecessary work so be prepared. It has also been reported that some foreign garages have removed good working components from vehicles and replaced them with faulty ones. The main target is starter motors, alternators, air conditioning pumps and so on. The best way to avoid this is to paint marks on all major components before you travel abroad and put the marks where you can easily see them.
SUMMARISE ON SOME MONEY SAVING TIPS
Compare hourly retail rates between garages before you choose one.
Always ask for a quote in writing for all work involved.
If you're women; get a male friend, husband or lover to get the quote. Men usually receive smaller quotes!
Shop around & compare prices.
Offer to supply the parts if that will reduce the costs.
Consider 'fast fits' for batteries, exhausts, shock absorbers etc.
Watch out for excessive sundries & environmental waste charges.
Look out for special offers from franchised dealers.
Consider DIY, spread the costs of tools with friends to keep it viable.
Consider a reliable make of car to avoid frequent garage visits.