Saturday, 30 May 2009

Will The Cowboys Ride Off Into The Sunset?

Last year, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders brought in a new voluntary code of practice for garages, aimed at guaranteeing minimum standards of service and protection for customers.

A report today suggests that, to date, only 15 per cent of the UK's estimated 35,000 garages have signed up to this code.

The code requires that all approved garages follow certain rules, including:
  • when they provide a quote or estimate for work, they must offer a breakdown of costs, in writing, including the charges for labour and parts
  • where it becomes clear that further work is needed, the garage must get the permission of the customer before carrying it out
  • garages must not take upfront deposits

Garages on the approved list are subject to a range of sanctions and even termination of membership if they fail to maintain standards.

The watchdog Consumer Focus now warns that unless a greater number agree to abide by the code, it will push for industry-wide laws.

Of course, many garages which have not signed up insist they provide a good service.

Like hell they do!

Being an engineer from way back, I know how long it should take to do these jobs and in the case of non-standard parts, how much the materials are going to cost.

Twenty years ago I had occasion to have a bit of plate welded into the floor pan of an old van. For this job I estimated that it was going to take a fivers worth of material and two hours work. Including overheads, seventy quid would more than cover it.

I went to this particular body shop on the recommendation of a friend, so I didn’t bother to get a quote. It was only a one man band and the workshop was more or less a load of corrugated sheets bolted together.

Three days and £200 later I picked the van up. I didn’t bother to complain because:
a. I didn’t ask for a quote and b. I knew that a bigger firm would have charged me more!

Not everyone in the motor trade is a rip-off merchant though. The guy who used to do the regular maintenance on my car, who had a more salubrious workshop with all the pukka garage equipment, often used to charge me, for a straight forward job of supply and fit, less than I could buy the part for, myself.

To rid the world of the cowboy repairmen, the government should adopt this code and turn it into law.

Who knows, they may even be able to scrap the new scrappage scheme!

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