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A Girls’ Guide to Finding a Great Garage

Female Mechanic

Getting the car repaired or serviced is one area where women may still feel they’re being ripped off. Never mind that in this age of high-tech motor engineering, men are just as likely as women to be clueless about what’s going on under the hood; some women need a little reassurance that they're being treated fairly when they take their car in for servicing and repairs. 

Follow our Girls’ Guide to finding a great garage to help you; know what to look for and when to run a mile.

Which garage?

As a starting point, the best garages are often those recommended by word of mouth. Ask local friends and family, post questions on community websites or look online for reviews of garages you’re considering using.

If you own a high value or classic car, there may be garages that specialise in your particular vehicle. Rely on their specialist knowledge but don’t assume they are any less likely than a non-specialist to try to squeeze you for a bigger profit. Be sure they can justify any additional work they suggest.

High Street name vs small independent?

In the past decade, the biggest price rises have been found in franchised dealer workshops. You may have paid an hourly rate as high as £152.75 in 2003, but that figure was dwarfed by 2013, with some franchised dealers charging as much as £200 an hour.  

But there are other reasons, besides cost, that you might prefer a smaller, independent garage. A franchise relies largely on its recognisable brand, but independent garages survive on their reputation and by building long-term relationships with customers. If you’re looking for a reliable, long-term and trustworthy car doctor, don’t overlook smaller, local garages.

How frequently do cars on the garage forecourt change?

If you drive past a garage frequently, check out its forecourt. Do the cars change frequently? Avoid garages with lots of half-repaired cars that sit on the forecourt for weeks on end. It may be a sign of poor service.

Dipping a toe in the water

Found a garage but not sure if you’ve struck gold? Give your garage a small job first: did they treat you professionally and with respect? Did they explain your car’s problem and how they’re going to fix it? Did they charge you fairly? What’s your gut feeling?

If all went well, trust them with a bigger job next time.

Don’t put yourself entirely at the mercy of your mechanic.

Not sure what that grinding noise might be? Do a little homework. Check online car forums or car owners’ clubs and try to have at least a vague idea about your car’s problem when you visit the garage. Not only will this help your garage diagnose the trouble, they’ll be less inclined to fleece someone who seems armed with a little knowledge.

A little research beforehand may even give you some idea of the likely cost of repair.

Watch out for scare tactics…

If your mechanic sucks breath between his teeth, or shakes his head gloomily and tells you he wouldn’t drive the car one more mile until he’s given it an (expensive) overhaul, be wary. He may be on the level, but women are less likely to take risks than men and scare tactics are a favourite ploy of less trustworthy garages.

Sound confident

Even if you know nothing about cars, never admit it! And never say things like, “Do whatever needs doing”. You're asking for trouble!

Get a quote, not an estimate

Be sure to ask the garage for a quote, not an estimate, before authorising any work to go ahead. An experienced mechanic worth the money will know how long a job is likely to take. If he doesn’t know, find a mechanic who does.

If it’s impossible for the garage to give you an exact quote, but you’re inclined to trust them, at the very least set a maximum amount that they have authority to work to, after which you should agree to any further work before they go on.

Get multiple quotes

Be sure to get more than one quote as prices can vary enormously – and don’t be pressured into revealing the diagnosis from the first garage to the second. A good mechanic will want to run his own diagnosis; a lazy one will accept someone else’s opinion to cut corners, putting you at potential risk and costing you more money in the long run to put things right.

Break the cost down

Ask your garage to break the quote down into parts and labour. If there’s more than one problem being fixed, ask for the details to be shown for each problem.

Meet your mechanic

Bypass the smiling receptionist and ask to meet the mechanic who will actually be working on your car. Everyone has to learn but if your car is in the hands of the garage’s new apprentice, be aware.

On the other hand if your motor medic is a veteran with many years’ experience and he’s worked at the company for years, you can have confidence that your car is probably in safe hands.

Can your mechanic answer your questions confidently? Is he enthusiastic or cagey? If you know nothing about cars, he could be duping you of course; you'll have to trust your instincts on this one.

What’s included in a service?

If your car is being serviced, what’s included? Services vary considerably from garage to garage so ask to see an itemised list of things they check. If your car manufacturer’s warranty requires a certain level of service, make sure the garage's service meets those requirements or it could invalidate your warranty.

Be specific about what you want

Do you want your car serviced / fixed with genuine manufacturers’ parts? They'll be more expensive but most garages will recommend them. They should, however, also be able to source cheaper, non-branded parts if you ask. Be specific with the garage before they begin working on your car as the difference to your final bill could be quite considerable.

What warranty comes with branded and non-branded new parts? Also, it might be useful for you to keep any old parts that the garage replaces; if there’s a dispute about the repair or the bill later on, you might need them to support your complaint.

Buy with confidence

You can have a reasonable level of confidence in any garage which has signed up to Trading Standards’ Buy with Confidence approval scheme. These garages will have been checked by Trading Standards and agreed to abide by the law and resolve complaints fairly.

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