Do Service Departments Take Advantage of Woman Drivers?

CARS ARE EXPENSIVE TO MAINTAIN - 'Tell me something I don't know', I hear you say but with costs going up for Fuel, Insurance, Tax, Tyres and NCT Tests - the average running costs for the Irish motorist are becoming more than some of us can bear.
Unexpected Repairs can be an additional source of anxiety but most of us are resigned to the fact that keeping a car in good condition means servicing it in line with the manufacturers recommendations by a reputable mechanic that we trust to give us decent value for money.
But what happens if for one reason or another you lose that trust and suspect that you're being taken advantage of? A lady who described herself as a 'Concerned Female Motorist' writes to us with just this problem.
Question
Hi Motorcheck,
My friend had her fan belt changed on a Ford Fiesta 1998, 1.2 LX, Aircon model two weeks ago by a registered Ford Ireland garage. She was originally quoted €80 for the job and when collecting the car was told the final bill was €160. She did argue with them and explained that they should have contacted her before finishing the job or as soon as they realised she was quoted incorrectly.
They brought the price down to €125 (still rather high for a fan belt change). While I understand that generally speaking, men think women are stupid in relation to cars, I consider myself to be reasonably adept at basic repairs as I can change oil, tyres and sparks myself.
However at the moment I need to get a service done on my own car – a 01 Ford Focus 1.4 LX with 105k miles on the clock. The problem is it’s with the same garage as my friend and this is the first time I have ever needed to have a car serviced.
I am totally stressed now as I want to bring the car myself to the garage. I don’t feel that in order to ensure I’m not screwed financially I should need a man to bring it for me.
I have been quoted (including two new tyres fitted and balanced) €115 + €109 for service. I am happy to pay this as it's below the average I have been quoted in Dublin where I live.
Is there any advice you can give me in relation to making sure that the price I have been quoted is the price I will pay?
I only drive Ford cars as they have never let me down but it’s a pity the service offered by the garage for women is not as good as the service you get when actually buying them.
Best regards
A Concerned Female Motorist

AnswerHi,
Thanks for writing to us and outlining your dilemma. There's a huge amount of trust required to make the relationship between you and your local mechanic work and I understand your concerns.
Knowing the difference between a relatively minor issue that's quick and inexpensive to put right from a more serious problem is a significant responsibility and one we need to feel assured our trusted mechanic won't abuse.

The Importance of a Written Quotation

The first thing I would advise is that you ask for a detailed quotation for the work you require. Most dealers will separate their prices into charges for Parts and Labour making it easy to see exactly what you can expect to be done for the price quoted.
Be very precise about what you want included in the quote but remember that some things like 'fix squeaky sound in boot' will be difficult for the dealer to price without inspecting the problem in detail.

No Additional Work Without Authorisation

Make it clear that you are not prepared to pay for any additional work without prior authorisation. This is common practice amongst fleet management companies and your garage should be well used to it. Leave a mobile phone number that you can be reached on and respond quickly if you miss a call. After-all, time is money for the garage and the quicker you get back to them, the less chargeable time your car will be on the lift.

Making A Complaint

The following is taken from the National Consumer Agency website which outlines how best to make a complaint. I've also forwarded your email to Ford Ireland and asked if they might have any advice for you specifically for dealing with Ford. Once I hear back I'll update this post.
If you encounter a problem with a routine service or repairs being carried out on your car, in the first instance you should complain to the person or garage which carried out the work. Ask what they will do about putting things right - if the work was done by a garage, you should complain to the manager.
If you are not satisfied with the response you get, and the person or garage is a member of a trade association - for example the Society of the Irish Motor Industry (SIMI) - you could consider taking the matter up with that association.
If there has been a breach of consumer law you should complain to the NCA.
If you are not getting anywhere with either the person, the garage or the trade association, you might consider taking the matter to the Small Claims Court. This Court deals with disputes up to a value of €2000 for a fee of €15 and there is no need to hire a solicitor.
Among the problems you may wish to complain about to the person or garage which did the work are:

  • Replacement parts failing a short time after the service or repair
  • Generic (sometimes called "spurious" parts in the trade) being used if you specified you wanted genuine manufacturer parts
  • Second-hand parts being used instead of new parts
  • Additional work being done without prior approval from the car owner
  • The final bill varying considerably from the quotation
  • Misinformation about the need to change a vital part - such as a timing belt - after a certain number of miles
  • The service is not complete at the time specified and there is no communication about the delay
  • If the car fails the NCT for an issue which should have been picked up in a pre-NCT test
  • If there is damage to your car which wasn't there before the work - always check around the car before you drive off and raise any issues immediately

Best regards,
Shane

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Siobhan - July 29, 2010 at 11:34 am
I bought my first car in January and brought along my Dad. He managed to knock €400 off the asking price by simply pointing out minor faults in the second hand car. It really is about negotiating when you purchase a second hand car, and sometimes women may be less inclined to barter with the garage. My advice to women is, if your unsure about cars, take along a male friend to help you out. It may result in you getting a better deal!
Shane Teskey - July 29, 2010 at 3:09 pm
Hi Siobhan, Thanks for the comment. Begs the question - are men better at haggling than women?
purple pixy - July 30, 2010 at 2:30 am
Hi Shane, I brought the car for the service and new tryes and I went alone. All went well - haggled on the price and got a great deal on tyres. I have a very smooth running focus now. Thanks for the advice. My friend is following up on her issue. Men definately haggle better then women in my opinion but I have to say I received excellent service in my local ford garage this time (but i dont think they want to see me for a while).
Shane Teskey - July 30, 2010 at 10:31 am
I'm sure the Ford guys were delighted to get your business. Great to hear that things went well and fair play to your for haggling! It's a skill we've let slip through the tiger years and I've been brushing up myself lately. Mind you - the girls at the checkout in Superquinn are tough cookies!