An interesting article in today's Irish Times suggests that more and more mechanics are leaving their current employers to set up shop on their own. With close to a hundred garages already closed this year could we expect an increase in the number of 'non-franchise' or 'independent' garages selling their services? If so, how do you separate the genuine fully trained mechanic from the 'chancer' that could do more damage than good?
Outlined below are some basic checks that you can make before booking your car in with a garage you haven't dealt with previously. If you feel I've missed anything please add it to the post with a comment below. All feedback is appreciated!
It's amazing what a quick google search can turn up for a business name. Try searching using inverted commas around a garage name - e.g. "garage name" in google. Chances are if someone has had an experience worth sharing they'll have shared it online. With Twitter, Online Forums and Personal Blogs growing in popularity you should be able to find other opinions (good and bad) with a click of a mouse.
Make sure to call any prospective garage first for a quotation. Try to be as specific as possible about what you need done. You will need the current odometer reading as well as the odometer reading and the date of its last service. This should be enough for a mechanic who's familiar with your make of vehicle to give a quotation.
Be wary of anything that sounds too cheap. Ask for a detailed breakdown in the quote. What are the individual charges for Labour, Parts and Oil? An independent garage will charge anywhere between 45 and 65 Euro per hour. Allow 70 - 90 Euro for a main dealer. The parts used should be 'OE' or 'Original Equipment'. This means they will have been approved by the manufacturer of the car and should carry an 'OE Approved' stamp on the box (some will have an ISO approval also). The majority of modern vehicles today will operate a 'long life' service interval provided the oil used is fully synthetic. Be careful of servicing your car with semi-synthetic oil. Whilst it's not necessarily bad for the engine, using semi-synthetic oil means that the car should be serviced more regularly and will not follow the long-life intervals recommended by the manufacturer.
Visiting the Garage
If this is your first time using a particular garage be sure to drop the car off in person. When there make some visual checks. Does the garage look well appointed? How many service bays / ramps does it have? Are there many cars being worked on? Are they new / old cars?
Look for the appropriate certificates that demonstrate the garage has all the necessary insurances and qualified personnel. Every garage should be properly insured against faulty workmanship and carry professional indemnity & liability cover. This protects the garage and you should anything unforeseen occur whilst the car is in their possession.
Ask for the name of the resident Mechanic and confirm that he / she has a 'National Craft Certificate'. This is the statutory certificate that a mechanic must obtain under the apprenticeship rules that have been made by FÁS and demonstrates that the mechanic in question has served a 4 year apprenticeship and completed all 7 Phases in their training. 4 phases supervised in a garage and 3 phases duly examined in college. Be certain that this is the individual that will be responsible for the work carried out on your car.
There are a number of additional accreditation's that you can look out for. Some garages will be members of the 'Bosch Car Service Network' or have technicians that have achieved an 'ATA - Automotive Technician Accreditation'.
Does the garage have the correct equipment?
Servicing involves making routine checks according to a list, finding faults or problems, overhauling or replacing worn or faulty parts, and using special equipment to make sure the vehicle performs as it should. Diagnostic equipment for individual makes of car can be very expensive to purchase. Your garage should have the diagnostic equipment necessary to run the standard checks on your car's 'ECU' (Engine Control Unit). This is very important in uncovering hidden faults that if overlooked may prove costly further down the line.
Remember it's not all about price! Servicing a car correctly costs money and taking shortcuts will not help you in the long run. If a quotation sounds too good to be true - it probably is!