I’ve always had a bit of a downer on the “Speedy Replacement” type of franchises since the early eighties when I was standing in for our Service Manager while he was on Holiday, we were a main Vauxhall Dealer and we had serviced a Ladies company car a few days before, we had a contract with the lease company who supplied her vehicle and before we carried out any work i had to ring them with an estimate and obtain an order number, if we discovered anything that needed replacing while we were servicing the car I had to ring back and inform them before commencing the work, apart from the routine service the car was perfect.

Unfortunately, a few days later the Lady had had a puncture and had taken the car to another garage to have her flat tyre repaired, she then drove straight to our garage to give me the worlds biggest rollocking, she was at our Service Desk shouting at me and demanding to know why we had let her drive away in a death trap, the garage she took her car to had reported that while repairing the puncture they had noticed that she needed 4 new shock absorbers, they were all leaking hydraulic fluid, her brake pads were almost on the metal and they needed replacing immediately, not being able to authorise the work herself she rang the leasing company and they told her to drive very slowly and bring the car straight back to us.

If the Speedy Replacement Garages diagnosis hadn’t been a complete pack of lies she would have had every right to shout at me, as the combination of faulty shock absorbers which increase braking distance substantially, combined with brake pads that needed replacing could have got her into a serious if not fatal accident, we took the car and her into the workshop immediately and began to examine the car while she watched us like a hawk.

All four shock absorbers felt ok the mechanic who had done the job wiped the leak with his finger and sniffed it before offering the rest of us a sniff, hardly conclusive I grant you but hydraulic fluid used to smell like Cat Piss and this didn’t, we put the car on the wheel free’s then lowered the ramp this took the load of the shock absorbers and revealed to us that the “leaks” had manifested below the protective cover and nowhere near any seal, none of them was actually leaking they had all been just been sprayed with oil, the brake pads too were only half worn at best and wouldn’t need replacing until the next service, the car wasn’t a death trap, but the garage was using an unscrupulous trick to increase business and parts sales, had the customer been a private owner she would have wasted about £600 on work that didn’t need doing.

Is this confined to this sort of franchise? No, unfortunately, its rife in the motor trade a customer of mine took a main dealer up on their offer for a free check-over, he was very upset when he was told that he needed a new rear intertia reel seat belt, 4 tyres and a brand new key, I think the estimate was somewhere in the region of £900 I had sold him the car and although the car was way out of warranty he still felt compelled to come and vent his spleen at me.

I examined the vehicle and he had done over 5000 miles since buying the car from me, but the tyres still had plenty of wear left on them and didn’t need replacing, the remote locking on the key had indeed stopped working but after replacing the £1.50 battery and synching it with the car i had saved him another £180.00, but the dirtiest trick of all was that the mechanic had pulled the rear seat belt as tight as he could against the seat, jerked it and activated the inertia mechanism fooling the car into thinking it had been in a crash and therby jamming the seat belt, there was no slack to release it so it appeared to be broken, i pointed out to the customer that this had been done on purpose as the return spring on the seat belt was not strong enough to make the belt retract with such force that it would deform  the sponge padding of the back rest, I undid the bolt holding the seat belt, released the tension, pulled the seatbelt out and as far as i know it is still operating correctly to this day.

About 4 years ago I sold a Fiat Punto to a customer when it was in the workshop being MOT’d they had reported that the exhaust was blowing it needed a new rear exhaust box the car was only £2295 and the cost of the exhaust was £150 I was mortified, I was even more mortified a few weeks later when the customer rang to say that the exhaust was blowing, he then proceeded to tell me off as the tyre fitter who had fixed his puncture had also told him that he needed new shock absorbers, Deja Vu ( Not Again), ‘Bring your car in and we will have a look at it for you’

After a quick wipe with a rag, the shock absorbers were as good as new, as I suspected they had just been sprayed with oil, but no amount of wiping the exhaust was going to cure it, there were marks on it where it had been struck repeatedly with a pointed hammer, I called the customer over and explained to him that he had the first ‘Sucking Exhaust’ that I had ever seen, the metal around the hole was concave it had obviously been solid until it had been punched through and had been ‘Sucked’ in and not ‘Blown’ out as you would expect, the customer was last seen heading towards the garage that had repaired his puncture.

I have loads of examples but this is the last one I am going to share with you for the moment, we had quoted for a clutch repair to one of our regular customers but he said he could get it done a lot cheaper elsewhere, we only used the manufacturer’s parts so I couldn’t compete with the non-main dealers, but a few days later the customer rang back to ask if we would do it, and the story unfolded, He had dropped his car off on the way to work arranging to pick it up at 5.00pm but left a contact telephone number just in case, mid-morning he received a call to tell him that they had taken his gearbox out and that they had discovered his car needed a new flywheel this was going to increase his bill substantially, the customer was quite taken aback by this as his office was directly opposite the garage and from his desk, he could see that his car hadn’t even been moved from where he had left it let alone had the gearbox removed.