Follow these tips and you should be able to avoid the rogue traders and get what you pay for.
Check it out
Before you book your car in for a service, MOT or repairs, do your research. Check the proprietor's name and business name, the address and land line number. An internet search might well flag up any problems that others have had, or confirm that the mechanic is a trusted source. Find out where your car will be taken if it needs to go off site, and take note of the premises - a good mechanic will make sure the garage is tidy and well kept.
Do your homework
We're not suggesting that you take a course in car maintenance and repairs, but a little research might lead you to a possible cause of the fault, and even give you an idea of what fixing that particular fault might cost. There are many owners' clubs and forum sites where discussions over problems with particular makes and models take place, and it may very well be the case that others have experienced similar issues. Similarly, the manufacturer's service schedule should give you an idea of when parts need to be replaced, which may help when it comes to servicing and common repairs such as brake pads.
When it comes to getting a quote, a price for the total job is the best option for the customer, but it's not always possible for a mechanic to price a job until the fault has been diagnosed. Some garages will offer diagnosis for free, but it's only fair to pay them for their time if you later decide to take the car elsewhere for the repairs.
That said, once you know what the fault is, it could pay to get several estimates, particularly if it's a pricey job. And don't forget to check whether VAT is included - on a major repair, it can add up to a sizeable chunk of money.
Avoid unauthorised work
If you have left your car with a mechanic either for diagnosis or a service or MOT, make it absolutely clear that you don't want any work to be done until you have authorised it. It may not be a problem if all that needs doing is a windscreen wiper blade or a replacement light bulb, but if it's over a certain limit, you can avoid any nasty surprises by getting an idea of what the problem is and what it'll cost before work goes ahead.
In a similar vein, be sure to specify whether you want manufacturer parts or generic alternatives. Some mechanics will offer reconditioned parts at cheaper prices (though they should come with a warranty nevertheless), so let them know if you're happy for them to fit used parts.
Problems and protection
If you are using a new mechanic who has not worked on your car before and the bill comes to more than £100, it's an idea to pay by credit card, which will give you protection under the Consumer Credit Act.
Remember that a mechanic is entitled to keep your car until he or she has received payment. If this should happen, it's better to pay - you will still have the right to challenge the bill if you believe the work is unsatisfactory. Furthermore, the Supply of Goods and Services Act states that work should be carried out with reasonable care and skill, while parts have to be of a certain quality. Even without a guarantee, you have a right to challenge shoddy repairs for up to six years, barring ordinary wear and tear.
Lastly if you have experienced problems and are unsure where you stand, contact Consumer Direct for advice on consumer issues.
Have you been stung by a rogue mechanic? Leave your comments below...