The BBC 1 show, Your Money, Their Tricks, carried out an undercover test of Kwik Fit mechanics for a programme broadcast tonight. They had ten cars assessed by two independent experts, and then sent the vehicles into branches across the UK for a free check on brakes and tyres. It said that in four of the ten cases, mechanics tried to press the drivers into getting unnecessary work done.
So what's going on, and how can you protect yourself?
The reportThe show says that in all, the mechanics tried to push customers to have £700 worth of work on their cars. It claims that the work was ether unnecessary or not as urgent as the mechanics were making out.
The show also claimed that the mechanics did not carry out the full checks on seven of the cars. They failed to spot under-inflated tyres, and in one instance they missed a nail in a tyre.
Reporter Rebecca Wilcox said: "I was shocked by what we uncovered and disappointed that we found such a large well known company on occasions exaggerating the urgency and quoting for unnecessary work and not carrying out all the checks they promised and as a car owner and car lover this story was very close to my heart."
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ResponseKwik Fit has disagreed with the allegations, it said in a statement: "From the limited information the BBC has provided in advance of its broadcast we, and an independent expert, seriously disagree with most of its findings." It also said that as a result of its response to the BBC, the programme has: "accepted that a number of its conclusions were wrong".
It added that: "We stand by the majority of the recommendations we gave, and completely reject the way the BBC has calculated the cost of work it has deemed 'unnecessary' by not considering how worn these parts were."
And it has offered to have one of the cars independently tested to assess the quality of the recommendations.
However, it admitted that: "In a few cases we fully accept that our staff could have been clearer with their communication; for this we apologise and are intent on improving how we communicate our advice to customers."
It said that recommendations for replacement parts reflect manufacturers' recommendations and advice and information from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, saying: "The wear of items such as tyres and brake pads is not an exact science, but we believe ours is a professional and responsible approach which focuses first and foremost on the safety of our four and a half million customers."
And it added: "We have zero tolerance of staff recommending unnecessary work and any proven cases result in disciplinary action. We have a whistleblower line on which staff can anonymously report any aspect of malpractice from their colleagues and a senior management team will investigate and act on any reports."
It also emphasised that the company has a customer satisfaction level of 98%.
The BBC spokesperson told AOL: "We stand by the programme."
In this particular instance, there are clearly very different expert views as to what work was required. But while we make no comments about this particular chain, clearly there are other garages out there which do recommend unnecessary work, or charge for work that hasn't been done.
According to Citizens Advice, in the last year there were 11,437 complaints about repairs at independent garages - making it the third most common source of complaints.
It's worth taking a few steps to protect yourself. Take the time to find a reputable garage. Word of mouth can be very valuable, but it's also worth checking they are members of a recognised trade association that follows a code of conduct. If your local Trading Standards service offers a 'good trader' scheme, check if they list any local garages.
If the garage presses you to get more work done, you don't have to do it there and then, so you can take the car for a second opinion, and you can call around local garages to see what they would charge for the work.
It's also worth agreeing a cost before the work is done, and establishing whether this is a fixed price or an estimate. It's worth getting this in writing. If you haven't done this you have the right under consumer law to be charged a fair price, so check with other local garages what they would have charged.
One key point that often causes problems is a lack of clarity over whether you asked the garage to do whatever was necessary to solve a problem, or whether you asked for specific work to be done. If you are not specific, they are within their rights to go over an estimate in order to solve the problem - as long as they charge a fair price. If you asked for a specific job to be done, you can insist on only paying for the work you agreed. If you want to follow this approach, you need to ask for the specific work in writing if you intend to rely on this in any dispute.
Disputing a bill starts in person at the garage. If you cannot reach agreement, then find out if the garage is a member of a trade association that offers a conciliation service. You can also contact Trading Standards, and if all else fails you may end up needing the services of the small claims court.