Garages are intimidating places, no matter how much you know about cars. You're putting your prized motor at the mercy of a bloke who may be hardworking and reputable, or a ruthless rogue trader looking to rip you off.
If you're unlucky enough to encounter one of the rotten apples of the garage world, however, don't despair! Our handy and helpful step-by-step guide will give you the best chance of getting your car fixed without the hassle.
Step 1: Ask around
Word of mouth is always the best way to end up at a good garage, just make sure that the person recommending it to you has actually had work done there - and was happy with the results. Being good pals with the garage owner is no guarantee of good service.
Step 2: Industry standards
Various industry bodies are lobbying to improve the standards of garages in the UK and they can help you to find a good one. The is a voluntary, third party plan for automotive traders who are keen to be recognised for their top service. Any garage affiliated with it is a good bet. Similarly, aims to improve customer services across the industry and offers free advice for consumers, so it's also worth a look.
Step 3: Check the small print
Is your car still under warranty? If so, consult the manufacturer or warranty provider before you have any work carried out - otherwise you may void any cover you have. Car makers will often insist on having any necessary work carried out at one of their own dealerships, but if they're covering the cost then there's nothing to worry about.
Step 4: Get a quote, not an estimate
An estimate does what it says on the tin; it's a guess as to how much the work is going to cost, so it effectively means nothing. Always ask for a quotation and get it in writing if possible (maybe get the garage to email you the quote), that way there's no argument if the price goes up later on.
In the case of large, time-consuming jobs - like classic car restorations, for instance - an estimate may be the only option. Even so, that doesn't give the mechanic the right to charge whatever they want, and it's their job to inform the customer at every stage if the car needs further repairs. It's also worth paying a small fee to get the garage to inspect the car beforehand for bigger repairs - that way they can give you a more accurate price.
Step 5: Shop around
Think the last price was too high? Get in touch with other garages and get a few more quotes. Never feel pressured into taking your car to a particular garage if you're not totally happy with the price or you're dubious about the service.
Step 6: Know what you're talking about
Tell the garage staff what's wrong with the car. Even if you don't know exactly what's up, describe the symptoms in as much detail as possible; be as specific about what's happening and where the fault is as you can. This is useful for the mechanics and more likely to get you a speedy diagnosis. What's more, the more you appear to know, the less likely you are to have the wool pulled over your eyes by unscrupulous traders.