The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) recently revealed that poor service from independent garages ranks fifth on the list of things most complained about to Consumer Direct, the Government-funded consumer watchdog.
Anecdotally, local garages have always had a bad rap, with many drivers willing to pay over the odds for franchised dealer servicing rather than risk being ripped off by a dodgy local repair centre.
The stats back that up too. Research by Motor Codes, a self-regulatory body for the car industry operated by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), found that almost half of car owners have at some stage felt ripped off by a garage.
But it needn't be that way. The majority of local garages are perfectly reputable. You just have to make sure you find one of them. Here's how.
Word of mouth
There's nothing better or more reassuring than a good old recommendation from a friend. Ask around to see if anyone you know has been to a local garage, and gather their thoughts.
Search for schemes
It might be that a friend's recommendation is so beaming that you're happy to go straight where they went. However, it's still useful to take the time to shop around. A reputable garage scheme is Motor Codes ( ).
The Motor Codes scheme is reliable because it's regulated by the SMMT. All garages recommended by the scheme meet standards for honest and fair services, transparent pricing and competent staff.
Know your place
Try, if you have the time, to go to the garages rather than booking or enquiring over the phone. It's amazing how right your feel for a garage can be. Are there many credentials hanging on the walls? Is the staff courteous? Is it busy?
Know your car
Recent investigations by consumer guide Which? tested garages by sending in cars with a variety of documented faults, some minor, others serious. It found that a shocking number missed things - almost 90 percent failing to recognise at least one fault. Of 62 cars involved, only eight returned with all their problems remedied.
So, it pays to know something about what's actually the issue with your car. Use the Internet - there's plenty of good stuff as well as not so good - and, if possible, knowledgeable friends. That way, alarm bells will ring if you're being told something completely different by a mechanic.
Simple checks are useful too, like knowing your tyre treads - if they're more than 1.6mm deep across a three-quarter section of the middle of the contact patch, they're legal. Armed with that knowledge, you can quiz why exactly you need £800 worth of tyres immediately. Check your washer fluid and oil are topped up too - some garages will claim to fill those and charge a premium.
Know your rights
Get a quote in writing before work starts, otherwise you're off on the wrong foot if the garage charges you more than you expect. And pay with a credit card if you have one. That way, you might be able to claim a refund from the credit card company if you're not happy with the work (under the terms of the 1974 Consumer Credit Act).
On the day of the work, you might want to stay around while your car is in there, possibly even watch it being repaired or serviced. Of course, that's not always possible, so make sure you give the garage a contact number that you'll be available on, and tell them not to do any additional work (and incur more charges) without your direct say so.