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Car repair scams to watch out for


Most mechanics aren’t in the business of ripping drivers off but it seems a lot of motorists think they are. We show you some scams to be aware of.

Maintaining the engine

Even if you’re the most confident motorist, a trip to the garage can fill you with dread, especially when you assume your mechanic is out to rip you off.

And it seems that, in many cases, this might not be far from the truth. The regulatory body for the motor repair industry, Motor Codes, recently found that almost half of UK motorists feel they have been overcharged by garages, to the tune of an estimated £2.4 billion.

BBC Watchdog also ran a story recently alleging that staff at a leading chain of mechanics had repeatedly recommended unnecessary repairs.

But, as well as the usual tales of garages overcharging or trying to make needless repairs, there are other scams to watch out for.

Misfuelling : petrol v diesel

Phil Todd, an independent technical adviser with one of the UK’s largest fleet management companies, says the repair job following misfuelling is one the most common motor-repair scams today.

“I’ve seen it happen all too often where a dealer has quoted for several thousands of pounds worth of repair which, in a great deal of cases, is unnecessary. Quite a lot of vehicles are safe when mis-fuels occur.”

Todd confirms that, for petrol cars that have been filled with diesel, all that’s necessary is to drain the petrol and flush the system.

“Although I don’t like to admit it, I have forgotten on three separate occasions and filled a diesel car to the top with unleaded, and not realised till the car came to a stop. All three cars had different manufacturers and were perfectly ok after flushing the petrol out.”

Motorcodes say it’s the confusion surrounding the different types of engines, which means some garages can cash in on your mistake.

Spokesman, Jonathan Visscher, says: “Typically putting diesel in a petrol car is a lot less serious than filling a diesel engine with petrol – which can be a very expensive mistake – potentially costing £5,000 to fix.”

But, he says it should only cost about £300 to repair a misfuelled petrol car. It can even be resolved at the roadside as part of some breakdown policies.

“There are going to be garages and businesses out there that aren’t in it for the customer’s best interest,” he adds.

Warranty scams

According to Todd, another lesser-known scam occurs when garages con drivers into paying extortionate dealership labour rates by telling them that their warranty will be invalid if they use an independent garage.

Motor Codes confirm that this isn’t the case: “The problem here is that warranty depends on using manufacturer standard parts. So, if you go to an independent garage and they repair your car but use cheaper parts, it will mean your warranty is void when you go back to your car’s own dealership in the future,” says Visscher.

Free health check warning

Auto Express magazine recently went undercover and exposed several garages for recommending unnecessary vehicle repairs. From brake pads to tyre changes and minor repairs to full services, many motorists say they’ve been quoted for fixes they didn’t need.

For example, Todd says drivers should be wary of any free health checks offered by garages. In some cases garages offer a free health check, then tell you that certain parts need replacing when there may be another 10,000 miles left in them. A lack of knowledge means many drivers are none the wiser and end up paying out for pointless repairs.

How can you make sure you don’t become an easy target for an unscrupulous mechanic?

Motor Codes is a code of conduct for garages to sign up to, which helps protect drivers from unscrupulous mechanics and businesses. It has Office of Fair Trading approval and is also backed by Trading Standards, Consumer Direct, the DVLA and VOSA which operates the UK’s MOT testing station network.

To avoid getting ripped off for vehicle repair works Motor Codes says a reputable garage will always:

  • Agree required work with you and check before starting additional jobs
  • Set a clear price/payment method and won’t change these without checking with you
  • Encourage technicians to discuss work required in a straightforward way
  • Carry out small/easy jobs without a charge (have changed this – is this still correct?)
  • Contact you after a few days to ensure you’re totally satisfied
  • Treat any complaint as an opportunity to restore satisfaction
  • Leave you feeling well treated and happy to return
  • Offer you a loyalty bonus or reward

And Motor Codes also advise drivers to keep the number of a trusted garage or mechanic with them at all times. That way, if you need emergency repairs and have to go to a workshop you’re not familiar with you can call your trusted garage and double check any  quotes to make sure it’s not a rip off.

Visscher adds: “The problems arise because certain businesses rely on drivers not knowing any different, so it’s very important to find somewhere reliable. Most garages aren’t out to rip people off. But codes like ours exist to protect drivers from the traders who are in it for themselves.”


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