When I used to put a price out for a job whilst working as a mobile mechanic, I would always ask if the potential customer had obtained a quote from elsewhere before giving a price. Pitch the opening gambit too high and you will get three beeps or a long tone to signify the caller has rung off, but go in with both boots too low and you will be out of pocket and patience. Some guys who work out of the back of their vans, who I know and keep in touch with, constantly complain about the cut-price cowboys who give the trade the bad name it often gets.
I almost applauded at my TV screen a while back when the BBC’s Watchdog team did their ‘Rogues’ Gallery’ on a mobile mechanic who took customers cars to a forest to repair – badly I may add. I reckon that too much attention is given over to bad garages and dealer chains simply because that makes for better coverage on the telly but, blimey, did I come across some horrendous mobile mechanics during the two years I operated in County Durham and Teesside. All I ever wanted to do was an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay and not to mince around for hours on end – for cherry-bobs.
I guess many of you AROnline readers must wonder just where these rambles come from. The answer is simple – I kept a very detailed log of every job tallied to an alphanumeric job number and that enables me to refer back to my old customers. After all, it’s sometimes impossible to remember everyone. Besides, when you fire back all the nut and bolt detail the customer is often impressed and it really hammers home the ethic of offering a truly personal service – I applied the same trick in the showroom too, and it DOES pay off.
A customer called one day and asked me to take a look at the rear brakes on his MG ZS 120 saloon after picking up an advisory note at the MoT. It transpired he had a semi – regular mobile guy who had vanished into thin air shortly after doing some previous rear brake work just a month or two prior to my involvement. The driver in question was quite a fastidious owner but one whose skill set ended with fluid levels – he did, though, know when something was amiss with his MG.
The MoT advisory was a common HHR and 600 series issue relating to a brake imbalance on the rear axle which was, more often than not, cured by stripping down the brakes and giving everything a good clean up with a wire brush and some copper ease. Less honest garages quite often stung the client for a reconditioned caliper with pads and discs, but it makes a £50 job become one of £250 or more for only a whisker more labour. My customer’s paperwork revealed his car had been fitted with a remanufactured caliper discs and pads by the aforementioned mobile mechanic, so what was causing this issue?
Visiting his lovely property in the picturesque Harrowgate Village area of Darlington, he explained how he had tried to contact the other fellow after picking up the advisory notice but had only had a mobile number which was now unobtainable. Peering through the spokes of the alloy wheels I could see the new discs, caliper and what looked like new pads and stated the only way to see what the issue was involved pulling things apart. Authorisation was given and I set about the job but, with just one wheel off the car, an interesting discovery was made.
Now, the customer showed me his invoice for the work involved and the receipts for the parts from the local branch of Partco/Unipart but the discs were not Unipart items as the quality was quite, well, rubbish, in all honesty. The claimed overhauled caliper was in fact his original item which had in fact been wire brushed to an inch of its life. There was no spanner rash on the flexi hose and no sign of damp or fresh brake fluid from the bleed nipple either so, before I reported my findings, I called the factors. Unipart Automotive very rarely let me down, not as cheap as rivals Andrew Page, but the service was outstanding every time I found.
I used no one else for filters and brake components and, as a direct result, a great relationship with the counter supervisor was forged. Andy went on to tell me the customer had purchased these items only to bring them back an hour later claiming the job was cancelled. “ Is there a squiggle in the top right corner of the invoice? ” said Andy on the ‘phone “That’s where I mark the bill so I know they have been returned and credited.” A man of process after my own heart… The biggest outrage was to be found on the brake pads, especially the one on the inside where the piston operates.
The pads were not new but cleaned up and liberally dolloped with copper ease. Original or quality aftermarket Rover rear pads on these cars feature a device known as an audible warning indicator. That, in laymen’s terms, is a soft metal tang which scrapes the disc when the pads wear down making a grumbling or shrieking noise upon brake application telling the pilot something needs attention. These had been hacksawed off the pads and the linings were virtually down the backing plate whil the disc on the side of the imbalance was showing an ugly deep lip towards the edge and a hint of blueing – early signs of overheating.
Reporting these findings to the owner, he justifiably bounced off all four walls of his kitchen but some relief came when I told him the caliper was seemingly okay. A trip down to the town for some more discs and pads saw the job done just in time for Countdown and I arranged for my MoT guy to pop his MG onto the brake rollers for free in a few days’ time after the new items had bedded in. After doing some additional investigative snooping, I never did track down the mystery bodger from Barnard Castle. I was, though, soon looking after the cars belonging my customer’s close family…
Clearly, the other guy was just out to make a tidy sum with maximum profit. The effort involved was remarkable and how he managed this without being spotted… Well, that beats me. What it comes down to is this: watch your mechanic carefully if able to, ask to see old parts where possible and use the word of mouth recommendation wherever you can. The key factor in giving up the mobile game after just shy of two years revolved around the issue of being priced out of jobs by chancers time after time. Loyalty seems to end with cheap prices so often and I never was cheap – just good value.
Moving on to Rover and then PSV / HGV, he has circumnavigated most departments of dealerships including parts, service and latterly - the showroom. Mike has owned all sorts of rubbish from Lada to Leyland and also holds both Heavy Goods & Public Service Vehicle licences, he buys & sells buses and coaches during the week. Mike runs his own automotive web site and writes for a number of motoring or commercial vehicle themed publications
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