Words and photography: Mike Humble
We all must have seen the adverts on the TV or read in magazines about the number of ‘quality approved’ businesses or garage schemes. The well known one that comes to mind has a whistling tune akin to the William Tell Overture, penny dropped now? My question is this, are they really worth anything or more to the point, should a business have to pay a third party organisation just to tell the world that they ‘claim’ to be of assured quality or more to the point, a square dealing business of sound repute? It seems that some of these schemes are easy advertising money and a big red tick on a plumbers van sadly means very little.
Don’t get me wrong, some schemes are genuinely good and not for profit solely relying on customer experience feedback. Car Mechanics magazine for example feature a good garage section whereby readers can write in and give a hearty thumbs up for their local workshop. This seems a fairer system than ‘Bodgit, Scarper & Sons’ simply paying a few ‘sovs’ just to join a scheme that only appears to state they are trusted. The problem with a car to many people is that their expertise on engineering ends at pumping up the tyres and topping up the tank. The minute the family Fiesta goes on the blink they are relying on someone else’s opinion and skill set.
Dragging things into the present, my neighbour’s Rover 25 has kept me in pin money on more than one occasion mainly owing to the odd service and replacement of items like pads or wipers. They bought the car very much against my advice a few years ago as I was asked to give it the once over. It was accident damaged, overpriced and I couldn’t be certain at the time whether the head had blown and had just been fixed rather poorly, or in the process of failing. Sadly and against all advice in good faith, they bought the damn thing and seven days later it dumped its coolant into the sump.
They asked me if I could fix it but I chose to have nothing more to do with the car, Instead, I put them onto a chap I know who is really top notch and not adverse to the provocative little cash in hand kind of task. With over 20,000 trouble free miles passing it recently starts getting through copious amounts of coolant without warning and unbeknownst to me, they take it to a local garage who are part of a national chain for diagnosis. After a doorstep chat they tell me their woes and how this garage initially quoted just over £700 for head job albeit with no warranty on the work undertaken.
When she baulked at the cost the garage then quickly back peddled and offered to knock £100 from the job providing she booked it in there and then. Rightly so, she declined their kind offer and came home after paying a small sum for a pressure test they carried out – and here is where I stepped into the breach. My recommended garage has closed down since they did the job a few years back, so I offered to do it at a much reduced cost. I recall that Steve Anderson skimmed the head and did a damn good job for the money with the only fly in the ointment being that he fitted parts that the owner sourced, not the MLS type kit I would have used.
Preparing for the worst this morning, I ventured outside with the tools and straight away found there was nothing wrong with the head whatsoever. The coolant was leaking from the extreme right of the inlet manifold, running to the corner of the head and thus leaking onto the gearbox bellhousing. By pumping the top hose with your hands, you could even hear the air escaping from the inlet manifold along with lots of coolant. So before I got carried away with the thought of ripping out cam belts and timing covers, the trusty 13mm socket and ratchet soon had the inlet manifold off – the gasket was split and perished.
A quick call to Express Car Parts secured an inlet manifold gasket and some OAT coolant and just a short while later the little 25 was buzzing merrily away like nothing had happened. Yet another perfectly usable car saved from the breakers yard with no thanks due to the so called breakdown service recommended garage chain we all know well. So – my advice is this, forget the so called approved traders schemes, forget the fancy jolly adverts on telly and just because the RAC or AA have a sign outside doesn’t mean you’re going to get a square deal for sure.
My diagnosis was such an easy spot too, it was more than obvious the head gasket was fine. Quite simply the garage was out to fleece the customer and where I appreciate and endorse the art of ‘up selling’ – the method of gaining extra work by advising associated items like timing belts or the water pump, this was nothing more than attempted robbery. The garage in question bailed out of the repair and service game some years ago, partly I guess because of their ineptitude of which I experienced first hand some time ago, only to buy back their outlets fairly recently.
Your best bet for recommendation is a relative or a work colleague or even a buddy down the pub. Everybody knows somebody who knows their stuff when it comes to cars. The best ones are the chaps you never hear of, they don’t need to join a wishy-washy back slapping scheme to earn a good living. Their reputation by word of mouth is their life blood and quite often THE only sure fire way to good old honest decent workmanship and quality without having your leg lifted high and dry for the privilege.
As far as the outlet in question goes; stick to selling stereos, push bikes and air fresheners – you’ve obviously not improved over the years!
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