Expert tips: Choosing the best garage to service your car

Franchised dealers often have the latest equipment and knowledge of relatively new cars

Franchised dealers often have the latest equipment and best knowledge of relatively new cars (Picture © Volvo)

Looking after a car, especially when it’s new or a driver’s pride and joy, can be a nerve-racking affair. Entrusting strangers with what is, more likely than not, one of the most expensive things any of us owns is enough to send shivers down a driver’s spine and have them turn around and head for home again. But it’s important to have a car serviced according to the manufacturer’s recommended schedule – so how do drivers decide which is the best garage to maintain their car?

This guide looks at the pros and cons of having a car serviced at a franchised dealer, an independent trader and a fast-fit chain. 

How to choose a good garage

Before choosing between a franchised dealer, an independent garage and a fast-fit outlet, it’s important to establish that any garage is good at what it does.

One way to do this is by using the simple postcode search at Trading Standards which, helpfully, can be used to find all manner of approved traders. Alternatively, try Motor Codes, a government-backed body for the motor industry which allows drivers to rate garages they have used. Even more user-friendly, but restricted to independent garages, is the Good Garage Scheme. Also try Who Can Fix My Car.

It’s often word of mouth that gets the best results

And remember, if you have plenty of friends and family that live locally, ask for their recommendation. It may sound old fashioned, but it’s often word of mouth that gets the best results.

Getting the best price for a service

Have the essential details of your car ready, including the make, model, registration and mileage and type of service you think it needs. Call around a good number of garages and ask for quotes, and always remember that garages can be flexible and offer some discount on their labour or parts prices.

Did you know?

If you’re a bit of a bargain hunter, you can supply the consumable items, such as oil, screen wash or spark plugs, yourself and it may be possible to save a sizeable sum of money.

Car servicing at a franchised dealer: the pros

Franchised dealerships should have the best level of equipment

Sticking with a franchised dealership when your car is relatively young should improve its value if you sell it (Picture © Skoda)

Theoretically, for a relatively young car, this is where you ought to get the best results. The technicians at a franchised dealer are trained to work on every model that the car company makes, and are supplied with the correct specialist tools for more complicated jobs, as well as software updates and service “bulletins”. The latter keep servicing departments up to date with technical developments and repairs that the manufacturer becomes aware of over a car’s lifetime.

What’s more, they should work on a higher volume of the same make and model, giving them the advantage of experience that comes with familiarity, and the ability to trouble-shoot more effectively.

More expert tips: How fixed price servicing compares with pay as you go

Franchised dealers should also rigorously adhere to a manufacturer’s service schedule and only use parts authorised by the car maker. Typically, all work carried out and the parts supplied come with the benefit of a guarantee, which may last for one or two years, and by using a main dealer the car’s roadside recovery may be extended by an extra year.

Once a new car or approved-used car warranty has expired, it could prove favourable to remain with a franchised dealer, as they may be able to help you obtain a “goodwill gesture” from the manufacturer, should something fail.

Car servicing at a franchised dealer: the cons

They are typically more expensive, by an average of 18%, according to a study of quotes provided by over 5,000 garages. However, the same study suggested that in order to remain competitive, franchised dealers were offering very affordable packages for routine servicing, which in certain cases can be cheaper than independent garages.

Car servicing at an independent garage: the pros

Independent garages often come highly recommended

A respected, recommended independent garage can be worth travelling the extra distance for (Picture © IMI)

A friendly and knowledgeable local garage is as prized as a great local pub. And the good news is that whether your car is second hand or so new its paintwork still has a sheen of wax and the interior has that new-car smell, you will not invalidate any new vehicle warranty or approved-used warranty by taking the car to be serviced at an independent garage.

A friendly and knowledgeable local garage is as prized as a great local pub

The hourly labour rate at an independent garage should be considerably cheaper than that of a franchised dealer, but always check. Some will specialise in certain brands of car, often because it was founded by a mechanic who once worked as a technician for a franchised dealer.

Car servicing at an independent garage: the cons

Other than Trading Standards, or the small claims courts, you have little recourse should the service be of a sub-standard quality, whereas at a franchised dealer you can turn to the car maker’s UK head office for help.

To maintain a car manufacturer’s warranty, the parts and work carried out need to be a certain standard

In order to maintain a manufacturer’s warranty cover, it is sensible that the vehicle owner informs the independent garage that their vehicle is under warranty and checks that they will use either genuine parts (eg Volkswagen parts for a Volkswagen) or parts of equivalent quality. They will also need to ensure that the garage stamps the vehicle’s service book and provides a detailed service invoice listing the parts and oils used during the service. Failing to do so could invalidate any warranty.

And bear in mind that if your car is relatively young and you will be selling it in the foreseeable future, motor traders are unlikely to value it as highly without a franchised dealer service history.

Car servicing at a high street fast-fit chain: the pros

Fast-fit garages offer convenience and the ability to spread costs

Fast-fit garages offer convenience and the ability to spread costs (Picture © Halfords Autocentre)

Fast-fit chains are often a Jack of all trades but – in some cases – master of none. However, for drivers with older cars that have no warranty, they can be a good option as they carry a wide range of spare parts and can perform more than standard servicing jobs – such as replacing tyres or checking the tracking of the wheels.

Some fast-fit garages offer drivers a monthly payment scheme to spread the cost of servicing

They also have a fixed menu of costs which are typically more competitive than franchised dealerships. Some will even offer a monthly payment scheme which allows drivers to spread the cost of their car’s annual maintenance and MOT – although this is increasingly common with franchised dealers too.

Car servicing at a high street fast-fit chain: the cons

The same potential drawbacks of independent garages are applicable to fast-fit outlets. The technicians at them may have the lowest level of experience with your make and model of car. What’s more, not all feature the latest, expensive fault-finding diagnostic equipment, which tends to be essential if a garage is to efficiently repair a modern car.

More expert tips: The importance of car servicing

5 comments on “Expert tips: Choosing the best garage to service your car

  1. Norman 05/05/2015 3:11 PM

    All good advice and it’s also worth joining a car owners club as they can often get you cheaper car servicing.

  2. Kael Wilson 22/05/2015 12:46 PM

    There are lot of factors that one need to consider for selecting the best car services centre. Your post gives useful tips on selecting the right car service centre.

  3. Georgia Boothe 03/11/2016 6:49 PM

    I’m so glad you mentioned that often the best options come from asking friends and family for their recommendations. We found out about the garage we’ve been going to for the last five years from a neighbor. We felt so much better about going to get our car serviced there because someone we knew and trusted had told us about his good experiences. If nothing else, you’ll feel a lot more comfortable going somewhere new when it’s been recommended by someone close to you!

  4. Lary Cook 27/11/2019 12:28 PM

    I follow two approaches for choosing the right garage. Either I go via reccomendation of my friends or family, or, I go for small repairs in different shops. That way I get to test the quality of each shop.

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