How to counter workshop scams

Because swindling does take place in the motor trade, car owners need to be aware of what they can do to counter the schemes of unscrupulous workshop owners.

Because swindling does take place in the motor trade, car owners need to be aware of what they can do to counter the schemes of unscrupulous workshop owners.

Let's start with warranty services on new cars, a rich field of prey for many dealers.

To keep the warranty in force, an owner is obliged to take the vehicle to an authorised dealer for these services.

The factory will have certain compulsory jobs to be done, perhaps only an oil change, perhaps a few other things as well.

As long as these are done, your warranty is intact. But many dealers add other items, like an engine flush, for instance.

For these optional "extras" the customer has to pay.

If the full story was explained to him beforehand, there would be no problem - the customer would be free to choose which of the optional items he wants, knowing exactly what they cost.

Many workshops, therefore, seldom openly mention this beforehand. The customer is simply presented with the final bill at the end of the day, and the implication is always clear - if you don't pay what we demand, you don't get your keys. What can you do when the scam dawns on you at that point? Nothing. It's too late. But next time, do it right from the start.

The same applies when we take a vehicle in for some problem to be fixed. It might be something as simple as a slipping clutch, but if you had instructed the workshop to "fix the clutch", you have no leg to stand on if they decided to replace the entire clutch assembly, though the clutch perhaps just needed to be adjusted.

The essential thing is to be absolutely specific in your dealings with car workshops and to get everything in writing.

You should write down:

l The exact symptoms, when they started and under what conditions they occur;

l The clear instruction that after diagnosing the problem, the workshop should contact you to discuss the options and their cost implications, before proceeding with repairs; and

l The stipulation that all parts replaced during the course of repairs should be returned to you, seeing that you are the rightful owner.

Make a copy of these instructions, keep one copy and insist that the other copy be attached to the job card and write something like: "Please note attached instructions from owner" on the job card when you sign it. Keep the other copy for your own records.

Always be very specific and get everything in writing beforehand. Not only will this greatly improve your chances of success in any subsequent dispute, but it will also send a signal to the workshop that you won't be easy prey.

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