Car News: Poor Service

A weekly guide to all that’s rotten about car ownership, plus some good bits


The best dealers employ the best mechanics. They can fix a racing car

I take my wee Smart Car to my local Mercedes-Smart dealership. The building is a few millions pounds of tiled showroom and wall-to-wall glass. The overheads must be huge. Staff pass you purposefully this way and that clutching folders or files. The one who stands still is the one at the reception desk with the welcoming smile.

There’s a decent breakfast to be had at the coffee bar if you have an early morning visit that serves good coffee, and a chin wag with the floosy who isn’t choosy about who she serves.  You can chill out  in a carpeted lounge with comfy seats, a television and newspapers and listen to an Aberdonian farmer explain why he bought the luxury saloon and not the basic version, and how he thinks “the SNP are the worst thing tae happon tae Scotland, mon”. There’s also the cleanest toilets I’ve seen in any dealer.

The car is returned washed. Great service and the feeling you’re really siting at home is the one sure way to subdue anxiety and you’ll use the dealer for servicing and repair.

Best of all, if actually at home, Smart e-mail a video with a running commentary from the engineer of the parts of your car that need fixed.

Only once did Merc-Smart let me down – five greasy fingers prints left on the door of the glove compartment by a careless mechanic. It took three scrubs to remove them.

Not getting you car back washed is a common gripe from owners, but the main one is cars returned with the notified fault still not fixed or made worse. In some cases it can be a new fault that wasn’t there when the car went into the workshop!

A quarter of all complaints registered with dealers concern faults going unidentified or not fixed to instruction. After faults come cars not ready when promised. Customer service, poor staff communication or none at all, is the third gripe, a daily occurrence.

You might expect to get the biggest bills from the biggest, flashiest dealers, but aside of luxury car showrooms such as Bentley or Aston Martin, dealers are praised for trying to keep bills low, or offering discounts to regular clients. (The small independent garage that services most any car will do a cash deal if there’s no materials involved. Don’t be afraid to haggle.)

If you can’t get to the franchised dealer because of commitments now that many are located on the outskirts of cities, they will collect and return your car. A satisfied client is a happy client, but an unexpected cost on a basic service can ruin your day and week.

Who offers the worst and the best service? The car world do an annual survey.

Bottom of the heap is Land Rover. The one I drove some years back for rough terrain work was a lemon. It wasn’t a Friday car, it was the rule. According to client feed-back, about the only thing the company gets right is loaning a courtesy car. I trust it isn’t another Land Rover. Everything else is rated poor. The situation is a mystery. Land Rovers and Range Rovers are everywhere, with more models to come. Status must be a higher priority that reliability or repair costs. I think lots must be bought on deposit and a monthly plan, traded for a newer model in year three.

Top of the tree is Lexus, the favoured SUV for mothers taking Jemima and Tristan to school and back, or shopping at Sainsbury’s. Lexus has a habit of getting everything right, staff courtesy, communication, standard of work, speed in completing the work, and has pleasant dealer facilities. The one  problem, to my eyes, is they sell ugly cars, at least the external design is plonking, a crass attempt to have them stand out from the crowd.

Very close to Lexus is Honda, often the dark horse in automotive competition. This is the company that invented a small attachment to engines that  did what cumbersome expensive catalytic convertors do, but Honda’s clever invention got blocked by US car giants. They had bought into the cat manufacturing business. (Electric cars will put an end to their we scam.) Honda sells only a few models but manages to make the extra effort. Only their facilities let them down. Whatismore, like Skoda, Honda has a reputation for good reliability which helps keep running costs low, but Skoda’s quality of servicing is only just above average.

In between Land Rover and Lexus are all the others brands, with Citroen near the top, giving the finger to opinionated driver’s who consider French cars iffy. They’re half-right because Renault is at the other end of the charts. At the moment, Citroen is one of the few companies doing its best to produce innovative ideas in design and hitting the target most times.


Diesel not do

Almost every manufacturers has announced they have deleted or will delete diesel engine models from their forthcoming range. Volvo has gone so far to say it won’t produce another diesel car, full stop. Pre-owned diesel cars and SUVs will probably hold their value as they become scarce and buyers look for short-term bargains, but values generally will crash in time. We’ve come a long way from diesel fuel cheaper than petrol, (it’s now more expensive) and a diesel vehicle the one to choose for good miles to the gallon. Progress on controlling emissions has a long way to go, however, there are trucks, vans, taxis and buses wedded to the stuff.

McCartney’s Mini

When a penniless student I bought a bright orange Mini on its last legs, and used it to tour around the costal roads of our wondrous land. I slept in it overnight and washed in the nearest burn (brook/stream) next morning. I kept it for the summer, sold it in the autumn. I thought then and still do, small cars the ideal urban runabout. But it gave me severe backache from its useless, bendy seats. It cost £260. Ex-Beatle and Wings songsmith Paul McCartney has seen his original Austin Mini sold at auction. In a pleasant Sixties sage green, he pimped it discreetly with a Webasto folding roof, quarter lights in the front to allow the installation of power windows, a wooden dash, bespoke wooden steering wheel, and Aston Martin tail lights. He didn’t think to create a rear hatch for greater practicality, a feature in the initial drawings but stupidly deleted from the production model. McCartney used it a lot in Los Angeles, and it end up renovated in a museum. It was auctioned for £182.000. I sold mine for £220. That’s the price of fame.

Dash cameras

Once it was furry dice, and then bulky 8-track players. Those were followed by television screens in the rear of headrests, rear parking cameras, lately Sat-Nav, and now dash cameras are the latest must-have car gadget. Personally, I like  cars with few gadgets because there’s less to go wrong. People buy cameras as an aid to insurance claims. Presumably if you are the one at fault in an accident the recording in the dash-cam won’t feature. They are good for cyclists, and bikers, but dash tops are seeing a plethora of digital clutter stuck on them that take the driver’s eye off the road. There are all sorts of solutions to hiding a dash-cam such as incorporating it in the front of the rear view mirror, but the cheapest are the ones you stick on the dash. Car makers and aftermarket companies are forever thinking up wheezes to divest you of your hard earned cash. The cheapest camera is about $250 before fitting. This all getting very silly.

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10 Responses to Car News: Poor Service

  1. greig12 says:

    I always took my new cars to the main dealer for servicing but nowadays being retired a new car is a needless extravagance so I’m keeping the last one I bought till it falls to bits. It would be daft to swap it because I’ve had it since new, it’s only got 45k on the clock. I only do about 6k a year now and having it from new means I know it’s been well looked after.

    I don’t go to main dealers any more though for servicing or repairs because I have a good relationship with a local garage. I found them through word of mouth positive recommendation and I also saw a lot of local firms were using them to maintain their vehicles. Something I took as another good sign. There definitely ain’t nothing shiney about them but they manage to service and repair my car to my satisfaction for what is often substantially less than half the price charged by the local Ford dealer. They’ve never tried to sell me stuff 5000 miles before I need it either.

    There are advantages eg future resale value, to dealer service histories, but for an older car I would always look for a good, tooled up local outfit. You can then use the money saved to treat your nearest and dearest to a slap up fish tea with all the irn bru she/he can drink.

    Romance isny deed efter aw.

  2. Grouse Beater says:

    I couldn’t disagree with a word of that, Greig. If you can find a local garage who can service your car and replace the odd worn part without cutting corners when you’re not looking, that’s fine.

    You made me chuckle keeping your current car until it falls apart. I’m not at that stage in life yet but I do keep my cars well over the period you’re supposed to trade them in. If it has a decent engine it’s only getting run in at 90.000 miles, as far as I’m concerned. Some while back I met a Mexican acquaintance whose Toyota RAV4 was passing the 350,000 mile mark. He like you got a local mechanic to look after the oily bits. In all the years he had owned it, it needed only new tyres, and one burst screen washer hose.

  3. Lanark says:

    Another enjoyable article GB.

    Just as I would once have endorsed the Union, I was a past advocate of diesel. (I am not saying there’s a link). I ran a very dependable VW tdi for a few years before part exchanging it in 2014 (a recent car tax check online shows that it is still running, so it might make its 20th birthday).

    However, the more modern high pressure injection diesel engines are a reliability nightmare as I know from bitter experience. Other VW group cars, Fords and a Honda that I owned alongside the older, simpler tdi all had a plethora of issues. The people who are snapping up these vehicles on the used market are buying time bombs.

    A final thought. I gave up on diesel and bought a petrol Honda and guess what? My fuel economy is hardly any different.

  4. Grouse Beater says:

    You’re right – a lot of manufacturers kept the lid on unreliable hpi diesel engines. But you could see the result coming out of the tailpipe of the car in front.

  5. Ricky says:

    “Smart e-mail a video with a running commentary ” , that is an extraordinary service from any dealer , and a great way to bring in more custom . Great writing as always , just curious , what is the cheapest car you’ve ever brough and how long did it last ? In the late 80’s I bought a Volvo 343 DL for £100 that lasted for 3 weeks and scrapped for £75 , also had an H reg Renault 5 bought for £450 , loved that little Frenchie , at 60 mph it shook your fillings out .

  6. Grouse Beater says:

    Yes, a video showing what wrong with your car, engine and underneath is a terrific service. They include items almost worn out that will need changed soon.

    The Mini at £250 was the cheapest car bought. I was a student with next to no understanding of how an engine works and ran it into the ground. The dealer was kind enough to trade it for £50 against another pre-owned car. I guess he knew how to fix it and resell it.

    Best buy was a VW Sirocco, the first pretty version designed by Giorgetto Giugairo. I bought it for £3,000 and 18 months later sold it for £3,500 cash. Everybody was happy.

  7. Ricky says:

    A couple of things I found traversing the net , that might interest you . The first is Hyundai and its second generation hydrogen SUV and the other is VW making amends for the diesel scandal with a great new take on an old favourite plus some new electric/hybrids coming in the next few years , , . Both show what might be achieved .

  8. Grouse Beater says:

    Thanks, Ricky. Will have a look…..

  9. Grouse Beater says:

    Except for the silly oblong steering wheel, I like the proposed new interpretation of the VW mini bus they’ve called the ‘Buzz’.

  10. Ricky says:

    Hopefully the name will change , nothing like saying ” I drive a Buzz “. The oblong steering is a mistake , governments will still make a law to make sure you have to have a steering wheel to override any errors that may occur during autonomous driving .

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