Don't be ripped off by your garage

Wednesday 05 December 2012 11.17
Know your rights before getting repairs done
Know your rights before getting repairs done

Under EU laws consumers no longer have to go to their car manufacturer’s garages for repairs to protect their warranty. Tina Leonard tells Today with Pat Kenny what choice you have.

In the summer of 2010 new European Commission rules came into force (Block Exemption Regulation 1400/2002), ensuring that consumers have access to choice.

They clarify that car manufacturers cannot make your warranty conditional on getting it repaired or serviced within their authorised network or on the use of their own branded parts.

In other words you are free to use your local independent garage for repairs.

The only instance where the dealer can insist on you using their authorised network is if the work is being paid for by the manufacturer i.e. repair carried out under warranty or recall issue.

Rules also apply to spare parts

The new rules also aim to combat restriction on access to spare parts both to repairers and, in turn, to consumers.

The rules on spare parts mean that whether you are getting your car repaired at a branded garage or at an independent, you are free to buy an Original Equipment Manufacture (OEM) part.

These are essentially the exact same parts as the manufacturer uses except they are not branded with the manufacturer’s logo.

They are made by the same producer, who can also sell these parts and others under his own brand name (called ‘after market parts’ and these sellers are also called ‘original equipment suppliers’.

You can also buy parts of ‘matching quality’, made by independent parts producers and supplied directly to the independent market. These parts can also be made by original equipment suppliers, who make the parts to the same specifications but don’t supply to the manufacturers.

The result of this increased choice is often reduced cost for the car owner.

Shop around for garage and parts

If you’re looking for a repair service, shop around to compare price and service.

When it comes to buying parts, ask the garage to quote for branded and OEM parts to see how much you can save, or you can buy the parts yourself.

What if I’m getting repairs carried out under insurance?

The short answer is that on the face of it you still have a choice.

If you read the terms of any motor insurance policy document you will see that when it comes to repairs you can choose one of the insurers’ ‘approved repairers’ or you can choose your own local garage if you prefer.

But then you will notice some other terms. It is usual for example, that you will only get a hire car to cover the period of repair if you choose one of the insurer’s ‘approved repairers’.

In some cases you will get an additional warranty on the repair but again only if you choose the insurer’s ‘approved repairer’ and in others your excess for the claim may be reduced if you choose from the list of ‘approved repairers’.

In addition, if you go with an ‘approved repairer’ the process is usually quicker as there is no need to get a quote from another garage and have it approved by the insurer before repairs can be carried out.

So does that limit your choice?

In practice if someone needs a replacement car or other benefit offered they are likely to opt for the ‘approved repairer’ so they get one. It’s the cherry on the cake that may lead you to make that decision.

So the insurer is clearly encouraging you towards this decision, but it’s a decision, they say, that ultimately results in lower costs to you, because essentially it is cheaper for them to use their ‘approved repairers’.

However, be aware that you should get a hire car when it’s a third party claim anyway, plus often garages will give you a hire car when carrying out repair work; you have your statutory rights to rely on for any repair work being carried out. Plus I’ve heard of garages even offering to pay some or all of your excess so ask.

What is an ‘approved repairer'?

These are garages that have tendered to the insurance companies and been accepted to their list of repairers that can carry our repair work on their behalf.

Here’s how it works. Garages tender to become an insurer’s ‘approved garage’. Given an amount of repair work will be coming their way, they are expected to lower their hourly labour rate.

Estimates are based on a common computerised system. This system included set time frames for every possible repair job, and also specifies all the parts needed for the job.

This means that any estimates from ‘approved repairers’ are like-for-like as they will all indicate that a job takes the specified 10 hours lets say, all the specified parts used will be the same. This is clearly a much easier and transparent system for the insurer to use.

This control of the repairs aspect of claims, means that insurance companies can manage their cost and keep them down and therefore the idea is that they can pass on price benefits to you, ultimately in lower premiums and other benefits.

Can I choose my own local repairer instead?

In short, yes. But you must contact your insurer first.

In this case the (non-approved) garage supplies an estimate for repair work to the insurer, and then an assessor can contact the garage to negotiate if needs be.

For example, the garage might be told only a certain number of hours relate to the job in question, as per the computerised system, and the hourly rate may be negotiated too. And of course, it must be within any limit set by the insurer that relates to your policy.

Some garages say customers are being driven to 'approved repairers'

But some garages I spoke to aren’t convinced that it’s quite so straight-forward and their assertion is that insurers are pushing customers too hard towards their ‘approved repairers’

What garages say

Some say this system can force the hourly labour rate down, resulting in pressure to cost below price.

Some say that the limit on the billable time (which can be calculated based on all parts being ready and available there and then), means that there could be a question mark over the quality of work. For example one independent garage I spoke to has actually had to rectify repair work carried out by an ‘approved repairer’.

Another garage told me that up until a year and a half ago 50% - 60% of the estimates they supplied to insurers were approved, but now only 5% - 10% are, and they don’t know why as they are not contacted by assessors to discuss and negotiate as usual.

I also know of one case where a customer had told her insurer she was seeking an estimate from her local garage rather than the ‘approved repairer’ but before that estimate had even been sent in, the ‘approved repairer’ arrived at her home to take her car away for repairs. This clearly shouldn’t have happened.

Advice

1. Remember that if you are getting your car repaired under insurance you can choose to get a quote from your own local repairer if you want.

2. Relating to the ‘extras’ provided by the insurer if you choose to go with one of their ‘approved repairers’, be aware that you should get a hire car when it’s a third party claim anyway; plus often garages will give you a hire car when carrying out repair work. You also have your statutory rights to rely on for any repair work being carried out.

3. You might be swayed by the offer of a hire car or other incentives, but remember you still have a choice, and should not be put under any undue pressure or other tactics with regard to that choice.

4. If you have a complaint against an insurer, complain to them first and if it remains unresolved, go to the Financial Services Ombudsman.

Keywords: car repairs