When you have spent a large sum of money buying a car, it makes good sense to maintain it and, hopefully, prolong its life by having it regularly serviced. Most garages are reputable and honest, but there are some garages that will carry out poor quality servicing and repairs at a high price. Many of these problems can be prevented by taking some simple precautionary steps.

Know your rights

When you take your car to a garage for servicing or repair, you are making a legally binding contract with the garage owner and the laws you can look to for protection are the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 and the Sale and Supply of Goods to Consumers Regulations 2002. These laws give you statutory rights and you are entitled to expect that the work be carried out:

  • with reasonable care and skill; this means that the garage should do the work competently and to a standard expected of a garage of that type;
  • within a reasonable time (unless a specific time was agreed);
  • at a reasonable charge (unless a fixed price was agreed).

If the garage replaces a part during the service or repair, you are entitled to expect that it be:

  • Of satisfactory quality: This means that the part should work and also be free from minor defects. Its appearance and finish, price and other relevant factors can be taken into account when assessing whether it is considered to be of satisfactory quality. It should also be durable and safe.
  • Fit for its intended purpose: his means that the part should perform as it is designed to do.
  • As described: This means that any description given has to be accurate. For example, if a part was described as being that of a particular manufacturer, that is what it should be - it should not be an inferior make.

If a fault has not been correctly diagnosed or not repaired properly, you should allow the garage the opportunity to rectify it. If the garage fails to do so, you may be entitled to get the work done elsewhere and recover the cost from the garage.

If the garage fits a part, which turns out to be faulty, and it has not been fitted very long, you may be entitled to a refund, or you could ask for the part to be replaced. You can opt for a repair, as an alternative, and still retain your right to a refund or replacement if the repair is unsatisfactory. If the part has been fitted for some time before it fails, you are entitled to have it repaired or replaced as long as it does not cause you significant inconvenience. If repairs are inconvenient, or will take a long time, you may be entitled to compensation - usually the cost of getting the work done elsewhere. Remember that fair wear and tear is not a fault and not the responsibility of the garage.

If you pay for the servicing or repairs by credit card, and if the work costs more than £100, you are protected by the Consumer Credit Act 1974. Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 makes the credit card company as responsible as the garage for a breach of contract or a misrepresentation. You are entitled to take action against the garage owner (check to find out if the owner is an individual, a partnership or a company), the credit card company or both. This does not apply to charge cards or debit cards.

If you suspect that a garage is charging you for work it claims to have done but has not, or has fitted inferior parts when you only agreed to have a particular manufacturer's parts, a criminal offence may have been committed and you should report it to Consumer Direct on 08454 04 05 06.

How do I check if the garage is reputable?

As the quality of service and the price charged can vary from garage to garage, you should shop around for the best deal and take note of the following points before committing yourself:

  • Check to see if the garage is a member of a trade association, such as the Motor Vehicle Repairers Association (M.V.R.A. Limited) or the Vehicle Builders and Repairers Association Limited, and familiarise yourself with the VBRA Code of Practice.
  • Ask friends and family if they can recommend a good garage to you or warn you against using a disreputable garage.
  • Ensure that the garage offers you clear information on repair and servicing options, together with prices, so you can make an informed decision before you go ahead. Do not take your car to a garage and ask them to 'fix it'. A disreputable garage could literally repair any faults found.
  • Make sure the garage seeks your permission to do additional work beyond what was originally agreed. You should remember to leave contact details in case problems develop.
  • The garage should give you a written quotation (a fixed price) if you ask for one or, if this is not possible, you should obtain a written estimate and give a maximum amount that the garage can spend without your authorisation.
  • The garage should give you a written invoice that itemises all materials, parts used and their costs, and also labour charges.
  • Consider using a garage, which has a recognised complaints procedure.
  • The garage should give you the old parts back if you ask for them.
  • Check beforehand if the garage gives you a guarantee or warranty on its work and materials, although you should remember that this is in addition to your legal rights.
  • The garage should give you an idea of how long the work will take to complete and may offer you a courtesy car in the meantime. Always check the terms and conditions attached to the supply of a courtesy car before going ahead.
  • If a fault diagnosis is required, the garage should explain the procedure to you, tell you the cost and inform you of subsequent repair options.

If the garage is not willing to comply with your requests, or you are unhappy with the suggested repairs or their cost, be prepared to take your car elsewhere or seek a second opinion.

What if something goes wrong?

The car is not ready by the agreed date

Discuss the situation with the garage and try to obtain a new date for completion. If the car is still not ready and the garage does not appear to be very helpful, it may be necessary for you to take the car away. You will probably have to pay for any work that has been carried out.

The fault has not been rectified

Take the car back as soon as possible to allow the garage a chance to examine and repair the fault at no additional cost to you. If you are unable to do this, phone the garage as soon as possible and explain the problem to a person in authority. Give the garage the opportunity to offer a resolution.

Repairs have been carried out without authorisation

This can be a contentious matter, especially with verbal contracts, as it can be very difficult to 'prove' that the garage had carried out the work without your authority. It will generally come down to your word against the word of the garage. If the garage has carried out unauthorised work, you could ask the garage to 'undo' it and put the vehicle back to its original condition. This course of action, however, can create problems, especially if it would make the car unroadworthy. The garage may also refuse to undo the work or release the car without payment. If improvements have been made, the garage is entitled to exercise a lien over the car. This is a legal right to hold disputed goods until payment is made. In these circumstances, the only way you can recover possession of the car is to 'pay under protest' and to pursue your claim for reimbursement - it's important to seek advice about paying under protest. The garage may be a member of a trade association with a conciliation, mediation or arbitration service, which can help sort out your complaint. You may have to pay for using an arbitration service, but conciliation is usually free. Discuss the service offered with the trade association before committing yourself. You could also, as a last resort, take action in the county court.

The garage does not accept liability

Put your complaint in writing, giving the garage a specific date to rectify the fault (see our leaflet 'writing an effective letter of complaint'). You may need to obtain a written report from an independent engineer, such as provided by the AA or RAC, to provide technical evidence to back up your claim.

If the garage does not respond to your letter, you may have to have the defects rectified by another garage (it may be advisable to inform the second garage that the repair is the subject of a dispute). You will have to pay for the repair and then claim the repair costs back. You may wish to use the services of a trade association, if the garage is a member, or take action in the county court. You should take note that, if the dispute goes to court, the court may not accept an independent report, which it has not authorised and may not allow its costs to be claimed back.

Furthermore, in the small claims court there is a limit on the amount you can recover for expert's fees.

Situations as detailed above can be quite complex and, therefore, it's strongly advisable to contact Consumer Direct on 08454 04 05 06 as soon as any situations start to develop.

The cost of the repair is higher than I expected

If you are in dispute and refuse to pay the price the garage is charging, the garage is entitled to exercise a lien over the car; this is a legal right to hold disputed goods until payment is made. In these circumstances, the only way you can recover possession of the car is to 'pay under protest' and to pursue your claim for reimbursement via a trade association, if the garage is a member of one, or in court. If paying under protest it is advisable to make this clear in writing (e.g. writing the phrase 'paid under protest' on the back of the cheque).

The car was damaged at the garage

The garage has a general duty of care to look after your vehicle while it is in its possession. If the car is damaged at the garage due to staff negligence, repairs, or their cost, it will be the garage's responsibility.

Local authority assured trader schemes

Some local authorities have set up assured trader schemes with the support of the Office of Fair Trading. These are designed to give consumers a reliable way of finding reputable local traders. Contact your local authority to find out if it runs such a scheme.

Please note

This leaflet is not an authoritative interpretation of the law and is intended only for guidance. For further information visit the Direct website (external link) or telephone Consumer Direct on 08454 04 05 06 .

Last reviewed/updated: August 2009