Doctors, dentists and car mechanics have a lot more in common than simply a waiting room full of dog eared magazines. Put simply: most of us would rather extract our fingernails with pliers than visit any of them.
I have nothing against my dentist or doctor but their jobs inflict discomfort. For many consumers, the same is true of car mechanics. But, crucially, it’s entirely avoidable.
I’ve seen both sides of the problem: before I set up a classic car workshop of my own I used a lot of independent garages. Here are my top 5 workshop gripes. I set up my own workshop to ensure we avoid them, and I think we do. Feel free to submit your own.
1. English is a foreign language
You may imagine yourself fluent in the official language of this great and green isle. That is, until you encounter a mechanic. Car men have access to a whole vocabulary that sounds like English but its meaning is as clear as Dutch spoken in a Welsh accent.
What you want is a diagnosis, what you get is a list of intricately expressed faults that require a degree in physics to decipher. It doesn’t help that workshops often don’t actually show the customer what the fault is.
The result of this communication breakdown is that the customer often walks away feeling bamboozled or, worse, somehow taken advantage of. Not clearly understanding what the problem is can leave you wondering if the wool is being pulled over your eyes.
Clear explanations in layman’s terms and actually showing customers the problem and what work will be done is the only reasonable solution here.
2. It’ll cost what it costs
When buying virtually anything you’ll be told what it will cost. This applies to simple stuff like eggs as well as to complex purchases like kitchens, bathrooms and house extensions. Unless you change your request the price will stay the same.
That doesn’t really apply to garages. Whether you deal with a main dealer or a local one man band, the situation is largely the same: it’ll cost roughly this. Invariably the final bill will be a surprise.
I can see exactly why this happens. Until the mechanic begins work it’s often impossible to assess exactly what work is needed. That’s not obfuscation, it’s simply the way it is.
So then the issue is about communication. Price is arguably the single biggest concern for any customer. Since workshop repairs can easily swing by hundreds of pounds this is hardly a surprise.
Workshops need to split the project up into diagnosis and repair with prices for both. Once diagnosed they need to provide a fixed price for the work with clear inclusions and exclusions.
3. How long’s a piece of string?
It seems such a simple question and yet it is one that never seems to merit a straight answer: how long will it take you to fix it? When you entrust your car to a mechanic you want it back as soon as possible. Not having it is an inconvenience. If you have to deliver and collect it then you need to know what time to take off work.
This timescale fudging was an endless source of frustration for me when I used outside workshops. They knew that a delay had huge consequential costs to my business but this didn’t affect their behaviour.
As a business you need to understand what your customer’s key purchase criteria are. Mine was speed, or at least reliable timescales. Having made this clear I expected results. Had any of these garages clearly stated their expected timescales and then updated me if they were at risk – or otherwise – I could at least have planned ahead.
At Great Escape Cars we’ve made turnaround time our most important measure: our workshop is very clear on what is achievable and that means we can manage hirers accordingly.
4. If you can’t do it, don’t do it
With classic cars knowledge is key. I have been caught out several times by so-called experts who fixed or bodged a problem at huge cost compared to a marque or activity specialist. I once spent £1500 to have the wipers on my Jensen Not Fixed. More recently our workshop wasted 80hrs repairing an Alfa GTV which had been previously tackled by a so-called clutch specialist.
Take your car to the people who know your car. Or know your fault. Go on recommendation. Ask for proof of their experience. Test their knowledge.
At Great Escape Cars we know that electrics are a black art: while we can generally solve the problem it will take us longer than a proper auto electrician. So we use a proper auto electrician.
5. Can’t get there from here
Taking your classic car to the garage is a hassle. If the car actually runs you need a way to get back, if it doesn’t run you need a way to transport it.
Having worn out many, many shoes dropping cars off and walking back to rail stations or my home or doing this in reverse, I know inconvenient and annoying this is. The customer myopia typical of the garages I used is what prevented them seeing and responding to this otherwise obvious problem. When asked their response was surprise and bewilderment that my problem might also be theirs.
Of course, having a workshop on site has cut down my roaming, thankfully. Based on my experience Great Escape Cars offer a collection and return service for customers, using fleet of trucks and trailers. We also provide a free driver service to collect customers or return them home. There’s no charge for any of this: it’s what I believe we have to do.