When you hand your car over for a service, you’d hope for — and it’s certainly not unreasonable to expect — honest and expert advice about the condition of your car and any repairs needed.
Unfortunately, though, 89% of service centres missed at least one of the faults CHOICE had planted when our female shadow shopper took popular makes of car for a minor service and safety check at their makers’ service centres. Clearly something is going wrong.
She took the cars (early to mid-2000s samples of a Ford Laser LXi, Holden TS Astra Classic, Subaru Liberty and Toyota Echo) to dealer service centres in various suburbs of Sydney for each of those four popular car makes.
To ensure each car was being judged on an equal footing, an independent mechanic with 20 years' experience, hired by CHOICE for the project, planted the following faults in each car:
- The left reverse light globe was blown.
- The right rear tyre pressure was reduced to 20% below the manufacturer’s recommended pressure.
- The spare tyre pressure was reduced to 10 psi.
- The brake fluid was reduced to the minimum level.
Our driver went to each service centre and asked for a minor service and safety check before driving interstate. Our independent mechanic then determined whether the faults had been noted and rectified. We wanted to know if dealer service centres would:
- Detect and fix the minor faults.
- Detect and mention any pre-existing conditions that needed repair.
- Recommend that any unnecessary work be performed.
We also compared the prices charged for a minor service and safety check for each make.
- All car owners should be able to expect and receive a high-quality service from a dealer service centre. Indeed, car companies reinforce this customer expectation in their own literature. However, as our investigation shows, the industry didn’t stand up to the rigour of our shadow shop.
- Only three out of 28 service centres picked up all four basic faults we planted. This is not good enough. For more details, see our scorecards for each service centre: Ford, Holden, Subaru and Toyota.
- Unfortunately, there are no guarantees when it comes to car servicing. For every dealer that delivers a competent repair and service, there’s another that will take your money, give second-rate advice and miss vital and obvious faults that need to be fixed for safety and roadworthiness.
- Get a better service gives some advice to help you avoid being ripped off — no matter where you take your car.
Please note: this information was current as of April 2008 but is still a useful guide today.