Ideally, if each of the 28 service centres we visited conducted a thorough service and safety check as requested, all the faults we’d placed in the cars would have been identified and addressed. Instead, we found that 25 of the 28 service centres (89%) missed at least one fault:
- 23 of 28 (82%) didn’t increase the spare tyre pressure.
- 12 of 28 (43%) didn’t notice the blown reverse light.
- Six of 28 (21%) didn’t increase the right rear tyre pressure.
- Three of 28 (11%) didn’t fill up the brake fluid in the reservoir.
So, most of the service centres we visited didn’t conduct a thorough service. The underinflated spare tyre was the most commonly missed problem, which could have turned into a disaster on our driver’s impending interstate trip. The better news was that most discovered the low brake fluid level in the reservoir.
The following pages show our scorecards for each service centre: Ford, Holden, Subaru and Toyota. Overall, the Toyota service centres performed best, missing only eight out of 28 faults.
Are faults invented?
It’s bad enough to charge for a necessary service not provided — but what about providing and charging for work and repairs that aren’t necessary? It’s the stuff of hidden cameras and current affairs TV shows. Happily, this wasn’t the norm in our shadow shop, involving just six of the 28 centres.
Some of the recommended work — and this is giving the mechanics the benefit of the doubt — could have been considered overly cautious rather than an attempt to squeeze extra money out of our shopper.
That said, it’s interesting that one centre was apparently so busy noting $306 worth of non-existent faults and unnecessary repairs, it didn’t find any of the faults we planted.
Our mechanic noted all the cars except the Holden had pre-existing conditions, mainly tyre and brake wear. They were all issues that should have been addressed before a long driving trip, though again, most service centres didn’t give any warning about or advice on these problems.
- Six of the seven Subaru service centres correctly pointed out that the brake pads needed replacing, but only three out of seven noted both back tyres did too.
- None of the Ford centres picked that four of the five tyres needed replacing. Three said two tyres did, though they weren’t consistent as to which ones, and one simply mentioned they were "getting low".
- Four out of seven centres noted the Toyota’s front brake wear, though only two correctly suggested they should be replaced soon (after 5000km driving).
For the companies we looked at, the parent company rarely has direct control over the service centres. Almost all centres are independently owned, operating similarly to a franchise. However, they’re supposed to meet certain obligations to the parent company, including some form of agreement to adhere to a code of standards.
Mechanics and technicians receive initial training and information on model updates from the company, as well as ongoing training. Ford, Holden and Subaru said they’d address the problems we raised with their service centres.