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Of new age authorised service stations..

Bertrand D'souza  /
11 Nov 2016

Have you ever driven into an authorised car workshop and walked out feeling crushed, lost, helpless, even enraged after you got an estimate  You are probably not the only one. Welcome to the new age of the automotive service business, and it's scary and often seems to be insensitive to consumers. To a generation that's grown up sharing a unique bond with their mechanics built on mutual trust, transparency and dependability, the new age of authorised service stations seem like the devil's workshop. A place where you once enter, you must pay a price to get out of.

Toyota Express ServiceImage used for representational purpose only

Recently, someone I know purchased a second-hand sub 4-metre SUV which brand-new costs no more than Rs 10 lakh on-road in Mumbai. She had a problem with rats getting into her car's engine bay and biting into a wire two months after having purchased the car. A wire which in her words looked even more insignificant than the reedy shoelaces holding together her stiletto. Nonetheless the wire shorted, complicated things to the point where her engine would not start. She promptly called the authorised service station and had them tow the car to their workshop.

A day or two later she got an estimate for the repair work, and that's when she almost died. Well, not physically but mentally, or at least something inside her died! Her estimate came to roughly Rs 4 lakh, excluding labour costs! You can imagine the shock to her system. In her case, the estimate mentioned work to be done on her engine which had lost compression due to the wire shorting, in addition to a replacement of the wiring loom. All in all, her cost to put her car back on the road was the equivalent of half the cost of the car. Distraught and frustrated by the absolute apathy of the service station towards her case, she finally approached me and is now trying to find out a solution.

She is not the only one to have been meted out such treatment. I constantly receive complaints from consumers who claim that they received these job estimates that simply blow their minds. How genuine are these estimates and why are they so scary.

First off, consumers need to understand that these are estimates. This means your job could cost you either less or more. Second, the problem is with the newer philosophies adopted by manufacturers. Nothing is repairable any longer, everything in a car has to be replaced where faults are concerned. This automatically escalates the cost significantly. Third, in most cases no part is sold by itself, but instead manufacturers now bundle this as a kit. So if the bulb inside your headlamp fuses, your service advisor is going to recommend you change your entire headlamp kit assembly. This includes the headlamp, the fasteners, the relays, the wires, the bulbs and the entire headlamp unit itself! So you end up paying the cost of an entire headlamp, not just a bulb.

Now here is where things get really scary. Once all added up, the estimate appears so intimidating that it compels a consumer to go in for the repair. For that much money, consumers assume there is something extremely wrong with their vehicle. If it left the workshop unattended, chances are it might perish the instance the car moved out of the gate.

Also bear in mind, diagnosis is also chargeable. And it's quite a hefty charge. There is another problem attached to this. Technicians are no longer trained to identify faults in vehicles; they are taught to use a diagnostic device which when hooked up to the car reveals all sorts of information, especially faults. And then you go back to the earlier process where everything in that particular system is asked to be replaced. So the system no longer works like it did before, where your mechanic took a long hard look, pushed prodded and then gave you his advice for free. Workshops these days even charge you parking if your car occupies space within their premises while you go sell a kidney to pay off those estimated costs.

My friend also got into a larger mess up because the insurance firm refused to pay out insurance stating that other parts of the wiring loom were tampered with by the previous owner. And yet they inspected and cleared her car stating all was well when the insurance was transferred to her name without intimating her of any fault. When it was time to make a payout, voila, a case of tampering came up.

I can't imagine the trauma this lady had to go through, and now she is left with little to no recourse. How do you disbelieve the people you are supposed to trust, especially when you generally associate the severity of the problem with how much it's going to cost you  Over and above, the workshop insists that if she takes her car elsewhere, by which they mean a non-authorised workshop, then they will no longer be responsible for anything that happens to her car. They did not even allow her to get her mechanic to their workshop to seek a second opinion. That definitely sounds like a scare tactic to me, no  Is that how authorised service stations are supposed to behave  Absurd.

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