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The horsemeat scandal continues – why cut price servicing may have hidden nasties too.

As we entered 2013, the news that certain beefburgers on sale in UK and Irish supermarkets contained traces of horsemeat dominated the headlines. The sudden shock of learning that on the nation’s dinner plates, all was not what it seemed spurred numerous jokes as well as the sudden clearing of supermarket shelves.  Although we may have been unknowingly munching pieces of deceased Dobbin for years, the actual evidence was too much for many to bear and suddenly, sales of ‘proper’ meat from ‘real’ butcher’s shops increased rapidly. 

Do you know what's inside?

Do you know what’s inside?

Like so many things in life, we often don’t really know what’s inside and we place our trust in the honesty of the manufacturer, restaurant or supplier.  In these troubled economic times, the overwhelming desire to save money means we may be tempted to overlook the provenance of what we buy, if the price is right. Just as we might foolishly expect that a £1 frozen  ready meal, clearly labelled as ‘Beef’  might actually contain some cow’s meat, we justifiably have similar expectations of other products and services.

As the owner and manager of a busy car repair garage, I am very  knowledgeable about the price of anything that a car might need. I know for example that most oil filters cost between £3 and £15 and that a litre of the recommended synthetic engine oil for a Volkswagen TDi engine is nearly £7. When we quote for a service, the price is based solely on two factors – the cost of the parts needed to do the job, and the labour time it takes to complete. A typical full service takes around three hours and the parts and oil will typically cost around £80 for an average family car. With labour charges at between £50 – £70 an hour (for a skilled and fully-qualified technician), this service costs around £270 inclusive of parts, labour and VAT.

Imagine then what I must think when I see certain adverts on TV or online, offering a supposedly similar service for just £99 or sometimes (if you are a regular user of online offer site, Groupon) even less!  Well, I can reveal that the image of a £1 frozen lasagne stuffed to the slimy brim with horsemeat comes to mind. Except my horsemeat comparison is a really cheap and ineffective engine oil passing through a cheap Chinese oil filter sold in an unmarked white box! Whilst your engine will possibly still start and run OK, the internal damage you can be doing doesn’t bear thinking about. Modern engines all require the correct grade of oil in order to function efficiently. Diesels in particular require special low-ash content oils to ensure the expensive particulate filter isn’t ruined. If the correct  oil alone for your service costs £60, the £99 service could end up costing you a whole lot more in the long run!

As the business owner, I’m plagued on a daily basis by marketing companies promising untold new customers, in return for offering our services for rock bottom prices through their websites. Their reasoning is that hundreds of new customers, each spending a small amount of money on a cut-price inferior service, will boost our turnover. I’m not sure quite how this might work in practice. It’s hard enough to make a profit in this game if you’re honest, without giving everything away for below cost price just to keep the staff busy. As regular readers may know,  the way this cut-price servicing works in reality is that the £99 ‘bargain’ service soon turns into a £500 ripoff once all the ‘extras’ have been invented.

Of course, if you really insist on paying next to nothing for your car maintenance (and still expect your car to be reliable), we may not be the right garage for you. We only fit quality parts from the vehicle manufacturer or an equivalent quality alternative. We stock a range of premium motor oils from manufacturers such as Mobil, Castrol and Comma . If you’re simply phoning around every garage in the area for the cheapest price, we’re probably not going to get your business.  If you care about your car enough to want it servicing ‘properly’ and don’t want to pay main dealer prices,  you’ll be far more likely to book with us.

There’ll always be a ridiculously cheap servicing offer somewhere and if you want to take a gamble, you might get lucky. If it all goes horribly wrong though and you end up seizing your engine, you may well need to tighten the family purse strings to help pay for repairs.

Luckily, you’ll be able to walk back from the supermarket with bags full of £1 ready meals to help you save a few bob!