Dire Straits are pilloried for their 80s noodly guitar rock but when it comes to caustic analysis of the work vs reward dichotomy, they had it nailed. 'Money For Nothing,' they said. 'That ain't workin' they crisply asserted; and for many classic car enthusiasts they might well have been talking about their local specialist workshop.
Car garages and specifically classic car workshops don't have a particularly great name. Some of this is probably justified, much of it is probably not. Because classic car workshops, which are generally small businesses, tend to be relatively insular outfits working on recommendation: the drive to be better and improve isn't there.
I feel I can be honest and up front about this because I've probably spent more money than most owners with classic car workshops since I started Great Escape Cars in 2006. The year before I set up my own workshop to service my hire cars I spent £100,000 with them. I accept that not all classic car workshops are bad. Many, and they are well known, are good. But there are still too many not good ones, and that is who my comments are aimed at.
Since the decision to set up my own workshop in 2011 I've managed to wean myself off external workshops and we now do virtually 100% of our work in-house, except for trimming and paint. And now in 2015 we're ready to offer the same service to classic car owners. But before we do I want to find out what owners actually think of the workshops they use. So I've set up a quick survey: please take some time to tell us what you think. We'll use the results to make our workshop service better.
Here are my five main gripes about classic car workshops, based on bitter experience:
1. Lack of transparency
When you take your car to a workshop you rarely if ever get a quote. If you do manage to get a quote it won't be accurate. The invoice will be higher. I do understand entirely that pricing a repair job is all but impossible until you start taking the car apart. But it is possible to provide a ballpark figure, or a figure to assess it and then a figure to fix it. It's also reasonable to expect a photographic record of what was done and an update if the cost looks like it will be higher than expected. It isn't good enough to fix the car, prepare the invoice and then sit back blank faced as the customer clutches their heart.
2. Realistic timescales
When I'm told 'it will be ready today' I still foolishly expect to see the car finished today. Stuff happens, I understand that, parts don't turn up, jobs expand, an urgent job comes in. I am fine with all of that - just tell me. Give me a realistic timescale at the start - that factors in all those problems - and update me when the deadline slips. I am a big boy: I can cope. What I can't cope with is being told one thing and getting another.
3. Honest pricing
Running a classic car workshop is a tough game: overheads are high, workflow can be erratic. But price accordingly, rather than trying to stitch me up with clever little tricks. These include a low labour rate but a mysteriously long time to fix anything and finding the complicated, labour-intensive way to solve a problem when a new part would have been quicker and cheaper.
4. 'You probably didn't top the oil up properly'
It's a familiar tale. You get your cherished classic fixed at great expensive and then two weeks later it breaks down again. With exactly the same problem. You take it back to the garage but of course it's not their fault, it's yours. You 'probably' didn't do something correctly. Or something not obvious first time around has now failed. The proprietor doesn't go quite so far as to actively blame you, but the clear starting point is that it can't possibly be his fault. Unable to actually prove anything you pay to get the work done again. If you're lucky you might get a 'goodwill' discount.
5. Simple customer service
When you spend a lot of money with someone you might reasonably expect some element of customer service. Generally, that doesn't happen with workshops. Dropping off and collecting your car might be logistically challenging but you'll rarely get any help with it. Cup of coffee? Sure, pull the other one. Acknowledgement when you arrive? Possibly. The sense that you are providing a favour prevails. It shouldn't be like that.
Over the next few weeks I'll be writing about my worst classic car workshop experiences as well as sharing the results of our survey. Feel free to share your views in the comments section or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01527 893733.
To find out about our new workshop facility visit http://www.geworkshop.co.uk or call 01527 893733.