I am a bit suspicious about my local main dealer that has always serviced my car since new. How can I make sure that they are doing all the maintenance work that should be done for each type of service, and which they say they are doing on the check sheets? Are there things on the car that I could mark up, to double check that all the work is being carried out? Is there a way that I can verify that they have changed the oil, as it always looks very dirty to me when I inspect the dipstick soon after the car has been into the garage for the service.
Also, when the car was in for the service last March, they telephoned me at work to say that I needed new front brake discs and pads. The car has only covered 11,000 miles since new, and I wasnít at all convinced that they needed replacing, especially as the brakes felt just fine to me when the car went in. Do brake discs really only last this long? Is it likely that I will need to have them replaced again when the car goes in this year, after it has done a similar mileage? Do you think they could be trying it on and taking advantage of me?
Sheena Grant, Sheffield
Thanks for your letter Sheena. I don’t get enough communications from lady readers. There definitely is a suggestion that some garages do take advantage of the fairer sex, and I have personal experience told by a female relative of how she was outrageously ripped off by a prestigious brand garage, until her son stepped in and managed to recover a £100 plus overcharge. It’s not good to think that your car isn’t getting serviced properly, or that you are possibly being ripped off. There are rogue garages, as I say, but manufacturers keep a pretty close eye on service departments, and it is quite possible in this case that you’re adding two and two together and making five
Firstly, diesel oils are highly detergent, meaning that they are designed to pick up and carry in suspension some of the fine carbon that’s generated from diesel combustion. There’s enough oil still left in the system at an oil change (unless the engine is flushed with flushing oil, which is pretty rare these days, and won’t be done unless you request it – it’s not necessarily a good thing anyway), even after it has been left a good while to drain, to turn the new oil black within a very short time and a couple of minutes of running. So the fact that your oil looks black on the dipstick is really nothing suspicious. If you really want to check it out, and you can spot the oil filter when you lift the bonnet, wipe it clean and put a mark, like a dab of nail varnish or a small sticker on it, before it goes in for service next time, and check that it’s not still there when you get the car back, meaning that a new filter has been fitted. Also, most cars these days have the oil quality monitored by the ECU (engine control unit) and it’s this that often throws up an ‘oil service due’ warning message on your instruments, although you may not see this if your servicing is done on a time basis. But if they were not changing the oil when they should, and when they say they have, you would expect to get the oil service warning light to come on well before the next service.
As for the front brake discs, the time that you had them replaced at the end of winter is a favourite time for this job to crop up. Today’s brake discs that have to deliver good performance with asbestos-free pads don’t last as long, and can corrode quickly. Better quality materials are available, at a cost, but relatively cheap cast-iron discs are the favoured and cost-effective material fitted on most everyday cars. Winter also gives brake systems a very hard time, with corrosion and bad weather, and in a hilly area like Sheffield, I don’t think that getting 11,000 miles sounds too bad for life, and they could well not last out again until next year. If, as it sounds, your car gets serviced about once a year, the garage would not do you any favours if the discs were to wear out before your next service that’s due in a year’s time. But I would have a friendly word with the service reception, before the service is completed, just to let them know that you’re keeping an eye on things, and not just a daft dolly bird! You can always ask to see the old discs and pads when you pick up the car, if they say they need changing again. This is a fair test and a good receptionist should take the time to explain the situation, as I have attempted to do.
If you feel that in any way you’re being patronised, though, or categorised, then you should just walk away and find another woman-friendly garage! (Am I allowed to say that Ed?)