Your tips to cut car repair costs
Connexion newsletter readers share their advice on how to save money at the mechanic
I have an 11 year old Astra 1.7tdi and recently had an estimate for repair, a new fuel pump and a computer for the pump. The garage told me that they don't replace just the computer (which was at fault) without also replacing the pump, the cost for the parts alone was €1700 which was a shame as I had just doubled its value by replacing all four tyres (in the UK at half price).
So I chatted to my friend who works for Vauxhall in the UK. He informed me that the pump is not what they call a stock item (which means that they don't go wrong so why stock them) and the computer is £250 +PP all done. So I got the part and fitted it in about 20mins and the old beauty was running like a dream.
I have also just bought a new VW Jetta from the UK, I asked before ordering it at a French dealer in Limoges for the identical model. The French dealer wanted £4000 more. Why would I buy in France? I can get a lot of diesel for £4k.
The cost of a car repair in France, on its own, is not the main problem. The costs mount with the extra, completely unnecessary, charges which are loaded onto the bill under the pretext that “the fault was not obvious and it took time to find”, “because of this fault some other parts got damaged and had to be changed”, or some other lame excuse.
I was recently given those excuses concerning a modern car with a computerized system of fault diagnosis for a fault that appeared the moment after the “control technique” was completed, while we were leaving their premises. The fault was inside the sealed automatic gear box and was obviously caused by the handling of the car while the control technique was taking place. By law, those companies are not liable for any damage to the car while on their premises.
The bill I was presented with was almost twice as large as the repair of the faulty part. It included a complete oil service, a change of air filter and repairs to some wiring in the steering wheel column, amongst others; all unrequested, unnecessary and very expensive. The repair was performed at the official agency of the motoring company.
There is no independent complaints commission specifically geared to deal with the motor industry, just UFC que choisir, which acts as sort of consumer’s council. They try a feeble attempt to deal with a problem by sending a polite letter to the manufacturer. If the answer is a rebuttal (as it usually is), they send the “consumer” to an “expert”. In my case, it was not for ascertaining the extra charges, but to see if the problem was a latent defect of that car or not. As I knew that this was far more difficult to prove (if the car manufacturer is not honourable) than the extra charges, I was told that there was no recourse for that. The experts are not regulated neither in their methods of ascertaining the problem, nor in their charges. One is encouraged to throw good money after bad with no big hope of getting anything back. It is a real scandal.
I might be naïve, but I believe that the only solution would be to devise an independent system with a single commission of experts (probably 5 jurists) to whom a repair account (and the relevant documentation) could be sent for a honest appraisal, like to an ombudsman, and banish all those antiquated so called “experts” with no more valid credentials than their “friends” and their “mot d’honeur”. This commission should not be in direct contact with the public, nor be affiliated to any motor company and be able to judge each and every incident on its merits and their conclusions should be decisive on the case. I believe such a step will help to self-regulate the motor industry in a very short time.
If you know what parts you need then buy from the UK as the prices are lower even allowing for postage. I found as soon as the French know your English they charge stupid prices. Example. My opal Astra would not start. So my car was taken to an injection specialist. They told me to change the pump will cost me 2000 euros. I checked on line with companies in the UK. There answers, it is not the pump it is the ECU (electrical control unit) price £100 repaired.
So back to the Garage told them and asked them to remove the ECU (4 bolts and 1 connector). Answer from garage. We can't do that as they could not guarantee the work and the cost was now 5000 euros. so I had the car pushed outside and towed to a friend. We removed the ECU sent it for repair had it back within a week. car now working fine.
The garage still gave me a bill for over 100 Euros for doing nothing.
With reference to car repair costs, I recently had the need to replace part of the exhaust system on my wife's 15 year old Isuzu. Isuzu dealer in Normandie quoted 1000 euros for part, fitting and TVA. Repair cost in U.K. £160 fitted and VAT plus ferry cost and fuel of £200. When presented for the Control Technique the tester stated that the exhaust repair was excellent. A cost saving of £540 or 595 Euros.
Perhaps I am fortunate in driving an 18 year old Land Rover Discovery 1. DIY repair work is usually easy as a diagnostic computer is not involved. Spares for this vehicle are high in France through their main dealership, locally I have found the main dealer less than helpful. I buy all my spares from the UK. Prices are very reasonable, delivery charges are low and quick and their service is first class. Most of the work I do with a friend. Anything requiring garage equipment I use a local garage that is not affiliated to any particular make of vehicle.
I always do my own repairs which saves a fortune but some repairs are easier than you think, such as changing belts, plugs, alternators or exhaust pipes. I also buy parts in UK (usually from Ebay or clubs) and get them sent to me in France. It is still significantly cheaper even with the postage! You can also save a lot if you buy third party items instead of manufacturer's original (expensive) parts. Don't buy windscreen wipers in supermarkets, they are half the price in a local tyre/exhaust fitter shop or somewhere like Michegan.
For example, an exhaust pipe here would cost about 110 Euros just to buy and fit yourself, whereas from UK I can get the same part for around 50 Euros (including postage to France)! Neither of these items are original maker's parts anyway. An exhaust pipe is fairly easy to fit with about 4 bolts and a little cussing.
Don't bother to take your car in for a regular service (unless it is part of the guarantee) because most French garages will either find bogus faults or do nothing and charge you the earth for changing the washer bottle water! Only go to a garage if you hear an unusual noise or performance is suffering or you are not sure about it.
Check your oil, water, brake fluid and steering fluid levels weekly and top up if too low. You can buy the relevant fluids in supermarkets these days. Check your car manual for fluid requirements, etc. You can also change the oil yourself at the specified interval if you can find the sump nut to drain it out. Change the oil and air filter at the same time (you'll need a special oil filter spanner to unscrew the oil filter unit available in most stores).
A critical component in the car is the timing belt which must be changed according to the cars maker's limit (see your manual) so record your mileage and take it to your garage when you approach this limit. If this breaks, so will your engine!
Monthly check tyres for pressure, wear and any unusual bulges or cuts. You can easily check tyre wear by looking at the small moulded bridges in the tread channel - the tread must be above the bridge (to be legal). After a longish journey, feel the wheel hubs and tyres - they will all be fairly warm but, if one is a lot hotter than the rest, get to the nearest garage or tyre/brake specialist asap.
Battery problems usually show up in the cold wintery mornings when you first start but should recover quickly once the engine is running. If it doesn't then it might be the alternator. A battery will last between 5 to 10 years but you can replace it for around 60 Euros from supermarkets/bricos or take the car to a tyre specialist. Check the polarity before reconnecting (red wire to +, black wire to -). Your alarm system will need resetting if you change it.
This can happen for a number of reasons, e.g. lights left on, broken alternator belt or dodgy battery. It is worth investing in an emergency Starter Unit (30-40 Euros) and Jump Leads to get your car started; it is cheaper than calling out a garage. Your alarm system will need resetting if your battery goes flat. Recharging the flat battery will be necessary to cure the alarm problem. Any of the above equipment will do this if connected correctly for a 5-10 minutes before attempting to start the engine.
Tyres and brakes:
There are several tyre and exhaust specialists (such as Norauto) that also replace brake parts at a competitive rate and often have good offers like 4 tyres for the price of 3. You can also get budget tyres more easily in France now but you need to shop around the tyre specialists. Budget tyres are safe and must pass European standards but may have lower speed and weight limits and will probably wear quicker than a quality Dunlop or Michelin, etc. The tyre specification should be supplied in your operating manual but the tyre fitter will have a details for your car type.Moins cher is cheaper.