All-in French garage service price a costly surprise

26 March 2020
By Nick Inman

A garage customer was perplexed recently when he was handed an “excessive” bill for servicing his car.

The local garage, recently affiliated to the national AD network, asked him to pay an unitemised forfait (all-in) price, even though he had not requested this.

The customer thought a fair price for a “révision générale” in provincial France should be no more than €200, including tax. He was charged €263.50.

There are two potential problems for the customer who is asked to pay a forfait instead of being charged in an itemised way.

The first is that not everything that needs doing might be covered by the forfait.

In this case, the customer, a Connexion reporter, had to pay an additional charge for replacing the brake pads.

That section of the bill was charged in the normal way, divided into parts and the time taken, and this caused him to realise the other problem with the forfait price: it might bear no relation to the reality of the work done.

He had waited for his car to be serviced, so he knew exactly how long the job had taken – one hour and 40 minutes.

He was charged 42 minutes’ labour for replacing the brake pads at €70/hour, which meant the service took no longer than 52 minutes – perhaps less.

Under the forfait price, all the garage had done was change the oil and replace four filters.

He looked up the price of the filters on the internet and the retail cost came to under €100.

A garage would certainly get them cheaper.

Add the time taken to service the car (52 minutes @ €70/hour = about €60) and the cost of the service should have been no more than €160 (with tax included).

The customer asked the owner of the garage to justify his price.

The owner said that “another customer’s car might take two or three hours to service, so he will be happy with the fixed forfait price”.

That means that a cautious driver who services his car regularly and does few kilometres is expected to subsidise a more profligate driver.

He did not deny that the time taken was only 52 minutes and he refused to supply details of the cost of the filters so the customer could calculate the true cost of the work.

“But look,” added the owner, “I have even given you a discount of €15.”

The customer pointed out that a discount could just mean the price had been artificially inflated and “generously” brought down again without the business losing any profit.

Connexion tried to contact AD central office about its policy of forfaits and remises (discounts), which make its charging system confusing.

Thierry Cantan, who teaches sales and negotiation at Toulouse Paul Sabatier University, said there are two ways to look at forfaits.

He said: “Businesses charge a forfait to their customers because it is the most practical thing to do, but it is always more expensive to the customer than all other solutions – and much more profitable for the business. 

“For customers, a forfait is a precise amount without any surprise and for this reason they are often okay with it.”

The best advice seems to be to check before you leave your car with a garage belonging to a national network such as AD.

Make sure the forfait price is reasonable, even if there is only minimal work to be done.

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