A little automotive history lesson and the perils of Facebook groups

A little automotive history lesson and the perils of Facebook groups

As I approach the milestone age of 50, I occasionally take a moment to reflect upon the past and remember how things have changed over the years. Whilst chatting to a couple of customers in the garage this morning, one of them recalled how he first visited us with his Austin Montego. For those of you too young to remember such classic vehicles, the Montego was a mid-sized saloon or estate car, made by British Leyland from 1984 – 1988 and then the Rover Group from 1988 – 1995. It was a pretty dull kind of vehicle and suffered from all sorts of problems, yet were very popular. You could even buy a ‘sporty’ MG version with a 2.0 Turbo engine that was really fast but for some reason, I recall many seemed to be finished in a delightful shade of brown or beige.

These days, the discerning family man might choose a high-spec, Silver Audi A6 estate but 30 years ago, to have a Moonraker Blue, MG Montego Turbo 2.0 EFi in your driveway (with accompanying patches of oil) was a sure sign of middle-management success. Now, where was I going with this? Ah yes, so I checked back through our database and found that the last time we saw this customer’s Montego was in November 2000 when we’d fitted a new nearside front driveshaft joint and charged him the princely sum of £98.86.

Whilst this particular beauty was last seen by us just 18 years ago, a little further research on our database showed that the last Montego ever to grace our workshop was a beige 1985 model in February 2012 booked in for an MOT. By this time the car in question was 27 years old and when it spluttered its way into the MOT bay, it was perilously close to the end of its life (as I recall was the owner). DVLA records show it hasn’t been MOT’d since 2014 and that the tax was due in Nov 2017 so there’s a fair chance it’s been languishing in a driveway for the last 4 years and I can’t imagine what state it must be in now! That said, like many unremarkable cars from the 1980’s, it’ll probably end up on eBay soon, listed as a ‘barn find’ and with a starting price of £2000.

It’s fair to say that much has changed in our business during the last 18 years. Some of our current customers who were then just becoming parents now have teenagers with cars of their own who are now our customers too. Although this is one (albeit very slow) way to achieve new customers, one of the greatest changes has been the rise of social media, and in particular, Facebook

Since 2004, Facebook has been rapidly changing the way the world communicates. I was a fairly late adopter and managed to resist until the summer of 2007. The year of the UK’s smoking ban meant that many simply stopped going to pubs, where we’d met quite successfully for years. In order to keep up with the mundane activities of my ‘friends’, I decided Facebook was the perfect way to ensure I managed to see what everyone was eating and where they were on their holidays. I now waste a considerable time each day watching amusing videos and commenting on the apparent crispiness of roast potatoes cooked by someone I was at school with in 1987. I also however belong to several ‘Groups’ such as local village chat, car enthusiasts and various others. It is on these ‘local chat’ pages however that I often see posts from members about cars and in particular, when a customer has a fault and needs wants advice. Whilst a post might begin harmlessly enough like this:

I won’t bore you by posting the 65 comments (before the group admin stopped any further people posting), or indeed looking to see who was sufficiently enraged to post an ‘angry emoticon’ but it basically begins with a few people recommending their trusted mechanics, before degenerating into a slanging match, slandering Renaults, other posters and many other garages too. One reply simply stated “All garages try it on” whilst another stated “that’s just extortionate”. So, all these apparent experts, without ever had the benefit of inspecting the car or even knowing exactly which model it is, suddenly have the knowledge to state that the owner is being ripped-off and that the garage is obviously ‘trying it on’.

None of this ‘chat’ actually benefits anybody of course, apart from the ‘keyboard warriors’ that slander every other garage they’ve ever felt ‘wronged’ by. The vehicle owner may feel empowered that so many people took precious seconds to offer their pearls of wisdom, yet the garage that already has the customer’s car, on the ramp with the wheels removed awaiting the customer’s decision has already been subject to judge and jury as to their motives. As it happens, another ‘mechanic’ on the site has offered to do the job for ‘half the price’ and the owner has apparently accepted.

Whether the quote was ‘like for like’ we shall probably never know as all that matters is the shaming of the original garage. There are so many factors that determine the price of a job such as this. Were the parts quoted for of a similar quality. Most suppliers such as Euro Car Parts offer at least 3 qualities of brake discs and pads for each car. Cheaper pads could be £24 whilst a premium brand such as Brembo could be £50 for a set. Genuine Renault pads could easily be £65 a set so maybe, what the customer should’ve done is to ask what parts the garage was going to use and whether they might be able to fit a cheaper brand. We can fit a set of cheap front brake pads to a customer’s car but I know it’ll come back a week later with them squeaking as they’re a poor fit and we’ll have to do them again for free! For that reason, we always quote for the better quality parts but if we have a ‘price sensitive’ customer, we’re generally able to offer a cheaper alternative.

It’s for this reason that I rarely ever post on these chat groups, instead preferring that our customers find us from our reviews and reputation (or from those of their parents!). I’ll always be happy to provide a ‘like for like’ quote for any customer, or offer a second opinion on another garage’s diagnosis as in many cases, the car may well not need anything at all.

So, although we do have a Facebook page that we post on regularly, and I’ll always reply quickly to any messages or enquiries I receive through it, my main use of Facebook shall remain to check the ‘Relationship Status’ of friends going through a difficult marital phase, to post photos of an occasional restaurant meal or amusing registration plate I spotted in traffic.

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