Cape Town - Here's a car-repair scenario that is all too common in South Africa: You've booked your car in for a service only to have your battery stop working a few days later.
You're convinced your car's battery was switched for an older, inferior version during the service but you have no no proof this occurred.
Sound familiar? Sadly, many unscrupulous mechanics and workshops are active in SA, according to the Motor Industry Workshop Association (MIWA).
'It's a criminal act'
Les Mc Master, chairman of the Miwa, says this complaint crops up from time to time and for the large part is a perception.
He said: "Repeat business is essential for repair workshops so breaking a customer’s trust through switching parts doesn’t make good business sense, besides the fact that it is a criminal act.
READ: Mechanic woes - Car parts switching a reality in SA
"Having said that, there have been instances where workers have stolen or exchanged parts in workshops without the owner or management’s knowledge. This is punishable with summary dismissal and charges of theft."
We asked readers whether they trust mechanic workshops in South Africa. Our homepage poll garnered 21 698 votes.
The majority of respondents (37%, 8059 votes) said that a few bad apples ruin it for the rest.
Sadly, 35% (7689) said they do not trust any mechanic workshop, 18% (3956) said they 'sometimes receive good service', while only 9% (1994) said they 'have had great experiences with workshops in SA'.Les Mc Master, MIWA chairman, says:
"It's clear from the comments received that the best way to guard against part switching is to use a reputable and accredited workshop. We highly recommend using a Miwa accredited workshop.
"Using an accredited workshop means, firstly, that balances and checks are in place to ensure a level of customer service is adhered to. Secondly, it means that the workshop can and will be held accountable by the Miwa’s ethics committee. You then have a go-to channel with your complaints and can be assured of a resolution."
Disgruntled readers respond:
Hennie Groenewald: A few weeks back my wife was in a minor accident, with her vehicle sustaining rear damage. Because of the damage being close to the fuel tank, we opted to have the vehicle towed.
We requested the tow truck driver to take the vehicle to our preferred workshop, but he decided to take the vehicle to another repairer - we subsequently figured out they were contracted with them. It took us 10 days to have the vehicle released from them and delivered to our preferred repairer.
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When we collected the vehicle following the repairs, our headlights were not working. No work had to be done on the front of the vehicle, so we thought that maybe a fuse had blown, or some electrical fault. At closer inspection, it was identified that the headlights (globes) were stolen! This is no easy task, as the ENTIRE front bumper must be removed, then the headlights and then only can the globes be taken out. Luckily the panel beaters replaced this, and reported the theft to our insurer.
Kevin Ruiters: This is a list of my experiences:
1. Volkswagen Polo taken in to fix a broken clutch cable and had to be left over a weekend. On receiving the car back and driving it I came to a stop street and pushed the brakes - with almost zero effect. I had to stomp on it and pump to get it working - with loud metallic squeals. On examining the pads I discovered that its had been swapped for useless, dangerous rubbish. This was at Volkswagen Claremont, Cape Town.
2. I took a Opel Astra in for a service and check for noise on starting. Because the noise was only on start-up, I had to leave the vehicle overnight. After that the alternator gave me problems. I also noted that about two hundred kilometres had been added to the speedometer and the car was sluggish and later had to have it's cam replaced. Thorp Delta, Claremont, now gone.
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3. I had a Honda Civic that had a ruined tyre with flat spots but didn't know it at the time I was complaining about the car riding unevenly. So one day I took it in for checking and had the strange experience of no paperwork being done or issued or signed. Afterwards I discovered at home that my whole leather seat covers had been replaced with some older cracked version. It was not immediately obvious in the dark interior of the workshop, but it was confirmed by my girlfriend who was very used to the appearance of the car. This was Honda in Strand street Cape Town, now moved to the Foreshore.
4. I have a VW Golf (yes, again, after the rubbish in 1. above). After repeatedly complaining about the way the re-start worked and also about the DSG gearbox I had it checked out. Later on I discovered a bad smell coming from the vents no matter what I did. Turns out that they'd swapped the pollen filter with one that was absolutely filthy, full of rubbish, old leaves and general gunk. VW Culemborg, Foreshore.
Nico Badenhorst: I collected my Jeep Wrangler from Jeep Bryanston after having it serviced and the brake disk pads replaced. On my way to my office the brake caliper came loose and destroyed the right rear rim and tyre. The vehicle braked suddenly with a banging noise and came to a standstill in the wrong side of the road at a traffic intersection. Luckily it happened in town and not on the highway.
Imagine what could have happened if I was driving on a main road or highway!
Motlatsi Moletsane: I bought a Volkswagen Jetta 5 in 2006. I always serviced it at accredited dealers. In 2010 it so happened that two months after being serviced, the car gave me an oil-pressure warning.
The dealer where I bought it from gave me two quotations:
1. R22 000 if the bearings were faulty
2. R7 000 for a faulty oil pump
I later took the car to a nearby accredited German vehicles workshop who insisted on servicing my car from scratch. I was shocked to learn from the diagnostic report that my vehicle skipped three 15 000km service intervals consecutively! Meaning that the vehicle was never serviced during those periods but the service-warning buzz was reset without the work being actually carried out.
This probably occurred immediately after the service plan expired.
Shane Demmer: I’ve had my wipers swapped in the past and only realised two weeks later when it started to rain that it wasn't replaced. It cost me R400 from the agents to have the wiper blades replaced.
I bought my 2009 Ford Fiesta new, but just before the 40 000km-mark the steering develop a nocking sound. I booked the car for a service and informed the service team of the problem.
READ: Do you trust your mechanic in SA? More than 5000 say 'NO'
On collection of the vehicle they said that they had order a steering rack as it was still under warranty. A week later the car was booked for the replacement. They contacted me to say that it didn’t need replacement, and that the steering rack ran dry. They re-greased and all was well, but now at 92 000km the knock has resurfaced.
Mrs. V. Naidoo: I had just purchased my Nissan Almera and taken it to Nissan Umhlanga at Gateway for the compulsory service.
My vechicle was in perfect working condition. At about midday I was informed that there was a problem with my starter. They wanted to change it. I told the workshop manager that was strange as I never had a problem with starting the car. I told them not to do anything.
I called my husband. He then called Nissan and told them he will personally come to check it as he is an engineer. He specifically forbade them to remove it.
Lo and behold when he arrived 15 minutes later the mechanic was in the process of placing my starter on the floor. He then asked for jumper cables and asked them to start the engine. Wonder of wonders: the engine turned immediately. Nissan apologised profusely. I don't trust any dealership anymore.
Mahlasela: I sent my car for major repairs at Kens Auto Clinic Kyalami (Johannesburg) on August 10. For nearly a month, I was contacted to come collect my car - which I did. To my surprise, the engine cover was without clips.
l complained to the workshop owner who in turn justified this as act of negligence on his staff.
My headache was not to end there, as I also found that the oil stick was forced in to an extent that I could not manage to check the oil available. Even the petrol attendants elaborated it was the first time they experienced such acts of incompetence.
I contacted the car owner who requested I tow the car back to his workshop. After nearly one and a half months without a car, my car was taken to another workshop where I was quoted the very same tasks assigned to previous workshop owner which showed that my car was in fact not fixed.
I paid for the sensor which they broke while test driving my car - according to them. Very frustrated and dissatisfied with the way they conduct unfaithful business. The total amount paid was R32000, but without service excellence.
This is day light robbery!
Mervyn Rademeyer: So true! In this year my car went in for a service. A day later a friend of mine picked up four of my mags nuts swapped with rusted nuts. Last year my dad's Toyota had 90% tread on his tyres, but was swapped for 30% thread tyres. When he complained they said they made a mistake and bought him new ones.
David Barkhuisen: I've been through an incident with Subaru Centurion a few months back. I did complain directly to them and received a message stating they will look into it and that was the last I heard.
Basically this is what happened:
I took the car for service and they said that the timing chain/belt was worn and needed to be replaced immediately. I could not afford it at that stage, but decided to put some money aside and do it the following service.
The following service they warned me that the rear shock was worn. They didn't even mention the timing chain/belt at all; saying that everything else was fine. I brought the car home and two days later the shock started leaking oil onto the floor. I took the car to an aftermarket suspension place for new rear shocks at less than half the price of the Subaru quote.
The car was then serviced a third time with no mention of the timing belt again. So either it wasn't worn and they were hoping to sell parts I didn't need, or they don't even check the things they claim to have checked.
READ: Tips for dealing with your mechanic
I needed a spare key and was quoted R3000. So I ordered it seeing as it was needed. Upon collection they forgot to tell me that it is another R300 to cut the key and R650 to program the remote. I took the key to a locksmith who cut it for R25, and eventually at the next service - where they again forgot there was an issue with timing belt - I got it programmed. But the remote programming cost me R300 and not R650...
I have given all details to Subaru South Africa with no real useful response and have since sold the car because of the lack of dealer support.
Anonymous: I took my car, a Dodge Journey, in to Cornwright Motors to repair damage on the back door.
When I came to collect the repaired car, my Dodge didn't start and I was told its because it was stationery for a week. I needed the vehicle for a trip and was told the battery will be back to normal after about 100km.
When I got home after the trip I noticed the cover inside on the front wheel was missing and the battery was still giving us problems. It is then when I realised that where the cover was, is where the battery is located and all the battery fasteners were loose.
I then went back to Cornwright Motors and stated that I have no proof as I didn't check the vehicle on collection and I would not be able to prove it anyhow, but told them I didn't want anything from them just to let them know that they have a theft problem.
I was told I must not make accusations if I couldn't prove them and what is it that I expected from them without proof.
I said I'm sure they have cameras around and they would be able to check who worked on the car on the front when it was damaged at the back. They said without any proof, they cannot do anything and my complaint was mute. I left and have never taken my cars back there.
I now take cellphone pictures of my batteries when taking the car in for anything.
Theft is real.
Gerrie van Zyl: My friend took her car to a motor repair shop which I referred. The issue was a slipping starter motor which had to be replaced. Job was done and she received the vehicle back, but now there was a screeching sound every-time she started the car. The workshop mechanic stated the ring gear was damaged hence the noise, but I didn't agree.
So on the next service done by someone else she's always been going to, she asked them to check the ring gear, I know it's a big job with bell housing etc. to be removed. The mechanic phoned her and stated there's nothing wrong with the ring gear, the issue was that a wrong starter motor had been installed. He replaced with the correct starter motor and all fine now.
Problem is it's a few month's later and the first job is out of warranty where they installed the wrong starter motor.
Joe Jansen: Years ago, while my 2007 Mazda Drifter was still under warranty I took it to a “reputable” Ford dealer in Edwin Swales Drive, Durban. The vehicle had a full tank of fuel. Upon collection that afternoon, I drove off, and only on the way home noticed that the fuel gauge had gone down by almost a quarter tank.
By this time it was too late to turn around, so I left it at that.
When the next service came due, I filled up again at the BP service station in Edwin Swales drive - the same street as the dealership - at about 6.30am. From there to my work and then back again at 8am, when the dealer opened, is a round trip of less than ten kilometres.
Upon collection that afternoon I again checked the fuel gauge, and it was down by almost a quarter of a tank. The kilometre reading on my odometer matched the reading recorded on the job card, meaning that the vehicle had not been driven any distance, or if driven, the speedometer had been disconnected.
Keeping in mind that, if I have the tank filled right into the neck, which I habitually do, it takes about 135km of city driving before the needle even drops to the FULL mark. This was decidedly suspicious.
I went back inside and raised this with the service person behind the counter, showing him my receipt for the fuel with the kilometre reading and time recorded.
I was given a flat denial, and he refused to even entertain any more discussion on the subject. The best answer I could get was that it was a dismissible offence should an employee get caught draining fuel from a customer’s vehicle
At great inconvenience to myself, I opted to have my vehicle serviced in Pinetown and the issue never surfaced at my new service station.
This was years ago and obviously I do not expect any action on this.
I also have it on hearsay from a colleague at the time, that he had marked the air cleaner, oil filter and spark plugs on his vehicle (Ford Bantam) before a service, and after settling the account confronted the service manager, who he happened to know personally, with the fact that the same consumables were still in the vehicle. I believe that in this case the mechanic was dismissed.
Just one for the records.
Metse Joskah Machaka: I'm residing in Pretoria and on March 10, 2016, I took my car to a workshop in Pretoria West to be checked why it is not pulling the way it should. I was told that one of the spark cable was broken due to rain. I was then told to buy four spark cables; which I did.
They took my car inside the workshop and fixed the problem. After finishing, they gave me the key and said it's fine. When I reversed the car caught fire in front of them. They used the fire extinguishers to get the fire under control. I was so scared and disappointed. The owner told me it's OK as they will try everything in their power to fix it.
Three wreaks down the line, I received my car and all was not fine with it. I informed the workshop owner about it and he told me I must keep on driving it until it is fine. I was then ordered to buy more parts on my own as he (the owner) told me that this car is becoming expensive .
Even by buying those parts, mostly (censors), he refuse to deal with the problem and told me he's got lot of cars to deal with. Sometimes in front of me, he will strip off parts from other cars from his workshop and put it to my car and when warning him about that he will say do I want my car fixed or not.
I'm writing this mail with heart broken as my car is still not fixed and it affected me and my family so badly as I also use it to transport my children to school and it's been eight months. I also have the pictures of that car from the day it was burned from Gail Motor services in Pretoria West. I also have bunch of witnesses.
Calvin Makgitla: I took my car in for repairs and on the day I collected it my car had new faults.
I took my car for service at Volkswagen Hatfield and a week later my engine light goes on. I took it back and they told me it could be anything so they have to run test of entire car to find out what is wrong. And since the car did that while in my position I did not complain.
They told me the problem was with my timing belt .
After two weeks of my car being there, it took another week for them to fix my car and on invoice it says six hours was spent on my car. Don’t know whether my car was worked on when they had nothing better to do or when they walked by it and only then recall they have a customer who is waiting for their car.
On the day I fetched my car, I notice my steering wheel buttons are no longer working, including the hooter. All of which were working just fine before the unpleasantness.
I asked the technician why the buttons are not working and he told me there is something wrong with my battery. I left the dealership to test drive my car to see if was fixed and realised my cruise control is also not working. And since he said there is something wrong with my battery I had it tested at an independent company and was told that the battery is working just fine.
I took the car back because clearly VW Hatfield broke/damaged something while it was there and there manager said “they are not liable for the damage even if it happened in they are possession. The components could have been broken a week / month / year its just unfortunate that is now while it’s with them“
Now they want me to pay for the damages that they caused.