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Mechanic woes: Car parts switching a reality in SA

2016-10-12 07:00

MARK YOUR PARTS: In order to ensure that older parts are not fitted to your car, make sure that items such as the battery, tools, jack and spare wheel are marked on the 'job card' and booking sheet by your workshop. Image: iStock

Johannesburg - 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 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).

'Ít'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.

"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."

Have you been the victim of parts-switching or theft at a workshop? Have you experienced unscrupulous behaviour from mechanics? Email us or get in touch via Facebook and Twitter.

Looking at the battery switch example, Mc Master explains that customers need to understand that there may be times when a vehicle has been in the workshop for a while and the lights or other power consumables have been left on. In such cases, the battery can discharge.

He said: "This, on an old battery, causes the regeneration of the charge state to fail and the battery has to be replaced. The workshop will then contact the customer to replace the battery."

Guarding against theft, vandalism

So how do car owners guard against this threat? Should they be marking items that could be stolen in their vehicles? Mc Master says doing this secretly, affects the trust between the customer and the business and could tarnish the relationship. 

He suggests that when booking the vehicle into the workshop for a service or repairs, have it mentioned on the job card and booking-in sheet that the battery, tools, jack and spare wheel are marked for your and the workshop’s benefit.

READ: Vehicle maintenance in SA - 7 essential checks

He said: “Being upfront about it does no harm."

He adds that it is also essential to remove all valuables and loose items from the vehicle such as cell phone car chargers and the like.

“We’ve found, on many occasions, valuables in cars and I’m talking about Rolex watches, large sums of money in plastic bags, rings and so on. Remove the temptation,” he says. 

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Use accredited workshops

The best way, however, to guard against part switching is to use a reputable and 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 accrediting body. MIWA, for example, has an Ethics committee that deals with workshops that are suspected of fraudulent activity. Customers have a go-to channel with complaints and can be assured of a resolution.”

READ: Battery maintenance vital for your vehicle's operation

If you find yourself in the situation where you feel a part has been switched without your consent, Mc Master says it’s important to speak up immediately so that the workshop owner knows and understands your concerns.

He said: “In many instances the issue can be resolved through a frank discussion. If found to be substantiated, lay a criminal charge or insist that the owner does. Either way the perpetrator must be brought to book.”

Here are a 6 tips for choosing a mechanic:

1. Ensure that the mechanic is a specialist in a certain brand of vehicle. He/She will be up-to-date with the latest developments and changes on that vehicle brand. 

2. Take the time to explore the workshop and, in particular, look at the tools and equipment, the functionality and general appearance of the workplace. 

3. Ask questions on the type of parts generally used and the staff’s experience (certificates)

4. Look for detailed invoicing procedures. Are the parts individually stated on the invoice with the labour pertaining to that part?

5. Ask questions about past repairs successfully done and compare your diagnosis to that repair.

6. Search for a workshop that has been accredited by a reputable association such as MIWA. This will ensure you are dealing with a workshop that has been assessed and certified and there is recourse should you not be satisfied with the work carried out.


Have you been the victim of parts-switching or theft at a workshop? Have you experienced unscrupulous behaviour from mechanics?Email us or get in touch via Facebook and Twitter.

Disgruntled reader's response:

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.

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.

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