Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Insanity of Car Repair Costs

My car is making a lot of noise. It sounds a bit like a Harley D and it's getting worse. I cower before cop cars as I go past them blowing raspberries from below, and take my foot off the accelerator if I possibly can. I've resorted to using the inside air button so as not to be gassed by the fumes en route, end up passing out and having an unpleasantly close encounter with a roadside plane tree.

I enquired about repairs but of course the bit of the exhaust pipe with the hole is the knitted bit that serves as a flexible joint. You can't mastic the knitting. I have to replace the whole first section of the exhaust.

I think we've all heard about the insanity of spare parts costs. They seem to have gone up a lot faster than the cost of living, certainly more than my salary which has been frozen for a couple of years and is set to remain that way. What would you reckon the front bit of the exhaust would cost off the top of your head? This is what it looks like:

€150? It's made by Bosal which is a reputable manufacturer. Well, if you go to Roady it'll cost you €482. Total cost of repair with labour €535. I kid you not.

We tried Feu Vert. Cost of part €350. The same part. Over €100 difference, but still way too expensive for what it is.

Next we turned to the internet. Oscaro is the big name in car parts in France. The only problem is they are not linked to fitters so buying from them is for the keen amateur or for those who know a friendly mechanic, and they are pretty hard to find, believe me. Oscaro's ability to send the right part is also a bit hit and miss so you might end up with your car laid out in little heaps around you and find at the crucial moment that the part they sent is 2mm the wrong size and there's no way it'll fit. Nerves of steel, you need, to use Oscaro.

Well, we are toughies, my TWDB and me, and anyway, taking a look on the website costs nothing does it not? Oscaro's price for this part is €224, instead of, as they say, €468. I'm not sure if that comes with the joints, but it's already a better price.

Then I toddled off to the garage that maintains my car. Not Alfa Romeo because they don't lend cars for free and are on the other side of town, no it's my local garage just down the road. My 'friendly' mechanic... in that he lets me pay in three goes if the price gets hairy. I gulped when he told me the total cost of the repair would be €550, and asked why the part was so expensive when it could be bought on Oscaro for half the price. He then went off into a rant about how okay they have a slight mark-up (slight?) on parts but otherwise they'd be facing ruin, destitution and the poor house... not in so many words, but that was the gist, which I found a bit hard to swallow to be honest. Wouldn't you?

I then took the bull by the horns and asked if he could fit an Oscaro part. He was very grumpy about it (so much for 'friendly'), implied I'd be part of a movement to put garages out of business because of the lack of 'slight' mark-up on parts, but then agreed to do it for €144 cash. For half an hour's work. Hmm.

I was beginning to wonder if I'd ever find the right solution at a price that wouldn't ruin me and stop me putting food on the table for my poor starving children *sob*.

Then my TWDB got sleuthing and came up with another website - Pieces Voitures. I had been getting quite excited at the idea that there was an opportunity for some bright spark to set up a network of garages that were linked to a website, a bit like that which already exists for tyres. You order the tyres, they get sent to the fitter of your choice, you make an appointment and go away happily solvent.

Well, I needn't have worried, Pieces Voitures have already got there. They have a network of fitters all over France. You just have to choose one that's handy to you, order the part, have it sent to the fitter and make an appointment. That famous part of exhaust on PV costs... wait for it... €187! The same Bosal part, and with joints. In my mind, that is what it's worth. It's not worth nearly €500, and I'm not interested in keeping my local mechanic in foreign holidays and vintage wine.

So, guess what I've decided to do. Hmm, tricky...

What I'd like to know is how all these mechanics/garages etc came to same idea that plastering on a massive mark-up was a good idea. I find it totally shocking. It's not a 20% mark-up which one could tolerate, but a 'let's take the piss and fleece the sodding customer to the max' mark-up. They are just asking to be put out of business, and the smart guys who set up the fitting arrangement with the parts provider must be raking it in. I will certainly be using the service more if all goes well with the exhaust pipe replacement. The whole repair will probably cost about €230 and a couple of hours off work.

My kids will be happy that they're not being sent up the chimneys to make ends meet too!