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Backstreet garages, writing on the wall?


Timewaster
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I was reading the Ecoboost thread in the ask forum, it was asked if a borked one was worth a punt? 

Seems they are not economically repairable and it also came to light that no one is willing to quote for any sort of rebuild work these days. 

@sierraman mentioned a local backstreet garage who are reluctant to take anything on other than simplest quickfit jobs.

I have read other stories which are very similar, Local garages either unable or unwilling to  take on big or tricky jobs. 

Has any one else seen this?

Surely independent garages need to keep up to date with modern stuff or they will die? 

They can't all call themselves classic specialists and carry on tinkering with strobe lights and grease guns. 

Are they going to be the next businesses to disappear like TV repair shops and greengrocers? 

Will a new generation of EV specialists appear?  Time will tell if there will be a need or market for them. 

My local does still take on all sorts of stuff, engine out jobs, head rebuilds, DPF problems as well as all the servicing and mot work. They are booked out busy for months. 

But they won't touch a thing hybrid or electric. At all.

The owner says he is not interested in EVs and believes that by the time this has an impact on his business he will be ready to retire so doesn't care. 

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The reality is that most independent, local garages do basic services and MOT prep work.  Labour/ramp time kills off anything else and the recent covid closures (garages didn't have to close so didn't get covid support grants) has polished off a few who couldn't survive on fresh air.

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2 minutes ago, JimH said:

The death of the BSG was first predicted in the late 60s because cars were becoming too complicated. 

They will be just fine. They will change and perhaps the greasier end of the market may go but I reckon they will be just fine. 

Agreed. Fuel injection was supposed to end back street garages in the 80s too. The industry will adapt but some will fall by the wayside. Tis the way of things

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My friendly local BSG is a Land Rover specialist, so he's never short of work. There's usually 2 or 3 discovery 3's on the ramps in pieces and various range rovers kicking about.

He's just got 2 of the lads trained in ev and hybrid tech, mainly for Mot purposes. Reckons that they'll have enough JLR shite on the go to keep them in the oily end of the business for a few years yet!

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I think like good ones run by people with a bit of nous will continue to evolve and thrive.  The ones that are not so good or not interested will fail or retire.

In general terms though electric cars need a lot less maintenance; the mechanical parts are simple and robust, the electronics are no more complex than modern ICEs.  There's still tyres and brake work but the overall demand for maintenance will drop in the next decade or two I think.

Which is also a problem for non-prestige manufacturers who don't make much margin on selling cars, the profit comes from parts and maintenance.

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Anything that might be a ball ache or take time tends to be turned away. My friend took a defender to the garage that messed us about with the vectra - the defender needed a head gasket replacement. They agreed to look at it but left it outside for a week. He had it recovered elsewhere.

It's a mix of things - cars are a pain to work on. Getting parts from the EU if they are not in stock holds things up. Having something on a ramp that turns into an utter ball ache means the ramp may not be used until the job is finished. Simple jobs that pay ok and have a quick turnaround are preferred to something that can become a 'mare. I think as well a lot in the trade simply do not have the skill sets to keep up any more.

It's no surprise people want new or nearly new cars.

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From a business perspective, I can see why doing disks and pads or oil and filter changes 6 times a day on modernish cars might seem more appealing than dragging the clutch and associated farting strings out of an end of life phase 1 Multipla or summat. More cars on the lift, more money you're making. 

Not having a dig at Multiplas or owt, I can just see that a lot of folk want an easy life. Or as easy as possible. 

 

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If you were a garage proprietor and you, as they do at the moment, have a pick of what work you’d want to do you would pick these straightforward jobs, timing belts, service, brakes etc etc. You wouldn’t be entertaining the following...

Welding up 15 year old cars - financially it’s not worth it if you factor in the time required plus everyone knows Wally the Weld from down the pub that can weld sills on for £15 and think you’d do the same. 

Fucked engines - replacing the engine in anything is expensive and it involves other big ticket jobs along the way like the clutch and fluids. Plus finding anywhere reputable that sells recon engines as opposed to ‘repainted engines’ is difficult. 

People sourcing their own parts - its part and parcel that the garage might make 20% or whatever on the parts. So the customer gets some crap fake Mintex discs of eBay for them to fit to keep the price down that either don’t fit or are counterfeit.

Enthusiasts - Seen what an easy job it is on YouTube and want to stand over your shoulders watching you and telling them how to do it.

Its only natural any given garage can’t be arsed with the above and stick to those jobs that take maybe hour and a half but budget the customer for 2 hours. That said with the boot on the other foot there’s a number of garages that haven’t kept with the times because of retirement or cost of diagnostic equipment etc. That’s the outfit down the road from me.

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1 hour ago, cort1977 said:

I think like good ones run by people with a bit of nous will continue to evolve and thrive.  The ones that are not so good or not interested will fail or retire.

In general terms though electric cars need a lot less maintenance; the mechanical parts are simple and robust, the electronics are no more complex than modern ICEs.  There's still tyres and brake work but the overall demand for maintenance will drop in the next decade or two I think.

Which is also a problem for non-prestige manufacturers who don't make much margin on selling cars, the profit comes from parts and maintenance.

This. I have a few I use, and one of them has a nice Snap-On diagnostic tool that does a lot of cars. He's very friendly and helpful/encouraging to driveway fiddlers too. A lot of the favours he does I pay for in chocolate and beer slabs. 

Another garage I used to use couldn't correctly diagnose a Rennow Espace airbag fault I had. They said airbag itself was faulty, my £90 tool said side impact sensor was faulty. Mine was right and I've not been back since. I've a feeling they will struggle as things get more complex. Or, alternatively they will survive on the oil & filter easy service jobs. Ours is a small town and I imagine they have loyal customers. 

Increasingly I get frustrated with garages unable or unwilling to do the job I want (often fitting parts I've already bought so no mark up) and that's why I do 90% of stuff myself now. 

Just a few weeks ago I asked my 'friendly' MoT tester to retest a Saab after I'd fixed the brake and number plate issues he'd failed it on before. I was outside of the 10 day free retest window but I was still pissed off he'd charged me £20 for two indicator bulbs that he'd decided weren't orange enough (but passed 3 weeks earlier).

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Re: EVs. There are a few specialists and there will be many more. It was the same first with 'foreign' makes and later with fuel injection. A new technology that required specialist knowledge. 

In some ways EVs are simpler to repair but the risk of shock is real and needs to be taken seriously. This means investing in special plastic coated tooling, and lots of PPE. Repair prices will reflect this investment plus the cost of 3-day courses required for techs. Another factor that increases cost is that for instances of 'live' working (opening a battery) a 2nd tech is required to watch and be ready with a broom handle to poke the 1st tech out of trouble if he gets shocked. Once the cells are isolated it's just a collection of low voltage batteries that don't require much specialist attention. 

All of this will get simpler and more accessible as time moves on, just like it did for fuel injection and ABS brakes.

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I've never had to take a car into a garage for anything particularly significant and I dread having to ever try.

I got an exhaust flex section replaced last year. I knew it was only a few years since the previous owner replaced it and the car is prone to blowing these out so was hoping somebody would just cut out and replace the flexi bit itself like everybody in the internet suggests you can. Of course all three garages I called insisted they would only replace the entire front section. This is how I expect all garage visits to go.

This is also my almost universal experience of any other 'retail' area. You do your research on what you need and get the impression that you can get something specific, but in reality this is not available or you're treated like some kind of alien for requesting it.

I had a slightly misaligned front disc brake mount on a bicycle once and no bike shop would attempt to fix it, even the very well respected one near my work which has a whole separate building for repairs (and is a dealer of my make of bike). Ended up fitting a shim off ebay and it's been fine for the past decade.

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1 hour ago, Kiltox said:

EV specialists are already appearing. Cleevely EV in Cheltenham one of the best known but there’s others. https://www.hevra.org.uk

 

My friend Pete set up HEVRA specifically to train BSGs in EV / Hybrid tech after training and working in independent garages, and then getting specific oscilloscope qualifications and setting up his own specialist diagnostics company, (which itself ended up doing diagnostics for Vauxhall’s commercial arm). He also made some sort of diesel injector extraction tool IIRC.

He did all that before he turned 30, the absolute bastard. 

 

 

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Fairly sure that the role of a traditional mechanic is more and more at the brink of extinction. Cars are increasingly becoming throwaway goods and their complexity (at least before it all turns into EVs) is absolutely impossible to grasp for a single individual over such a broad range of models. We are already at a point in time where only specialists are capable of doing certain work on certain cars (at least without screwing up in one way or another, which absolutely seems to be the norm with very few exceptions).

There's always going to be those specialists. I wouldn't count on any normal garage swapping or rebuilding an engine for you though. Most of them can't even install control arms following the manufacturers procedure.

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I think the modern car is just too diverse for one garage to specialize in everything so there will be more brand etc specialists. 

In the case of the ecoboost it may not be the case if new engines are viably priced from Ford, but if they weren't you can bet there would be an operation or 2 rebuilding the unrebuildable.

For a general backstreet garage they cannot afford the time to become an expert in everything but I see the future still having plenty of independant garages but they will be eg: the EV place, the hybrid battery place, the rebuilding ecoboost place, the deleting the evidence that you remapped your leased Fiesta ST place, etc.

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WX wife had a Focus eco boost explode terminally...£1500 for bare bones lump with her good ancillaries thrown at it..Garage she bought it from reckoned a complete rebuild would have been £5K+ , think she paid £4995 for the car 12 months ago!!

how long before vehicles become disposable???

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EVs aren't magic or mysterious, there's plenty enough people reverse engineering them and doing motor and battery transplants etc.

The days where you can run a garage with a set of spanners and hammers are gone, and a different set of skills and tools are required. 

I see so much innovation in the aftermarket  - Main dealers aren't miracle workers, they just do the same stuff often and by no means do they have the best staff. 

Small garages will go on for many years to come, but will have to just get with the times to survive. Most of the old guard will close up shop, and I don't blame them - the job has changed.

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One man band (who was next door to my old unit) would take on pretty much any job.

He seems to shy away from welding these days, but is doing booming business in buying and stripping certain models of land rover (Freelanders and early L322)

Gearboxes get sent out, full engine refurbishment also gets catered for elsewhere, but head gaskets, timing belts etc, he'll do. Even seen him do complete engine swaps - BUT quite cleverly he'll buy a donor car (all paid for via customer) to ensure the engine is good, and then make even more money stripping parts.

Others tend to stick to one thing, just MOTs or engine / gearbox work.

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My experience of independents is similar to those above.

It's not just garages though, most local types of tradesmen want you to have what is most simple for them to fit. They're not interested in being creative and the ones that I have experience with who are prepared to go the extra mile become very successful and then don't want the smaller jobs any more.

In terms of engine swaps, the only way I got one carried out was to do it myself. In terms of welding, again, no garages near me really want to do it, so I bought my own equipment and learned. I appreciate that not everyone will have the same facilities to hand though.

I have a good garage to go to for jobs such as balljoints and exhausts, stuff I can't be arsed with scrabbling around on the ground for, but if a head gasket goes, I'll just need to tinker away a wee bit each week to get through it.

I have never had a good experience with a main dealer but if electric cars become accessible, I would consider one on a buy and forget about it basis.

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I delivered to a wide selection of garages as part of my job for many years. This year I've been doing it again quite a bit, and I've noticed that a lot of the old customers have gone. Being in London, a lot of the sites were valuable, so they are now blocks of flats or gentrified into "posher" businesses.  

I think that a lot of the points above are right, times change and the demand for old school garages will decline, but there will be newer businesses coming in to work on electric cars. They will still need tyres and brakes, bodywork and maintenance, it's just different technology.  I think that some garages have always just picked the "easy" jobs because if you have a queue wanting brakes or services, why are you going to bother with the labour intensive, low profit jobs?   That said, it will make those that do those jobs more needed and hopefully keep them going. 

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EVs aren't magic or mysterious, there's plenty enough people reverse engineering them and doing motor and battery transplants etc.
The days where you can run a garage with a set of spanners and hammers are gone, and a different set of skills and tools are required. 
I see so much innovation in the aftermarket  - Main dealers aren't miracle workers, they just do the same stuff often and by no means do they have the best staff. 
Small garages will go on for many years to come, but will have to just get with the times to survive. Most of the old guard will close up shop, and I don't blame them - the job has changed.

Agreed nothing magical ,but plenty of reports of Tesla blocking 3rd party repairs using their superchargers , I know right to repair should allow for this but it doesn’t mean the manufacture has to do it for free ,so well within their rights to sell software equipment for many thousands££. My 1st car was a Renault 5 that was 6 years old and was ready for the scrap. Manufacturing needs to sell so have no incentive to make something last ,although the body lasts longer now something else gives , DPF , Cats , fuel pumps , ecus , abs units ,all expensive bits just wait a few years and everybody is going to be moaning at battery replacement , heat pumps , fancy lcd screens , electronic modules prices . Or if Elon is pissed off he just won’t let you into your car


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My local back street garage (literally 50 yards down the road) has retrained to do work on electric vehicles. Quite dangerous apparently as you have to power them down properly and the voltages involved can be lethal if you bugger about with them.

I suppose it is like airbags though which have been kicking about for 30 years, you just give the bits you don't know about a wide berth. 

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2 hours ago, barefoot said:

Garages with black, oily floors & piles of stacked crap will disappear faster than cleaner, better organised examples.

You've been to the place I used to go then 🤣

He's gone , had enough of dealing with people that wanted a days work for £150 then begrudgingly paid the bill , sometimes not 

He would do anything though , replace £15 bearings with a press rather than buy a £150 part with it already fitted , clutches , take gearboxes apart , he was what I'd call a mechanic rather than the fitters main dealers seem to employ.

Repairing old cars quickly becomes unviable at £60 an hour + vat 

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I’m serving my apprenticeship in my dad’s/grandad’s/great-grandad’s garage, it’s certainly not a dying trade, but one that’s diversifying.

We’ve done work to a variety of hybrid and electric vehicles from Teslas to BMWs , Nissans and Toyotas. There’s still work to do to them. At the end of the day, parts will always wear out and people will break them.

That being said, we’ve not entirely stood still. The vast majority of our work is servicing and repairs on nearly new (in and just out of warranty) vehicles, we’ve been able to get ourselves into this market over a long number of years but as a result there’s a fairly high turnover of vehicles. We’ve recently upgraded our MOT testing capabilities as this area of the industry isn’t expected to change as much as the servicing and repair side, and we’ve taken to doing more motor homes and commercials.

It’s going to change, but as my granddad says, “it’s always been changing”.

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