Garage labour rates: ‘shop around’ states What Car?

What Car? is advising drivers to shop around for the cheapest workshop if they are struggling with repair bills, after a survey found large variations in garage labour rates across the UK. 

However, the publication fails to highlight the issues affecting the independent aftermarket at the moment, and while it does advise that servicing is important, the article could lead to false impressions of the industry. 

(Naturally) varying rates

The magazine asked 279 workshops, all members of the Independent Garage Association (IGA) and listed on the Trust My Garage website, for their hourly garage labour rates. It then looked at prices by postcode, obtaining at least three prices for 105 different areas, with some grouped together to create a sample size of three garages per location.

The research showed that average garage labour rates are around £76 per hour, but many charge less than this. Across the UK, there is a difference of £94 between the cheapest and most expensive areas. 

Huddersfield, in West Yorkshire, is the cheapest place for servicing, with an hourly rate of just £47. That’s just a third of the price charged in South-West London, which, at £141 an hour, has the highest garage labour rate in the UK.

Huddersfield’s prices are also £31 an hour lower than garages in Leeds and Oldham, both of which charge an average rate of £78. 

Are cheaper garage labour rates better?

What Car? surmises that drivers in the two areas would save money by travelling out to Huddersfield for their servicing. It also states that vehicle owners in south-west London could make even greater savings by travelling just a short distance to Kingston-upon-Thames in Surrey, where the average labour rate is £74, meaning they could almost halve the amount they pay for labour. 

The magazine also asked all the garages how much they would charge for a full service for a 2009 Volkswagen Golf 1.6 TDI diesel with 110,000 miles on the clock. The most expensive quotes – each of £480 – came from two garages in Twickenham and west London, while the cheapest came from a garage in Edinburgh that would charge £108 for the same service. It surmises that while it would be a long way to travel, it is best to shop around.

Or is it? The magazine does not make clear the reasons as to why garage labour rates may be higher, and is instead aimed at the consumer with the front of offering ‘advice’. Yet the garage industry is also struggling with the current cost-of-living crisis, with staff wages needing to increase, energy costs spiralling, and the need to invest in more complex diagnostic equipment and training.

Garages in London may charge more, but this is because it is more expensive to live there. Shopping around in your local area might be convenient, but supporting local businesses should be a priority, especially when it comes to car servicing. This is something the What Car? article fails to articulate. 

It is left to sister publication, Autocar, to pick up these thoughts. Speaking to it, Andy Savva, The Garage Inspector, commented: “On average it costs around £60 per hour just to operate a typical garage with all its running and fixed costs. To pay it, labour is all they have. Aside from parts, it is all they sell, and they should value it. If they do not, they will lose money, and their premises, facilities, and the quality of the staff they employ will deteriorate, at which point customers will ask why they should spend their money with them.

“The single biggest mistake is to align the hourly garage labour rates with local rivals – this despite their very different costs, skills and facilities.”

What Car? does state that vehicle servicing is important and can save money in the long term by maintaining the health of a car, but articles such as this can stoke the fires around the poor perceptions of the independent aftermarket. Garage labour rates are an important backbone of businesses and transparency around it builds trust. 

Therefore, despite the vast difference in rates, the information should only be taken as such, and not a damning indictment of the industry. Garage labour rates will be different across the country, and businesses should charge what they need to, not what the customer expects. Otherwise their repeat business will not aid profits, and will end up harming the workshop, rather than benefitting it. 

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