Find a good mechanic. What to expect when you get a WOF, service or repairs. Seek specialists and parts. What to do when you aren't happy with your garage.

Find a mechanic

Check they are qualified

Make sure the mechanic you deal with is well established. Check if they are a member of a trade association, eg Motor Trade Association (MTA) or Vehicle Services Foundation (VSF). This may give you a free and independent dispute resolution process to resolve problems or extra warranties if the work is not done properly. Also check references from previous clients.


Find an MTA member near you(external link) — MTA


Word of mouth

Ask friends and whanau to recommend a garage they trust. Online reviews can also be helpful. Bear in mind people tend to write about really bad or really good experiences. So you may not always get a balanced view.

Ask people if their mechanic:

  • checks before doing work on the car
  • explains what work needs to be done and why
  • gives options, eg to use a second hand or a new part
  • explains the pros and cons of each approach
  • says how urgently work needs to be done, eg if a repair must be done now, can wait a couple of months, or is something to keep an eye on
  • offers a courtesy car if they need to keep your car for more than a day.

Compare hourly rates

Check the garage's hourly rate and ask who will work on your car. A garage with only experienced mechanics may charge more by the hour. But they may complete work quicker than ones who are training apprentices. Check apprentices will be supervised.

European cars

Some garages find it harder to fix European cars than New Zealand and Japanese models. If you drive a European car, look for a garage that specialises in, or has plenty of experience, fixing European vehicles. They will be able to source parts more easily than other garages. They are also more likely to have the right tools to do the repairs.

Build a relationship

Once you find someone you trust, it's worth sticking with them — as long as they continue to give you good customer service. Using the same garage means they know your car and will have notes on services, warrants and repairs. This can make it easier to detect faults early, before they become a more expensive to fix.

Find someone you trust — look for an established mechanic and ask others who they use.


Routine checks

For routine checks, eg Warrant of Fitness (WOF) and service, most garages ask you to book. Let the garage know if you urgently need your car back when you make the booking. Or book it in for a time when you don't need it. They generally prefer you to drop your car off in the morning.

Remember, garages are busy. Your service or warrant will be scheduled around other jobs. If you ask the mechanic to look at something else, “while they’re at it”, don’t be surprised if they ask you to bring back your car another time to investigate the other problem.

Warrant of fitness

Before issuing a warrant, your mechanic has to be happy the following are safe:

  • tyre condition
  • brakes
  • lights
  • windscreen and other glass
  • windscreen washers and wipers
  • doors
  • safety belts
  • airbags — if fitted
  • steering and suspension
  • exhaust — for emissions, leaks and noise
  • fuel systems — for leaks
  • vehicle structure — for rust and other structural damage in certain spots

How often you need a warrant

  • Older cars — those registered before 2000 — need a warrant of fitness issued every six months.
  • Vehicles registered after 2000 need a warrant once a year.
  • New cars don’t need a warrant until three years after they are first registered. After that they need to be inspected annually.

Warrant of Fitness(external link) — NZTA


A warrant of fitness is a safety check. It may not show problems with other areas, eg engine, gearbox or clutch.

Service

Servicing your car regularly helps identify problems early on. It will make your car last longer and saves money by stopping small jobs becoming serious. For example, replacing your brake pads is a minor job. But if left, it can lead to disc rotor damage — a much more expensive fix.

It is a good idea to have a service done at the same time as your WOF to spot any other problems.

How much you pay and what level of service you need depends on the make and model of your car. If your car has not been serviced for a while, it is a good idea to get a thorough check.

A basic service includes:

  • oil and oil filter change
  • fluid check

A more complete service — which costs more — may involve checking your:

  • drive belt
  • spark plugs
  • fuel filter
  • wheels
  • brakes
  • tyres

After a service, your garage should flag:

  • urgent fixes, eg a safety issue
  • what needs fixing soon
  • what to keep an eye on.

If you decide to change garages, give your service and warrant papers to the new garage.

Your vehicle handbook will outline the service schedule. If you don’t have a handbook, your mechanic will likely recommend a service every six months or 10,000km.


Repairs

Avoid surprises. Ask the garage for a summary of the repairs they intend to do and the estimated cost. Get it in writing, if you can. Let them know they must not do any extra work without your approval.

Be aware, the garage may need to keep your car for longer than the number of labour hours on your estimate or quote. It's best take your car in when you don't urgently need it back.

After a service or WOF

If your mechanic says you need repairs, ask:

  • Which are most urgent?
  • What will happen if I don’t have them done?
  • How long will it take?
  • How much will it cost?
  • Can I drive my car in the meantime?
  • Is my car worth repairing?

Example — New clutch costs more than car

Peta's service shows his clutch is very worn. His mechanic says the part will need replacing in the next six to 12 months. The service flagged a few other problems, too. Peta's mechanic advises him instead of spending money on the expensive repair, it could be time for Peta to start looking for a new car.

Faults you suspect

Take your car to a mechanic if:

  • a warning light has come up on your dashboard
  • you hear a funny noise
  • something doesn’t feel quite right.

Give the mechanic as much information as possible, eg:

  • when you first noticed something was wrong
  • any times you notice it more than others
  • if you have done anything to try and fix it.

It is best to take your car to a garage as soon as you suspect something is wrong. Ignoring a problem can mean it is more expensive to repair than it would have been if a mechanic had fixed it straight away.

Example — DIY fix wastes time and money

Jan's car is overheating. For a month she cools it down, topping up the radiator with cold water. When she eventually takes it to a garage, she does not tell the mechanic about the water. The mechanic replaces the faulty radiator.

But the car still overheats. After ruling out other faults, the mechanic finds a cracked head gasket. Jan admits to pouring cold water into a hot engine. This is likely to have caused the crack. By delaying repairs — and not mentioning the cold water — Jan caused more damage and made it harder for the mechanic to fix. This costs her time and money.

Diagnosis time

If you are on a budget, agree upfront how long you would like your mechanic to look into a problem. Check the garage’s hourly rate.

Don't be surprised if your mechanic can’t tell you what is wrong straight away. Sometimes it is obvious in the first half hour. But often it will take even the most skilled mechanics several hours to figure out what is wrong.

Cars are getting technologically more complex. Most cars now have computers. If your car was made after 1996, the mechanic will plug your car’s computer into the garage’s base computer. This tells them which area of the vehicle has a fault.

But it doesn’t pinpoint exactly where. Your mechanic may need to rule out what the problem isn’t to find what the problem is, eg if the scan tool says there is a fault with the car's Automatic Braking System, the fault could be in the speed sensor, brake and wire, or anti-skid control module.

A good mechanic will phone you to let you know if a job looks complicated. They will update you at each step.

Cheaper fixes

Your mechanic may suggest different ways to fix your car. Understand the implications of each. A less expensive job may be a temporary solution. This could be ok if your car isn't worth a lot of money and you plan to replace it. But it may be a false economy if you want to keep hold of your car for some time.

Specialists

Certain jobs, eg faulty electronics, or certain transmission issues, may fall outside your mechanic's area of expertise. Your garage may outsource these jobs to specialists. If the person they use makes a mistake, the garage you are dealing with is responsible for sorting it out.

Parts

If your car needs a new part, you have options:

  • a new part
  • a second hand part
  • an after market part.

Choosing a second hand or after market part can save you money. Ask your mechanic about quality and how long a part is likely to last.

After market parts

These are copies of car manufacturer parts. They are new, but less expensive. Some can be as good or even better quality than the car manufacturer’s part. This is because the makers have studied what usually goes wrong with the original. Others are poorer quality. An experienced mechanic should know which have a good reputation. You could also do an online search to check.

Finding parts

If the part you need is not available locally, or it is uncommon, the garage may need to keep your car for a few days. If you rely on your car, ask them if it is safe to drive and book it in for when the part has arrived.

Parts for European cars may need to come from Singapore or Europe. Make sure your mechanic includes freight when they estimate how much the part will cost.

How long parts take to source

  • Locally — same day
  • NZ — overnight
  • Australia — two to three days
  • Singapore – five days
  • Europe — two to four weeks.

Some garages will give you a courtesy car if they need to keep hold of your car. If you borrow one, check you are insured to drive it.

Asking for parts back

Most mechanics are honest and will only replace parts, if needed. If you are worried a part does not genuinely need replacing, get a second opinion from another garage. You could also ask for the old part back once the work has been done.


Dealing with problems

If you haven't already, ask your mechanic to break it down, eg

  • what they did
  • how long each job took
  • the cost of parts
  • freight.

If you still don't feel happy, ask another mechanic what they would charge for the same work. If the garage is a Motor Trade Association (MTA) member they may be able to help you sort it out. Or you can take your case to the Disputes Tribunal. The Disputes Tribunal will review your claim under the Consumer Guarantees Act to see if the price you're being asked to pay is reasonable.

Avoid surprises by asking for an estimate or quote before a mechanic works on your car. Ask them to keep you updated and check with you before fixing anything you have not agreed to upfront.


Disputes Tribunal(external link) — Disputes Tribunal


Read more about the Consumer Guarantees Act


If your vehicle seems unusual after it has been at the garage, go back. Most mechanics will gladly check nothing has been damaged or moved. And if it has, put it right.

Bear in mind, you may be more tuned in to how your car is driving after it has been for repairs. It is possible the problem is unrelated — especially if you have an older car.

Under the Consumer Guarantees Act, your mechanic must do what you both agreed and complete work with reasonable care and skill. If they do not, you must give them time to put it right.

You can ask the Motor Trade Association (MTA) to help if the garage is an MTA member.


MTA mediation service(external link) — MTA


Or you can take your case to the Disputes Tribunal. They will review your claim under the Consumer Guarantees Act.


Take a claim to the Disputes Tribunal(external link) — Disputes Tribunal


Example — Poor quality of work

The brakes on Xiu's car need fixing. After he collects it from the garage, the brakes still don't seem right — and then he has a near-miss at a pedestrian crossing. He goes back to the garage to complain. Not only are the new brake pads slightly loose, it turns out the mechanic didn't check the speed sensor, which is faulty. Xiu can ask for the brake pads to be fixed and the speed sensor replaced at no extra charge. He can do this under the CGA guarantee of services being carried out with reasonable skill and care.

You don't trust the work needs to be done

Ask your mechanic to explain exactly what they suggest doing and why. If you are not happy with their explanation, get a second opinion from another garage. Or speak to the Motor Trade Association (MTA) for advice.


Contact the Motor Trade Association — MTA


Be aware, some mechanics are more thorough than others. A garage you use for the first time may tell you about a problem that wasn't picked up at your last service. It doesn't always mean they are trying to do unnecessary work.