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!

It really depends on the garage. I regularly buy parts and get my local garage to do the work - they don't rip me off for the labour and are quite happy. I often buy parts from the UK because they are a lot cheaper, even with postage. I bought an alternator (refurbished) from the UK for £75 last week instead of well over 250€ here for the same part.

I only really use the garage when it’s a real problem,or,in the case of my last tyre change,if i’ve not got time. I prefer to buy parts and fit them myself wherever possible.

thanks barbara, you confirm the word on that place french friends are spreading. let's see how long they last? we have two 'tame' garages well out of bergerac, one of them is probably a guilt trip because he sold my OH a car that then went into a process of immediate decline BUT the receptionist then blurted out that it had been no better whilst the garage workers had used it as their run around. the owner has been soooo helpful and cheap since. the garage I use are just pretty honest, do their best and remember things like the bottle of malt I have dropped off the last two christmases... that 20€ pays back hundreds saved. it is how local people do it, so try it but not at THAT place.

Sarah, believe you really missed your calling !!!! Ever consider an online "woman's auto repair consultancy service".....a woman's touch to what most women need ?

Zoe, try - you order online and have the tyres sent to a fitter. Great value and a great choice of tyres. For parts, try as I say above as they have fitters too.

Well Zoe, although not being a woman, thought you were being extremely indulgent for not letting him have both verbal barrels of mannered insults tear into his antiquated macho attitude of "women and 4WD's"

I find, with mecahnics, if they see a woman coming, she's already screwed. I find being frank with them, and telling them exactly what you want, why you want it, and sounding like you KONW what it SHOULD cost is the key. I was buying tyres for my car, (we have a hilux, and use BFGoodrich, because we need proper on/off road tyres), norauto, I was browsing, and a "salesman" asked me if I needed help, and went on to say that I was in the wrong section, and steered me towards the small car tyres. When I told him I had a 4WD, he looked disgusted, and told me to get my husband to come in. On hearing I did not have a control freak macho, chauvinist typical french husband, he told me I should not have a 4WD, as they are "unsafe for women"

Needless to say, I didn't buy anything from norauto since then. Midas gave me a quote of 250 per tyre.... feu vert was something similar..... I decided to support the little guy, and went to see a nearby mechanic... turns out that he could order them for 125 euro per tyre. Big freakin difference.

I go to him all the time now, but it turned sour when I asked him to order a part for me that I put in myself.

I have exactly the same problem with tyres. I have two cars with unusual sized wheels and therefore the price goes up considerably with the rareness of the sizes. When I asked for tyres for the classic Mini with big (well for a mini anyway) wide wheels a local garage was looking at charging me over €150 per tyre plus TVA and fitting for the mini so I got the tyres online including taxes and delivery for €60 for the pair. One local garage was not happy to just fit the tyres and had a moan so I went to the other garage in the village and he said no problem and just fitted them for me without complaint and just charging the going rate for fitting. Needless to say I will be going to the other garage in the future so that I don't get the earache from the miserable guy at the first.


Have you checked out the Pieces Voitures site, Carole? Might be worth it for you too.

Luckily my husband is a mechanic, retired, but does all our vehicles. All our parts come from the uk, even with postage (I usually use parcels, 16 pounds for up to 30kg!), and you don't have the hassle of trying to find the part here. When we first moved here 8 years ago we did try to buy here but the prices really are unbelievable. Even spare parts for our jcb are a third of the price here....both from JCB dealers, one in bordeaux and one from brainer really!

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Well, will avoid stirring your anger, the photo's then a wolf in second hand sheepskin, if provoked !

My dearly beloved just got a bill of €300 to replace a tiny part that cost €75. He's furious and will be writing to Jeep to complain.

@Frank - woof! :)

@Barbara - that does sound excessive. Mind you, when I had a Saab it cost me €700 just to cross the garage threshold, and I had a Peugeot 505 that spent more time expensively in the garage than it did on the road. It's annoying but you're right, one cannot do without a car except perhaps in the middle of Paris.

Our first experience...NEAR Begearc managed to get in excess of 5.000 EUROS

out of us in one year.

When I get the invoice these days I get very nervous.

Never know what to expect.

Life in the countryside without a car is almost impssible.

Thanks Frank. Needs must, but I also get very annoyed by obvious taking the piss. And when I get the bit between my teeth, I do dig until the end. I wouldn't do it for fashion because I don't give a shit about that; I buy most of my clothes second hand so am not fussy about tendencies.

I am truly amazed at your tenacity. I would understand a woman's curiosity into dissecting and explaining a fashion tendency away from plaids into solid earth tones but THIS ???? I tip my hat to you to have gone to the depths you went to in order to make sense of it all. This, of course excludes the crooked mechanics where the pickings are nearly as numerous as the clients. Feel not fleeced enough to know that this practice is the unfortunate human tendency practiced generally in nearly all professions we, demanding of their expertise, are often victims to. Best be a jack of all trades !

That is brilliant to know thanks Sarah. We are really really lucky at the moment and have a fab, friendly and cheap local garage but this is the first time this has been the case in nearly a decade in France. So definitely the exception rather than the norm.

Hi Sarah

I will make a note of that site, wish I'd thought of doing something like that!

I had the same reaction when I bought tyres, I can buy them cheaper on line and asked the garage to fit them, and I'd pay for fitting.

Then the garagiste had a fit! ( you see what I did there?)

Clearly, they are still in a world where they are making money from marking up spare parts, when the value-add, is the fitting of the parts. So, still a few years behind; n'est pas?

The best similar case, of marking up I have received, is from my geothermic central heating installers.

They omitted to put any anti sludge treatement in the system when it was installed. So, it sludged up and lost efficency.

When the engineer called , he diagnosed the problem and offered to get a quote for cleaning the system.

The quote came in at 1500 euros, to cut a long story short, they admitted they were charging 600 euros for "amortissment", which translates as depreciation on the equipment they were using to clean the system.

I replied by email saying this was extraordinary, and I never see a charge for depreciation on the van they turn up in, nor the spanners they use.

I received a curt reply from the head of customer service, saying they were under no obligation to explain their pricing.

So, I paid a local plumber to do it without the 600 euros add on charge.

I do think things are changing though, I am seeing internet charges and phone charges coming down, so maybe this will trickle down to the removal of mark up for ordering prices!


This post was taken from my blog St Bloggie de Riviere.