Breaking customers' trust by switching parts doesn't make good business sense; even if they can't prove it they won't come back.

Johannesburg - There are many urban legends about auto workshops, including the recently debunked one that they rip off women customer. The truth is, the more dishonest ones will rip off anybody that'll stand still for it, gender notwithstanding.

But one of the most enduring is the one about part switching - how this guy took his car in for a service a couple of weeks after replacing the battery and, just days later, the battery died, or how that girl got her VW Golf back from a respray, only to find an old Toyota rim with a worn-out tyre in the spare-wheel well.

The scenario always ends with the motorist saying: "I'm convinced they swopped my car's new part for an old one during the service but I can't prove it."

"Try looking at it from the other side," suggested Motor Industry Workshop Association chairman Les McMaster. "Repeat business is essential for repair workshops, so breaking customers' trust by switching parts doesn't make good business sense; even if they can't prove it they won't come back.

"Anyway, it's illegal, and if the staff exchange parts in the workshop without the owner or management's knowledge, they could be summarily dismissed and charged with theft."

But what can the customer do to guard against part switching? Many dinner-table experts advise secretly marking parts that could be at risk, such as the battery or spare wheel, but McMaster pointed out this often simply annoys the workshop staff.

Rather be upfront about it

“Have it mentioned on the job sheet that the battery, tools, jack and spare wheel are marked for everybody's protection.

"And while you're about it, please take all your valuables, such as cell-phone chargers and music players, out of the car," he said. "We often find expensive watches, jewellery, even large sums of money in plastic bags, in cars that come in for service or repair."

Use a reputable and accredited workshop, he advised. That way you have a comeback if you have a complaint, and you're assured of a resolution.

"If you're sure that a part has been switched without your consent," he added, "it's important to speak up immediately, so the workshop owner understands your concerns - often that's enough to resolve the issue.

"If your complaint turns out to be justified, lay a criminal charge or insist that the owner does - either way, it's important to send the message that messing with the customer's car just isn't worth it."

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