FOXY Choice - FOXY Lady Approved and Female Friendly

FOXY’s Good Garage Guide for women drivers

Garage tips to save money and run safer cars

Copyright ©2008 by Stephanie Savill, Founder of FOXY Lady Drivers Club

For most of us, our cars are likely to be the second biggest investment we’ll make throughout our lives, after our homes. Yet few of us factor in everyday running costs when we buy a new car.

Neglect a car and it will repay you by being needlessly expensive to run, less reliable and quicker to the scrap heap. More importantly it’ll be less safe and less green on the roads. Prove that you have cared for your car, by keeping all evidence of a maintenance regime and servicing bills, then you may even sell it for more money when the time comes.

Plan ahead

  1. Start by reading your car’s handbook. If you’ve lost this, see if you can download a copy from the manufacturer’s website or ask at your local main dealer.
  2. Check what the recommended service period is and any warranty-associated inspections for bodywork.
  3. Read the section about recommended car maintenance and make a note of tyre pressures (these will be different for two and four passengers, for example) and recommended oils. Pay attention to recommended cambelt replacement dates and change them sooner rather than later.
  4. Make sure your service record is stamped and up to date.
  5. Resolve to collect and keep all evidence of maintenance and servicing bills in future…
  6. Wherever possible, plan predictable garage services for the year to include all household cars and write the dates somewhere you’ll see them well in advance; a diary or a calendar.
  7. Include MOTs, interim vehicle health checks and a servicing regime that reflects your likely annual mileage.
  8. Give yourself time to shop for the best value services so you can save money. For example, you can have your MOT done during the month before it expires; it’ll still be dated for 12 months from the date on your current certificate but you’ll have the time to shop around for expensive work if need be, rather than paying over the odds at the last moment.

Car Maintenance – Tyres

Get into the habit of looking at your tyres every time you approach the car. Just a glance will identify a flat tyre and, if you don’t drive on the tyre, it is more likely to be repairable. Also, you are more likely to spot kerb damage, bulges or under-inflation before they become a danger. If you do detect any damage, drive the car slowly to a repairer straight away.

Check your tyre pressures once a month, at least. Over or under inflated, they could fail when you need them most, can wear out quickly and will then need replacing sooner than they would otherwise. Not only are tyres VERY expensive, far too many are ending up in landfill which is a bad thing for the environment.

Most modern cars are driven by the front wheels and as most of the braking effort is supplied by the front tyres, it’s obvious that they will wear out much more quickly than the rear tyres. In fact, rear tyres wear so slowly that it is common for them to be scrapped because of sidewall deterioration rather than tread wear which is an avoidable waste. When your front tyres need replacing, ask the fitter to move the rear wheels to the front and put the new tyres on the rear. That way, you will always use all the tread you buy.

Car Maintenance – Oils

Look after your car’s engine by checking and topping up your oil level regularly. Too much oil is bad and too little means serious damage ahead; parts will start to fail, your car will let you down more often and bills will start to escalate…

If you top up your oil yourself, always check the car’s handbook/manual and use the right grade for your car; many need specialist oils for good reason. Make sure the car is parked on level ground and with the handbrake firmly applied. Wait for five minutes after the engine has been run to allow the oil to drop back into the sump; otherwise, there would be a danger of overfilling. Top up a little at a time and allow a few minutes before checking the level on the dipstick for the same reason. When replacing the dipstick, give it a firm push to make sure it is correctly located in the tube. Keep receipts as evidence of doing the job properly.

Your oil and the oil filter (which traps any debris) should be changed regularly; see your car’s handbook, typically once a year as a minimum but twice a year is recommended.

Always dispose of oil correctly. Your local amenity tip will offer the facility free of charge to domestic users. The waste oil is processed and used as fuel for power stations and blast furnaces among other things. On no account should oil be poured into the drainage system or a hole in the ground.

Car Maintenance – Coolant

Monitor the water level in the under-bonnet header tank. It should remain between the high and low marks across all temperatures. Always use an approved anti-freeze solution in the correct ratio. Even in hot climates this is essential because the engine needs the anti-corrosion protection provided in the mix.

Car Maintenance – Visibility

Top up your windscreen water level regularly and frequently during dirty-weather wintery spells. Use an additive in winter months. Change your wiper blades as soon as they lose the ability to keep the screen perfectly clear. Give the inside of your windows a thorough wash a couple of times a year, especially if the car is new or if you carry dogs or children.

Car Maintenance – Lights

Check them regularly. If you don’t have someone to help, use time in a stationary traffic queue by looking at the reflections of your lights on the cars to the front and rear of you. Garage doors and shop windows are also good for this.

A surprising number of cars fail their MOT because motorists didn’t check their tyres, lights or windscreen wipers before the test.

Vehicle Health Checks

If DIY car maintenance isn’t one of your strengths or this takes precious time at busy weekends, you may prefer to have your car checked by garage professionals instead.

Some garages offer free car safety checks but there may be catches.* Others offer these for as much as £30.

* Garages that sign the FOXY Promise at FOXY Choice state they will “never knowingly sell services which customers do not need or want.”

NB: Members of FOXY Lady Drivers Club can claim FREE quarterly car fitness checks carried out by FOXY approved female friendly garages across the UK.

Car Servicing

Cars should be serviced regularly for the same reasons as they need to be maintained; to keep them safer, greener, more reliable and economic to run.

If your car hasn’t had a service of any sort during the last 12 months we recommend a safety vehicle check as a minimum, in between MOTs. Ideally all cars should be serviced annually or more, depending on your typical mileage.

Because garage services are expensive items and yet many motorists are not enjoying the value for money they deserve, it is important to choose the best garage to suit your needs and not risk second class workmanship. Bookmark the FOXY Choice service before your next garage visit for an MOT, car service or repair work.

Having prepared a shortlist of garages and/or dealerships in your area, there is money to be saved by carefully comparing garage prices before committing to one.

Ask for an actual quote, not an estimate, and check the costs including parts, consumables (oil, brake fluid, coolants) labour and VAT. Confirm that any additional work should be authorised and ask to see any replaced parts before you pay the bill.

Ask the garage to detail the name of the technician who worked on your car on the invoice, and where you have any questions afterwards start by asking that person.

If one garage is considerably cheaper than another, check carefully.

Compare what differently named car servicing prices include. For example, an oil service may seem expensive enough to include more, but probably doesn’t. You may also come across ‘interim service’, ‘regular service’, ‘main service’, ‘major service’ and ‘full service’ descriptions and as each can include different items, it makes sense to check them carefully. Where in doubt, refer back to your car’s handbook to see what should be included as a minimum. A good garage will be able to show you a copy of the service schedule for your particular model of car.

If you prefer to check and top up your own oils, coolant levels and replace windscreen wipers, be sure to tell the garage not to do these things when you leave your car.

Where unsure, choose a garage listed at FOXY Choice because they have signed the FOXY Promise, stating that they will “never knowingly overcharge… or sell customers’ services they do not need or want”.


The MOT fee for a private car is £54.85 (2010) and this test is required every year as from your car’s third birthday.

Remember that your MOT is but a safety snapshot on the day and not a bill of health for the entire year. Your car tyres might pass the MOT that day but fail it (and be unsafe) a month later.

You can have your MOT done during the month before it expires; it’ll still be dated for 12 months from the date on your current certificate but you’ll have the time to shop around for expensive work if need be, rather than paying over the odds at the last moment.

A surprising number of cars fail their MOT because motorists didn’t check their tyres, lights and windscreen wipers before the test.

NB: Many garages and dealerships offer moneysaving deals if you have your MOT and a car service done together.

Where in doubt, choose a garage listed at FOXY Choice because they have signed the FOXY Promise, stating that they will “never knowingly overcharge… or sell customers’ services they do not need or want”.

What if your car fails its MOT…?

  • Where a vehicle fails its MOT Test and stays at the Test Station for repairs, only a partial re-examination is required, FREE OF CHARGE, provided it is carried out before the end of the tenth working day after the day of the initial test.
  • If the vehicle is brought back to the same Testing Station by the end of the next working day for one or more of the following items only, a partial re-examination is required, FREE OF CHARGE: Bonnet, boot lid, brake pedal anti-slip, direction indicators, doors, dropsides, fuel filler cap, hazard warning, horn, lamps, loading door, mirrors, rear reflectors, registration plates, seatbelts (but not anchorages), seats, sharp edges or projections, steering wheel, tailboard, tailgate, vehicle identification number (VIN), windscreen and glass, windscreen wipers/washers, wheels and tyres.
  • If the vehicle does not qualify for a re-test as listed above, and is brought back to the same Testing Station by the end of the tenth working day following the day of the initial test for retest, only a partial re-examination is required for which a maximum of half the full fee (c£25) may be charged.
  • If a vehicle does not qualify for a partial re-examination as listed above, a full re-examination is required and the full fee may be charged.

Some businesses are flexible about the third scenario but the general principle seems to be “the less delay in getting your failed car re-tested the more likely the re-test will be free of charge”.

Mechanical Repairs

Imagine that your car has an undiagnosed problem and you don’t know what is wrong.

Always choose a garage with the latest diagnostic equipment and professionally trained staff before you hand over your car keys. Otherwise you run the risk of less experienced mechanics learning on your car and charging you for that privilege, without necessarily sorting out the problem. It is not uncommon to be charged for all the components that were changed in a haphazard repair. If the last component changed (the one that fixed the fault) cost only a few pounds, you will have been grossly overcharged.

Assuming your car is playing up but hasn’t broken down yet, describe the known problems in as much detail as possible to more than one garage, asking them to quote to diagnose the problem. Don’t ask them to quote for the repair job yet, until the problem is defined.

If it sounds a simple and obvious problem this will probably be free but if it is a complex job (and many are) you may face a diagnostic charge of more than £50 for the time this takes. Many garages welcome you in and they’ll ‘have a look’ so it can come as a nasty shock when a hefty diagnostic charge is made without warning, no matter how justifiably.

Where applicable, once you know what the mechanical prognosis is, review your choices again, shop around and obtain quotes. The diagnosing garage may well absorb any diagnostic costs into their repair quote to get your business but you may have to ask them first!

This can be a grey area because exploratory work may uncover unforeseen expense and it’d be cheaper to sort it out at the time. Providing you have chosen a reputable garage they will check with you before incurring extra costs on your behalf.

If your car breaks down, and the patrolman can’t fix it by the roadside, he will organise for you and your car to be towed to a garage in accordance with any breakdown policy cover. Where this is simply the nearest garage, this may or may not be the best garage solution for the job. Ask the patrolman to check at on his laptop.

Accident and Bodywork Repairs

(see next para for cosmetic SMART repairs)

Most of us phone our insurer or broker straight away after having an accident. Depending on the severity of the damage, the insurer will then arrange for the damage to be assessed and you will be recommended to take your car to one of their appointed vehicle repairers where you settle your policy excess with them. As you might expect, the insurer will have negotiated a special deal with these repairers who will have agreed to these terms in exchange for volume business. But this relationship does not necessarily mean that the motorist gets the five star service she deserves.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. According to the OFT (Office of Fair Trading), it’s your car and your repair choice. So always shop around to find the bodywork repairer that offers you the support you need and who will then deal with your insurer for you.

Other than choosing a FOXY Choice approved female friendly bodyshop, important signs of quality to look out for are

  • Evidence of meeting ATA standards or holding a BSI Kitemark licence in the bodywork category. Many of these can also carry out SMART repairs (see below)
  • Membership of the Vehicle Builders and Repairers Association (VBRA)
  • Being approved by a vehicle manufacturer for vehicle body repairs

Cosmetic SMART Repairs

SMART stands for ‘Small to Medium Area Repair Technique’ and the sort of jobs we’re talking about here include shopping trolley dents, small scratches or scrapes to your car’s bodywork, kerb damage to alloy wheels, repairs to upholstery and/or the interior car trim.

If you want to keep your car in tip top condition you’ll probably need the professional services of a local SMART car repairer at one stage or another to rectify paintwork scratches, dents, scuffs and tears.

When comparing local SMART businesses, you can look for the BSI Kitemark in vehicle body repairs which includes SMART standards. There are other SMART repairers who do a great job but are not accredited and a few that can let the industry down, It can be hard to spot the difference until you see their work.

Many SMART repairers provide a mobile service which can come to your home or office.

Always look for accredited repairers where possible and ask for testimonials that you can contact independently.

If you need further help in terms of bodywork and SMART repairs you can contact:

VBRA – the leading Trade Association for Vehicle Body Building, Car Body and SMART repairs. Their members operate to a fully approved OFT Code of Practice.

BSI Kitemark via

NB: If you choose a business listed by FOXY Choice they will have signed the FOXY Promise stating “We strive to be a female friendly business and will never knowingly overcharge, patronise or sell our customers services they do not need or want.

If any listed business subsequently disappoints, FOXY will record and monitor the resolution of a complaint, reserving the ultimate right to suspend or de-list a business, depending on the severity of an allegation or a ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude towards customer concerns.