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Brit girls go there to get ripped off

By: Katy Lassetter

We all know that women make better drivers; that's why women's car insurance is so cheap. But did you ever wonder if a woman might make a better car mechanic?

Well, chances are, no, you didn't. For the majority of women, a career in car repair is about as appealing a prospect as one in plumbing, or refuse collection. It took a Frenchman named Herve Malige to do the wondering for us, and, following that, to recruit some women and find out.

His unique project runs at the Base 34 training centre, near Montpellier. This year's intake of 15 women, all aged between 22 and 38, includes former air hostesses, beauticians and a nurse. They expect to graduate in June 2007 and hopefully found their own repair business together.

That too would be unique; there are currently no garages in Europe run by an exclusively female staff. The nearest all- female car repair business to Mr Malige is in Montreal, Canada, and he wouldn't be able to get a service there: the mechanics insist that all their customers be women as well.

Herve explained why ladies are better under the bonnet, saying, "What is needed today [in mechanics] is rigour and methodical diagnostics. Women are strong at identifying the causes of breakdowns - they methodically check everything."

Finding the bonnet release
Herve's work demonstrates that women have the potential to outdo men in the field of car repairs in just the same way as we do on the roads.

But woefully few of us are living up to that potential.

In fact, one in ten female drivers in the UK admitted she couldn't even find the bonnet release in her car, let alone check the oil or change a tyre. It's no wonder that women drivers' failure to carry out basic checks has lead to almost a million breakdowns, according to motor insurance provider InsureandGo.

The problem isn't our ability - it's perhaps because most women just aren't interested in what goes on beyond the steering wheels and pedals. The vast majority of us leave repairs and maintenance up to someone else, even if it means a trip to the garage or a call to the breakdown firm.

But consider that we spend 4 billion every year in the UK on unsatisfactory repair work - that's based on an average 125 of your money wasted every time a job is botched, done unnecessarily or overcharged for - and all of a sudden there's a good reason for getting a bit better informed!

What we can do to prevent breakdowns
All too often, women leave car repairs to the men in their lives, when, as we've proved, they're capable of doing a much better job by themselves. And when dad, brother or boyfriend isn't around, we all too readily fork out expensive call-out fees for a breakdown mechanic; generally to do a job the average woman could do with her eyes closed if she just took a little interest in her car.

For the seven million female motorists who say they know nothing whatsoever about car maintenance, femalefirst.co.uk recommends your first port of call should be an often overlooked source of info - the car's manual. This tell you all sorts of dull but vital information about tyre pressures, fuses, fuel capacity, etc - stuff that'll get a whole lot more interesting as soon as you break down!

Most manuals have a log section at the back where you can make a note of fuel consumption and mileage, and when certain engine parts are due for replacement. Keeping this up to date takes care of the majority of preventable breakdowns; it also ensures you won't get caught short with the petrol dial in the red again.

Need an oil change, fan belt, windscreen wiper blade, etc? Sounds like a nightmare, but chances are replacing everyday consumables like these is a piece of cake. If you're feeling brave, get hold of the Haynes manual for your car (http://www.haynes.com), which explains how to do it all through straightforward language and easy-to-follow diagrams. After all - men can manage it...

The trouble with garages
No matter how well you maintain your car, sooner or later you're bound to end up taking it to a garage - whether for an MOT, a service, or a repair job.

Unfortunately, most of us find visiting the auto centre about as much fun as a trip to the dentist's. 57% of the women interviewed by InsureandGo said they felt intimidated in garages, and a whopping 84% expected to be ripped-off.

Sadly, both these fears are born out by a substantial body of consumer surveys and mystery shopper research.

In 2002, the Department for Trade and Industry (DTI) carried out a mystery shopper survey that involved putting test cars in for a service at 250 UK garages. It's shocking enough that, in 40% of cases, mechanics didn't bother to give the cars a full service before handing them back; but it's particularly alarming that the figure rose to 58% when the researcher was a woman.

So, besides breaking down far more often than other drivers, the seven million women who don't know anything about their cars are leaving themselves vulnerable to the botching and overcharging of unscrupulous mechanics.

The DTI figures prove garages target women for crooked mark-ups because they know they'll away with it - and that's why four out of five women expect to be ripped off.

Once again, the obvious solution for women drivers is to find out more about their cars. That way, you've a much better chance of getting the ten-point inspection you paid for rather than the three-point one they could only be bothered to do.

What we can do at the garage
Reports by the National Consumer Council suggests that two factors, specific to the car repair industry, mean motorists are at risk of being exploited when visiting a garage.

First of all, we don't know as much about the car as the mechanic does. If he says a job or replacement part is an essential, we have no choice but to pay for it; if he misses a fault or fluffs a repair, we have no way of knowing about it.

The other reason motorists make easy targets for an unscrupulous mechanics is that we're very often in a bit of a panic. You've heard of panic buying when there's a fuel shortage or a big storm coming? Well, having our cars break down elicits a similar reaction in most drivers; we just want the thing fixed, money-no-object - at least, not until the mechanic hands over your bill.

So the best advice for female motorists visiting a garage is to work against these factors. Always try and diagnose the fault before taking your car in for a repair. Even if what you say isn't the source of the trouble, it will show the mechanic you're a lot more savvy than the woman who turns up with no idea other than 'it makes a funny rattling sound'.

Also, turn back to your trusty manual and specify what brand of replacement parts you need. If possible, ask the mechanic to show you what's broken before leaving him alone with your car. That way, if you can't identify the part yourself, you'll at least be able to see if any actual work has been done in the area when he's finished.

To take care of the panic buying factor, spend as much time as you can afford shopping around for quotes on your job. Ask the garage you choose to confirm the estimate in writing so you avoid any unpleasant price-hikes once the work is done.

Above all, try to be calm and self-assured at the garage. If you suspect you're being duped, say as much. Even if the mechanic is charging a fair price, he won't begrudge you for questioning it. And don't be afraid to walk away from a garage. After all, with 26,000 car repairing outlets in this country, there's plenty more fish in the sea.

To recap...
We all knew women make better drivers; now we know they make better mechanics, too. It doesn't mean you have to put on overalls and invest in some nice spanners, but there's no excuse not to dust off the manual and find out a bit about your car.

Just a basic knowledge of car maintenance will dramatically cut down the number of trips you make to a garage - and it'll mean you get good service and a fair price when you do visit one.

Author Bio
Katy Lassetter, CoverGirl Car Insurance Services are specialists in women's car insurance and can provide fast, free quotes in seconds- just go to http://www.covergirlcarinsurance.co.uk or call 0800 195 48 52 today.

Article Source: http://www.ArticleGeek.com - Free Website Content

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