Specialist independent garages in Britain: why they are here to stay

Do not despair! These things can be solved more easily than you think.’ It is said in the site of a garage specializing in the maintenance and repair of modern and complex, but the aging cars.

The cars are much more durable today than they were 30 years ago – rust rarely causes a premature death – and the greater rigidity of today’s “crash-test” – honed bodies ensures that the cars feel solid and rattle-free for far longer than a Ford Escort or Rover 800 never did. Modern cars are also very reliable (although there are a few exceptions), but the idea of taking a warranty V10 Audi RS6 or the Jaguar XKR-S, the aging of the Porsche or even a Renault Megane RS can be a daunting task.

So we decided to talk to some of the specialists that respond quick, interesting and complex models. They have the equipment to interrogate these vehicles is controlled by the computer, the brain? These models really reliable? And can you afford their service?

Audi:

Fountain Motors is well established, Audi specialist in Buckinghamshire who sells, services and repairs to the high-performance S and RS models, although it can work on any Audi, according to the service manager of the Sunny Bhamra. Fontaine offers menu pricing for all, including the RS6 V10, which is one of the major service costs a not unreasonable £679.

The 5.2-liter engine “is correct, if maintained properly,” says Bhamra, but beware a RS6 that has been mapped to a performance of 700bhp rather than the standard 552bhp, because the gearbox struggles to cope. “The new RS6 is pretty reliable,” he adds. “We see cars with 40 000 to 60 000 km, which have not had any problems.”

The most desirable RS4 is also largely trouble-free, although it requires regular use to prevent the crankcase ventilation system of collection of the oil, which, in turn, can cause the build up of carbon.

An essential service for the R8 V8 is € 649, while for the B7 RS4 is € 549. As with all Fountain maintenance, it is carried out with the aid of a web-based diagnostic system which covers all brands of the Volkswagen Group. But it is not cheap to subscribe, a Toughbook service digital PC costs £4000 and the numbering in the system costs around £22 per day.

This means the Fountain is not widely cheaper than a main dealer, but this does not mean that it has all the latest updates of software and diagnostic tools, while offering the Bhamra says is a friendlier, more personal service.

BMW:

Gary Woollatt has been running his one-man-band Autobahn Services for 25 years, and has worked at BMW garages for 14 years. The result is a huge knowledge of Bmw and a reputation that leads some owners to bring their cars to him even if they are still under warranty.

“All cars go the same way with electronics,” Woollatt said. “A lot of them go to the dealership several times with small problems.” Woollatt solves these with an orderly from A to Z rather than jump to conclusions. He is a subscriber to the BMW diagnosis system and note that “this is not always the same cars having the same problems.”

He admits that he is now less of a difference in price between a specialist and a main dealer, because the parts discount is less. “It used to be 35% to 40% 15 years ago, now it is 10%.” But what you get with Woollatt is the application of 39 years of experience applied directly to your car, and a more personal service.

“These days, I prefer the restoration,” he says, a original Alpina six-pot M3-bodied E30 on the ramp. “People can see something for their money compared to the overall expenditure of € 3000 – 4000 on a M5 V10 with problems.”

Jaguar:

Kevin Brackley is a specialist Jaguar Chiltern of Bovingdon to the after sales director. Chiltern has sold, serviced and repaired used Jags for years, and Brackley has acquired a vast knowledge.

“From 2006 on, it is very difficult to use second-hand electrical components on the Jaguars because they are specific to the car,” he said. “When you program a new module in the car, it will lock the VIN number.”

That eliminates the possibility to use a second hand part (even if there are people who can erase the memory). The car, the mileage is also stored in each part, and a generalist, garage, he knows a second-hand module, “causing 40,000 miles to be instantly added to the car, odometer”. For these reasons Chiltern only uses new parts, and its technicians attend formal training courses.

He has been doing this since the new block Exemption Regulation ended the manufacturer and the dealers monopoly of specialist diagnostic equipment. “There’s little you can do without equipment,” says Brackley. So, as the other experts featured here, Chiltern subscribes to a manufacturer of technical site. Jaguar will cost around £1500. “You pay around £500 per year for upgrades,” explains Brackley. “A lot of things are cured now by the programming.” An example is the poor quality change between the first and the second speed on the 2004 XK, which has been sorted with a new software.

And your specialist subject is…

For almost all cars with a sequel, there will be a kind of specialist, be it a man and a car lift or a pit of personal multi-garage — and they are not limited to high-end machines. Dorset-based KTR has started as a tuning company but now sells, services and repairs Renault Sport models, which claims to be the UK’s leading specialist. He has the diagnostic equipment, factory trained technicians and a rolling road. It also sells used RS cars.

Méganes RS are good for big mileages, although sometimes with minor problems. One is the knocking or squeaking front suspension, Derby Aaron Autos can rebuild for £175 per side inclusive, comparedwith more than £1000 for a Renault dealer hub unit change.

Smart lovers, meanwhile, can head to Watford on the basis of S2 Smarts, which has the latest diagnostic capability, years of experience, and menu pricing — a service starts at £99 — and free clutch adjustment for the Fortwo and Roadster. Smarts are well known for water leaks, so S2 is going to make a cheque for £25 (there are ways well-known in your place), plus realignment of convertible roofs for £30 and the door handle replacement (a weakness) for £55.

S2 also provides the power to energize the correspondence from as little as £150. Their more expensive to reconfigure, taking the Smart Roadster with 113bhp for £245.

Porsche:

A useful thing to know about Porsche, ” said Robert Pickering, is that they can be interrogated electronically to reveal not only their mileage, but also that they have been too heated (crucial, not least because it affects their resale value) and what the history of the exploitation of errors there has been. Pickering shows us the way to the workshops of JZM Porsche, a specialist that sells some of the most desirable of the models used here – 911 GT3s are a staple, as well as running a workshop with decades of collective Porsche experience.

JZM claims to be the only non-franchised garage in the UK equipped with the Porsche Integrated Workshop Information System, and in addition it has all the previous generations of official Porsche diagnostic tool, and it is directly linked to the factory via an external network, allowing him to perform the latest reprogramming updates.

Senior technician Andy David has worked at JZM for 15 years and is a specialist in rebuilding engines, regular flat six on SERP engines and even, just recently, a 1968 2.2. “It takes about 40 or 50 hours for the revision of an engine,” he said. “I do one every two weeks, and have three or four on the road.”

David has worked on Porsches long enough to know what robust, high-quality machines, the pre-996 911’s have been, to see the quality dip with the 1998-2004 models and climb up again with the 997 and 991.

The infamous 996 intermediate shaft (IMS) bearing failures, his colleague Ricky Nash believes that “most have disappeared or been repaired”. And now there is a solution to the problem anyway. Cylinder bore scuffing is still an issue with 997s, but there are no problems with the latest engines. “Although it is early days,” adds Nash.

Worth the risk?

AUDI RS4 B7 2006-08 – Reliable but requires regular use to prevent the crankcase vent collection system of the oil and coke up the head. The Quattro system and the transmission are difficult; DRC shock absorbers are a weakness.

BMW M5 V10 2005-10 – Unfortunately, one to avoid, unless you are ready to play. “If the engine blows that you can’t really rebuild,” says Gary Woollatt. “A lot of cars, but can be annoying.”

JAGUAR XK-2006-14 – aluminum-body XK can suffer a bit of blistering under the paint, but no holes in the body. “Good, reliable cars,” said Chiltern Kevin Brackley.

PORSCHE 911 1994-98 – JZM technician Andy David believes that overall, the 911 993 are very solid and well designed. The valve guides are a common problem, however.

RENAULT MEGANE RS 2008-16 – a lot more durable than the Renaults of the late 1990s. The squeaky suspension issue is a good example of experts making repairs more affordable.

Read more

BMW 5 series review

Porsche 911 Turbo

Audi RS6 review