Regular readers will recall that right back on 25 June I headed north in my Kia to pick up the wing slat from Centre Les Noyers, the Savannah people, to repair 77ASY, but that before arriving there my engine expired and my car ended up in the breakdown company’s depot in the north-west suburbs of Paris.
It would have remained there untouched for at least two weeks according to my roadside assistance company and when I queried this, they said that if I wanted to I could look for a garage myself. So the next day I rang the breakdown company requesting their assistance using their local knowledge (my roadside assistance company is based in Nantes, hundreds of kilometres away) and sure enough, they said that my car would be moved to a local garage who could do the repair once they’d inspected it and identified the problem.
So far so good. I let things be until the next week as the garage told me that due to their volume of work, my car would join the end of the queue and would not be inspected even, for at least a week to ten days, so when I dropped in there a week later in Victor’s Citroen Aircross to clear it out, I again asked when they’d be able to look at it.
Once again, the answer was not encouraging, during some time the following week was the earliest that they could promise, so I just had to bite the bullet and wait. Eventually I received a phone call. They said that the problem was the turbo and that if they couldn’t ‘clean’ it, I’d need a replacement. Not unexpectedly, I then got a follow-up call saying that I’d definitely need a replacement but that they couldn’t give me a ‘devis’ (repair estimate) for the moment, as the only turbo they could find cost 500€, which they thought to be too expensive.
For the moment, then I felt optimistic as it appeared that the garage had my interests at heart. That was until the next day when I received a phone call saying that the total cost of the repair was 1600€, not unreasonable for a main-stream, high street garage, which I knew this one not to be having been there myself. When I asked how much of that was for the turbo itself, I was told 1200€!
Naturally I asked how come if 500€ was too expensive the day before, they now wanted 1200€ but was met with almost dumb silence, so I asked for the estimate to be emailed to me. Sure enough, it included 3 hours labour at a reasonable 65€/hour, a full oil change (not required, but OK) plus some other odd items, but right at the top there was the turbo at 1200€.
They had tried to disguise the brand but not enough for me to be able to find it on the internet. I was shocked to find that not only was it a poor quality Portuguese item (I was told later) but that I could source it myself for 4-500€ and the garage, as trade, much cheaper. Indeed, I could myself source much better quality exchange units on the internet for 3-400€, so it was pretty obvious that I was being ripped off.
I suggested to the garage that I’d source an exchange turbo, quite adequate for a vehicle of the age of mine, but the garage wouldn’t have it, for reasons of ‘guarantee’ they explained, which merely confirmed my view, as this is quite a common practice here in France. Evidently they supposed that this old fool would fall for their game and they’d make a killing, but they failed to recognise who they were up against.
The first thing I did was to call the roadside assistance, who are part of my insurance company. After explaining what was going on and having their client service agent agreeing that the price was excessive (‘prix de voleur’ or thief’s price) they said that as I’d arranged for the vehicle to go there, they’d fulfilled all their obligations under their contract and the problem was all mine.
I told them that I didn’t accept that as my car was moved to a garage selected by the breakdown company who was their agent but they refused to budge and effectively washed their hands of the problem and abandoned me, their client, to my fate. So you can guess that when the whole matter is resolved and I have my car back, which insurance policy will be summarily terminated with the reasons being explained in full.
My priority was therefore to remove my car from the garage as soon as possible, so my next port of call was the breakdown company who took it to the garage in the first place. My idea was to get it moved the few kilometres from the garage back to their depot and as I blamed them to a large part for the subsequent problem, I hoped that they’d do this for free, or at least for a very reduced price. Their first question was, ‘Who will be paying, my insurance company or me?’ and I said that for the time being at least, they should assume that it would be me.
After a minute or two they came back with their response – the cost of bringing my car back to their depot would be 200€, a figure that I found gobsmacking for reasons that will become clear shortly. They then said that they could give me a preferential rate for bringing the vehicle the whole way back to my house, so I told them to go ahead. First they began to quote me to transport it to Angers and when I queried that and told them that I lived in Plazac, they began working on their numbers again.
Imagine if I’d said, ‘OK, go ahead’ on the basis of the figure they’d quoted and my car had ended up in Angers at the house of someone else in their computer system. It doesn’t bear thinking about, and neither did the price that they eventually quoted of 4000€, which is somewhere around the current value of my car (4-4500€) in full working order.
So that was two avenues closed during which my view developed over a considerable period that the French are not only useless at customer service but in fact don’t even know what it is, was confirmed in spades. The lesson is, don’t expect to rely on anyone providing a service here in France, even one that you’ve already paid for and might reasonably expect to receive, because when it suits them they will drop you like a ton of bricks and/or look for an opportunity to rip you off.
So where was I at that point? Luckily I had already come across two websites, Shiply and Fretbay, on which you can ask providers of transport to quote for jobs, on this occasion the transport of my Kia Sportage from Villeneuve-la-Garenne, Paris, to Plazac. Quotes began to flood almost immediately into my mail box and pretty soon it became obvious that I could get the job done by a contractor using a proper flatbed breakdown vehicle with a winch to load the car as it won’t start, for around 500€, which puts the original breakdown company’s ‘special’ quote of 4000€ somewhat into perspective.
The stumbling block was that I wanted to get the vehicle uplifted and away from the garage by the end of this week, which was a problem for some contractors who need anything from seven to ten days notice. I ended up doing a deal with Pascal for not the lowest price that I received because he promised to do what I wanted by this coming Friday, Thursday even, as he understood the reason for my urgency when I explained the situation to him.
So that just leaves one last problem. Here in France, it’s common for garages to charge for their devis as they argue that it takes them time to inspect and diagnose the problem. This may or may not be unreasonable but they usually inform you what the charge will be and this did not happen on this occasion. Also, if you decide to remove the vehicle afterwards, not only do you have to settle the devis beforehand but if you have taken too long to arrange the removal, they might also charge you for ‘stockage’ (parking) while it was in their care.
My natural reponse would be to counter both of those charges because (a) the repair cost was much higher than they’d implied it would be, (b) they didn’t inform me what the cost of the devis would be beforehand and (c) as they had sat on my car for three weeks without even looking at it, my taking less than a week to uplift it from their premises is more than reasonable and should not be chargeable.
But it’s the old story, they have my car. Despite my view of the garage’s actions as I’ve set out here, I’ve adopted a very reasonable and friendly tone in all of my dealings with them. As of now, when I said that despite great difficulty due to my being in the Dordogne and my car being with them in Paris, I’d managed to arrange for it to be picked up by the end of this week at the latest, and hopefully Thursday, they said that that would be fine and no ‘frais’ or charges were mentioned.
The problem however, will be if when the transporter arrives to load my car up, they play silly beggars and refuse to release it until an additonal charge is paid. I’ve told Pascal that if that happens, there’s nothing that I can do beforehand, as if I ask them if I owe anything, I’m sure that they will make a figure up and ask me to pay it. So in the event, I’ve said to Pascal that if a figure of 100€ or less is proposed either he should refer it to me and I’ll settle it by debit card or, as he has suggested, he’ll pay it and add it to the amount I’ve left to pay after subtracting my deposit.
So there you have it, a sorry saga that has been as gruelling as it’s been long as it’s all been conducted in French, of course. I’ve found someone locally who is prepared to have my car dropped off at his place, find out what’s wrong and repair it for much, much less than the Paris garage’s figure, so all I can do now is keep my fingers crossed, hope that the uplift from the Paris garage goes as planned without a hitch and it’s safely delivered to my mechanic here in the Dordogne.
But what a salutary lesson it has been on how things are done here in France, how you can so easily fall into the clutches of people with reprehensible morals and how even those whom you have paid to guard and protect your interests in a crisis will drop you like a hot brick when it suits them to do so.