TRADESMEN don’t often call for more regulation of their industry but a group of Limerick mechanics say cut-price repairs are squeezing out honest operators and putting motorists lives in danger.
“Legislation is needed because you can open a garage tomorrow without ever having opened the bonnet of a car. You can open it and say you’re doing services for 20 quid. There’s nothing to stop you. But yet you can’t set up as a GP or a dentist or a solicitor because they are covered by regulations - and rightly so. Remember a car is a dangerous thing. Even when everything is alright with it, you can kill someone in a car but if you have a fella who hasn’t a clue about brakes, tyres, steering and what have you fixing cars, you’re asking for trouble,” said Dean Power, who runs a garage on Rossa Avenue.
Rogue operators, the mechanics say, have proliferated in Limerick in recent years and many of them are from former Soviet bloc countries. Two Limerick businesses run by eastern Europeans have been prosecuted for clocking cars since 2008.
“We don’t want it to come across as giving out about foreigners,” said Dominic O’Sullivan, Henry Street Garage. “We’re just looking for a fair playing field. If somebody wants to come in and work and pay rates and insurances like the rest of us then fair dues to them. But they are not paying rates or insurance and they are going to close down if they get any aggro and change the name over the door.”
“Don’t get me wrong. There’s Irish fellas at this crack as well. None of us have any problem with competition. Competition makes for healthy business as long as it’s fair,” said Mr Power.
“Take a Volkswagen Passat 08 diesel where the oil costs €50 and the oil filter costs €15. There’s fellas in Limerick pricing that an oil change for €65 so there’s nothing to be made out of that. I reckon these fellas are probably putting in the lowest grade, obsolete stuff they are buying for half nothing and possibly not even changing the filter.”
They say they have lost customers to the newcomers only to see them return after botched jobs. Engine repairs, Mr Power said, are gone “through the roof” with customers coming back to the longer-established mechanics not having got the deal-of-a-lifetime they had hoped for.
Pat McDonagh, of McDonagh Motors, Ardnacrusha, said customers were not only ending up out of pocket to correct poor workmanship. Some of the jobs being done by rogue operators were dangerous, he said. He cited an electrician being used by some Limerick mechanics who will fit a resistor to over-ride the electronic control unit for an airbag. While it can help you pass the NCT, it can mean the airbag won’t deploy when you hit a wall, Mr McDonagh said.
“An airbag is the difference between life and death. What they are doing is criminal,” he said.
Mr Power said that in the absence of legislation, the industry group SIMI, could be more active in helping motorists distinguish between legitimate operators and those who cut corners.
“I pay €4,000 here for insurance. I should be issued with a sticker from SIMI that I can put up on my gate and that shows I am covered for I think it’s up to €3 million for faulty workmanship - so that if I fix your car and you go down and flatten five people at the traffic lights, my insurance will cover it. I should have something on my gate that states that so you know when you come along that this fella at least has insurance. If there was something like that, then people would be able to tell the difference between a shylock and somebody meeting all the standards,” he said.
For now the mechanics advise that if a repair deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.