Survey reveals ‘shocking variation’ in garage hourly rates

What Car? compared the hourly rates of 279 independent garages

A consumer motoring magazine has released figures which shows, what it calls, “a shocking variation in garage rates” around the UK.

What Car? compared the hourly rates of 279 garages, all of them members of the Independent Garage Association (IGA).

The figures show that rates can differ by more than £50 an hour, even in garages just a mile or so apart. Perhaps predictably, garages within the M25 are the most expensive, where hourly rates average £105. Conversely, garages are the cheapest in Huddersfield, where the rate drops to just £47 per hour.

The magazine’s research points to an average labour rate of £76, which it calls “a significant increase on the average hourly rate of £47 that a survey by the IGA found to be the case in 2020”.

Andy Savva, also known as The Garage Inspector, told What Car?: “I coach thousands of garage staff and the single biggest mistake is align their hourly labour rates with local rivals – this despite their very different costs, skills and facilities.

“Their explanation is that if they don’t, they will be uncompetitive and lose business. However, on average it costs around £60 per hour just to operate a typical garage with all its running and fixed costs.

”To pay it, labour is all they have. Aside from parts it’s all they sell and they should value it. If they don’t, they will lose money, and their premises, facilities and the quality of the staff they employ will deteriorate, at which point customers will ask why they should spend their money with them.”

The cheapest areas for garage labour

  1. Huddersfield: £47
  2. Chester: £56
  3. Hull: £58
  4. Llandudno, Shrewsbury and Swansea: £59
  5. Blackburn: £60
  6. Bradford: £60
  7. Belfast: £60
  8. Darlington: £60
  9. Hereford: £60
  10. Warrington and Wigan: £60

The most expensive areas for garage labour

  1. South-west London: £141
  2. North London and north-west London: £112
  3. Watford: £104
  4. Southall and west London: £104
  5. Harrow: £103
  6. Twickenham: £101
  7. Croydon: £94
  8. Bromley and south-east London: £93
  9. Oxford: £91
  10. Sutton: £90

The industry view

Female mechanic
Photo: Bigstock

We contacted the IGA, The Motor Ombudsman and Autotech Group for comment. Here are their responses.

Independent Garage Association (IGA)

Frank Harvey, head of member services at the IGA, told us that a labour rate is a commercial decision for its members and the price will vary around the country.

“We cannot and would not attempt to influence labour rates for any business. Who decides what a plumber charges?

”Until you understand the calculations behind the cost of running a business, you cannot say that a labour rate is too low, too high or ‘shocking’. Running a survey like this from the outside is doing the industry a disservice.

”A garage in London will be more expensive because their overheads and staffing costs are higher. The chances are its suppliers don’t give the same discount because their overheads are also higher. You’ve got to know the full picture before you can judge an hourly rate.

“We live in an open and commercial market – customers need to be encouraged to prioritise value over price. If you pay it for once and get your car fixed at a slightly higher rate, is that better value than paying twice because the expertise wasn’t there but the initial cost was low?

”Garages are complex businesses and the labour rate has to support the technicians, front of house staff, parts staff, drivers, valeters and anything else that’s in that business.”

The Motor Ombudsman

Bill Fennell, chief ombudsman and managing director of The Motor Ombudsman, said: “Disparity in prices up and down the country isn’t that surprising, as the cost of running a garage with associated business and labour rates will be higher in some areas than others, especially when you compare city locations, such as London, with other parts of the UK.

“With consumers’ purse strings increasingly stretched, it can be tempting to opt for the cheapest price when looking to maintain or repair a vehicle. However, The Motor Ombudsman would always recommend that consumers check for a mark of quality, for example whether the business is signed up to a Code of Practice, such as The Motor Ombudsman’s long-established Motor Industry Code of Practice for Service and Repair.

”This will give consumers the added of peace of mind that a vehicle repairer will deliver high standards of work and service, and that they can turn to The Motor Ombudsman’s free-of-charge Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) service should there be a complaint they are unable to resolve with the business in the first instance.

“The Motor Ombudsman’s Garage Finder also allows consumers to locate and compare businesses in their area, with the ability to search on services offered. They can also benefit from reading customer reviews and ratings.

“In a recent survey The Motor Ombudsman conducted, 90 percent of garages said they expected rising operational costs, taxes and energy bills to be the biggest operational challenge in 2023. However just under half (49 percent) said they will be looking to avoid passing on higher operating costs in the prices charged to customers due to the challenging economic climate.”

Autotech Group

Gavin White, Autotech Group CEO, told Garage Wire: “The variations in labour market rates across the country, as reported within the What Car? survey, doesn’t offer an exact snapshot of the variants at play.

“For instance, there are many garages still significantly undercharging as inflation and increased competition has driven rates up across the country. Couple the cost-of-living crisis and the massive industry skills shortage and many garages have raised wages to attract the best available talent.

“Conversely, garages that haven’t increased their wages and rates will see a negative impact on their ability to retain skilled workers. The results are also not a true reflection of the disparities in the services that garages offer. If a garage has skilled, fully trained technicians, able to service and repair modern vehicles, they will be able to charge higher rates compared to a garage who hasn’t invested in upskilling its workforce.  

Garage Industry Trends that tracks the labour rates of the independent sector has clearly depicted the upward curve of garage labour rates across the UK and comments that customers should be more focused on a garage’s customer reviews to understand the value they are receiving. Labour rates alone shouldn’t be used when determining value.

”A customer should also have access to a garage’s business plan to understand the required investment to upskill staff and commitment to invest in the latest technology to provide the services on offer.”

Auto Torque has partnered with Garage Wire to bring you all the latest aftermarket news.


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