The What Car? survey compared the hourly rates of 279 garages around the UK
Motorists anxious to save money are being advised to shop around for servicing after a major survey found huge variations in garage labour rates around the UK.
The survey, by What Car?, compared the hourly labour rates of 279 independent garages around the UK, all of them members of the Independent Garage Association.
It revealed that where some garages are only a few miles apart, their labour rates can differ by more than £50 an hour. For example, the most expensive region to have a car serviced is within the M25, where hourly labour rates among the areas surveyed average £105. However, motorists who shop around can save £51 by driving just 10 miles from south-west London – at £141, the UK’s most expensive area – to Sutton, where an hour’s labour costs £90.
Elsewhere, in Leeds and Oldham the average hourly labour rate is £78, but just 20 miles away in Huddersfield it’s £47. In fact, according to the survey, the West Yorkshire market town is the UK’s cheapest place to have a car serviced.
The What Car? research also showed that the UK’s average labour rate is £76 per hour. This is a significant increase on the average hourly rate of £47 that a survey by the Independent Garage Association found to be the case in 2020. Within the M25, the same survey found the highest hourly rate was £55, or £86 less than the highest rate today.
Nevertheless, ex-garage owner Andy Savva, a consultant who trains and advises garages and who is known in the trade as The Garage Inspector, says today’s average labour rate is still not high enough to support a business.
“I coach thousands of garage staff and the single biggest mistake they make is to align their hourly labour rates with local rivals – this despite their very different costs, skills and facilities,” he said. “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.”
Another casualty of low labour rates, he says, is recruitment and retention. The average salary of an experienced vehicle technician is £36,000 and it doesn’t rise much higher. Coupled with garages’ traditionally poor working environments, Savva claims people are being tempted away from the industry. “Shoddy premises and poor salaries have been a problem for years and few in the industry are trying to do anything about it,” he said.
Despite all this, Savva believes there’s never been a better time to open a garage: “Covid and the awful quality of public transport taught people to appreciate their cars, while high vehicle prices are encouraging them to keep them for longer. It’s a boom time for the aftermarket, with long waiting times for servicing. Garages should capitalise on this.”