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by James Ward

At both ends of the market, cars are becoming better and better with every new generation. No surprise, then, that manufacturers are seeking new battle fronts to gain a competitive edge with buyers.

Because of this, vehicle servicing has become a way to create a real point of difference, both in service offering as well as cost.

Capped-price service packages have moved from marketing incentives to full-time products, but as the old saying goes, you are only as good as your last customer. And, regardless of how well structured a service plan is; if the experience isn’t good, then little else matters.

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We’ve taken cars in for servicing as part of our reviews over the past few years and had a pretty good run of things.

Our long-term Holden Trax and Mazda CX-5 both clicked over the 10,000km mark while under our care and both service experiences were good.

The Holden was simple, quick and fuss-free, costing not a cent more than the $229 shown on the service calculator on the Holden website.

Mazda took things a step further by offering a specific timeslot with a guaranteed turnaround, handy for people on the go like us. Both brands had lounge access with wireless internet and the offer of a shuttle service, but Mazda did have better coffee.

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The thing is, though… both of these cars were owned and registered to the respective manufacturers.

And, despite claims from the dealers that our service was to be the same by-the-book experience that any customer would have, we could never be sure that these cars didn’t raise some kind of ‘VIP red flag’ in the system.

Regular reader sumodog noted in our Volkswagen Golf long-term report:

Q: CarAdvice actually purchased this car ? Interesting situation given anything that is written regarding ownership experience will be followed by VW pretty carefully. This car will be marked as a top VVIP and given great care – not reflective of your typical owners experience.

A: Fair call, so, we thought we would try again – and this time, we’d use a privately-owned car for a bit of a ‘secret shopper’ trial.

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This way we could experience the service as just ‘another’ customer. The vehicle and the owner linked in some great ownership database, but not tied in any way to the manufacturer, marketing agencies or even us at CarAdvice.

And no, we didn’t fit a secret hidden camera inside a giant hat like Homer did…

Cam, a friend of the team at CarAdvice Melbourne, was due for his first service in his new Ford Ranger XLT – so we had him book it in at the purchase dealer (Chadstone Ford) for a basic, free, 3000km check up.

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The Ford team were able to find a slot within a week, but when we asked about the free loan car, we were told there was a four-week booking lead time for this. Not a big issue as we wanted to sample the service experience while at the dealer.

Cam was sent an email reminder the day before his appointment time too.

Cam’s notes from his experience are as follows.


Cam:

8.30am

I arrived at Chadstone Ford and walked to service manager. He greeted me kindly, introduced himself as Russell and asked for my name.

The booking came up and he said the car would take about an hour and took me to the waiting room where I was given the WiFi password.

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There was tea, coffee and snacks on offer. The coffee was better than I expected and there was organic tea available too.

They had magazines and, overall, it was a comfortable place to wait.

The receptionist came in again to offer another cup of tea or coffee to people waiting.

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9.45am

No sign of the car yet. I went to check with Russell who said it was waiting for a car wash and there were eight cars ahead of it. I told him not to worry and they brought the car around.

I was given a detailed report and there was no payment required, due to this being a first service. My books were stamped correctly.

The dealer offered to book in the next scheduled service (15,000km) in a year’s time, and even book in a loan car this far in advance. I didn’t take them up on this, as I’m not sure how quickly those 15,000km will rack up, but I felt this was a nice touch.

I was on the road by 10.00am.

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Overall, I’d say it was a good service. Everyone was friendly and polite, and I found the lounge really comfortable and well equipped.

That said, I would have appreciated being told of the delay so I could have got out of there a bit faster.

The car still feels good, and the service sticker tells me the next visit isn’t until the 15,000km mark.

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CarAdvice:

So again, a pretty good experience. We’ll continue to explore the service offerings from the major brands and, be sure, we’ll use this ‘secret shopping’ method again.

Next time, we’ll allow enough lead time for a loan car offering and use a car that is about 12 months old, to see if the capped-price structure works out.

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And, because we’re a good sort, we’ll contact Chadstone Ford to let them know how they went with this test.

Have you had a recent service experience, good or bad? Let us know in the comments below.

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