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Garage swindles: It is time to say no to these extortionists

BARAZA JMBy BARAZA JM
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Now, last week I opened up a bit about some of my cars, and I mentioned how at one time I dinged my little Mazda. Earlier on, some years back, actually, I had narrated what happened when I took it in for repairs and encountered the devil incarnate in the form of an extortionist garage manager who annoyed me to the point where I did some repair work for myself right there in his garage and exited the premises with a broken windscreen.

They had deliberately mishandled my vehicle to try and squeeze as much cabbage juice out of me as possible, money in the form of parking fees and cost of parts I didn’t want or need.

They had fiddled with the gear linkage such that 1st and 2nd gear could not be engaged, then claimed I needed a new clutch. They had no idea who they were trying to extort: Mr Petrolhead himself.
After a very tense conversation, I imposed my will on one of the mechanics and demanded a screwdriver and a box spanner.

Three minutes later, my gear linkage was fine, the car was running like new. I flatly refused to pay the outrageous parking fees and told them I will replace the windscreen myself, an exercise that cost me Sh7,000 as opposed to the Sh30,000 they had quoted in their invoice.

Irate, I made it clear that any melodramatics from them or unwise attempts to further prevent me from leaving will be met with a reaction not unlike that of a nuclear superpower. Do not try me, boy. Greed is not a good look, and neither is a destroyed establishment.

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It is fairly obvious that I’m not the only victim of extortion and harassment by money-hungry garage owners. It happens more often than not, and there is a high frequency of belligerence between the owners and the disgruntled clients they are trying to fleece. As it happens in such situations, things can escalate to abnormal and ridiculous levels, irrespective of the amounts involved.

With me here is a narrative from one of my Twitter followers who pleaded with me to go public with her case, a horror story that should serve as a warning to others that dealing with certain garages is a path leading down the river Styx and straight to the gates of Hades.

The legal ramifications of this are a bit unclear, so in the interest of keeping my tail out of a courthouse, names have been changed or redacted, including the lady narrator herself, whom I will refer to as Miss Kairitu. Part of the narrative has been corrected for grammar and spelling, but the details and facts are presented verbatim as received:

“…Of Garage Swindles: We Want More than a Pink-Wash

Women and motoring are still not as popular a couple as one would expect, two decades into the 21st century. And the motoring “cartels” are not easing up on swindling the ladies, as they acquire more economic muscle to own vehicles – at least not in Kenya.

A recent episode between Fiona* and Spear Head Garage* is one such episode that many can learn from. Fiona’s car, an Audi, had a gearbox problem, and without an authorised dealer in Kenya, finding a proficient mechanic was just as likely as finding a rare gem in the Mauritanian desert. Weeks passed by and the usual big names that work on European models came up, but none was up to the task, until she met the tall, confident Kenyan of Asian origin, Philip*.

Philip organised for her car’s towing – at what she came to realise was three times the regular cost – and then issued her with a Sh30,000 bill to diagnose the problem. That’s when the trouble began.
Before this, Fiona had engaged her insurer to repair the damage, but the insurer explained that the model of the car was not popular, thus works may take too long.

They therefore advised her to seek a settlement with a mechanic of her choice: cash in lieu. It was a promising way forward agreeable by both parties, but when Philip’s company presented her with the bill, her insurer advised that this was not common practice as Spear Head Garage was not the authorised dealer of Audi.

She resorted to taking her car elsewhere, but Philip would have none of that, claiming that he had stored the vehicle and logged it in, amounting to a total bill of Sh25,000 for administrative and storage costs, over the course of five days. No works were carried out on the vehicle.

LEGAL MATTER

Her attempts to involve the police to recover her property were in vain, and only if issued with a court order, would they act.

Simultaneously, Philip contacted his lawyer and advised him of an incoming case, stating that Fiona was seeking free services from the establishment. Left with no alternative, Fiona also reached out to her lawyer to resolve the matter. On arrival at the garage on Mombasa Road, her lawyer Djibril* was detained for making a complaint on behalf of Fiona. Philip was unavailable at the venue, refused to present the company policy documents outlining why she was being charged, and why he retained Fiona’s 25,000, all whilst holding her vehicle.

The matter further escalated with yet more lawyers arriving to extract their colleague, police to rescue the lawyer held hostage and Fiona to collect her vehicle after meeting Philip’s demands. He refused to commit to this. Eventually, Fiona’s and Philip’s lawyers came to an agreement where there was no case to compel Fiona to pay for any more alleged costs of ‘storage’, ‘handling’ and ‘legal’ fees to Philip, and she collected her vehicle.

The notion that the motor industry is advancing towards acceptance of women (into itself) is a deplorable pink-wash. Motoring, a male-dominated arena, often serves as an avenue to swindle women simply because industry standards, in what is a fairly informal industry, are not in place.

Repair contracts hardly exist, and costs are at the discretion of the service provider, who tends to marginally increase this when they get a woman client. Groups such as the Audi (Fan) Club are looking to curb this trend by standardising the list of approved garages, and their relative costs, and encourage women to join to curtail the fraud.

Following this incident, hindsight from various parties showed that this is not a first, but instead Spear Head Garage operates on a long-con game. It has numerous court cases, has had run-ins with the taxman, and many have been swindled by the establishment. Caution is advised to all looking to them for motor assistance….”

(*All names have been changed to protect the owners’ identities. Whatever conclusions that can be drawn from this based on race, religion or community are strongly discouraged, but in changing the names, I have strictly adhered to these characteristics in the interest of easing investigation for those of you out there with an Agatha Christie fetish.)

There is a lot to unpack here, the ugliest component being the gender-based swindling. As I already stated in the opening paragraph, these coin hogs have no regard for what lies underneath your clothes and are equal opportunity highwaymen. A substantial portion of lamentation I receive targeted against garages shaking down their own customers comes from men.

However, Miss Kairitu does have a point: Women are more likely to face fraud from these opportunistic knaves and there are several reasons for this.

The first of course is the misplaced assumption that women know nothing about cars. Anybody remember Car Clinic from several years ago where a lady had the suspension on her W211 Kompressor become clunky then she was told to buy a new gearbox as a fix? That kind of nonsense is what I’m referring to.

is not necessarily true that women know nothing about cars, but there has been a general disinterest that is quickly fading away as Miss Kairitu also accurately pointed out. There is a steady influx of our sisters and wives into the motoring scene and they are not just there to look pretty, theirs is a genuine interest in what this world is about.

OWNERSCLUBS
We have several owners’ clubs that include women and their implied vulnerability from sexist muggers like Philip here make the gentlemen in the group fiercely protective of their female colleagues. So, Miss Kairitu, all is not lost and your narrative will be taken as a clarion call to flush out these thieves.

The second reason garages tend to target women more readily than men lies in the second paragraph up there. Women are gentle creatures by nature and are unlikely to challenge a man, which is why some fools choose to walk all over them. With a man, things are different. Push them too far and they will say damn the consequences and rain hellfire on your conniving behind.

Again, this is being slowly overridden because many women out there have wisely decided to prevent the circumstance from even arising in the first place by enrolling male relatives and friends to transact on their behalf. Much as this is treating the symptom, it’s not really curing the underlying problem.

We are entering the third decade of the 21st century, and so women should be able to walk into any establishment without fear of harassment or fraud and do their business with confidence.

Well, this is where groups such as Subie Queens come in. As the name implies, they are a band of Subaru-driving royalty who watch out for each other’s welfare and seek self-improvement through imparting knowledge, dabbling in charity and before this damn virus came about, a bit of socialising among many other things.

I have attended one of their events and I am proud to say I’m a partner. (I know I owe you a narrative Subie Queens, but it’s hard to make an exciting story about a barbecue. Also, my apologies for showing up in a Mercedes, next time I’ll bring the Subaru.)

This is what they do: instead of hiding behind their male colleagues, they take matters into their own hands. There is nothing fiercer than a clique of women protecting their own.

Fortunately, they have not had to engage in altercations, but the sheer presence of women united for a common cause is enough to scare straight anybody who may have had dishonourable intentions.

They establish contacts and form alliances (such as with my company, Motoring Press Agency) with results similar to the one the Audi Fan Club is trying to achieve: create an ecosystem that excludes shady entities and try to encourage more civilized behaviour in general.

They’re not activists, they’re enthusiasts just like the bros out there, but you do not want to put a wrong foot against them, more so if it involves gender bias.

So now? I’m not one to tell a woman how to live her life, but I strongly encourage the formation of many more such alliances until the day we grow up as a society and treat women with the respect they deserve.

There is safety in numbers. As for the motoring clubs and forums such as Audi Fan Club, and all the other clubs I am in (mostly on an honorary basis) that are all-inclusive and promptly punish sexist ideology, keep at it. We need to make our ladies feel welcome, if the Subie Queens took me in with neither qualm nor invoice, the love should be returned.

For the merchants of deceit and purveyors of knavish tendencies such as Philip and his ilk, if the accusations are true, then you best clean up your act, the sooner the better. It’s not just a woman’s problem, you are a rip on the fabric of society and the clock is ticking. Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee…

(There is a whole other non-gender angle to this saga that we will visit next week. See you then.)