Cameras at your service - new technology used at Bristol garage
David Clensy takes a look at how new digital video technology is revolutionising the experience of having your car serviced
NOT being a technically-minded sort of person, my car's annual service and MOT has always been an event shrouded in mystery to me.
It normally runs something like this – I take my car to the garage, wait for a couple of hours feeling mildly nervous about my bank balance, then take a call from a bloke who knows the inside of an engine like the back of his oily hand, who unintentionally baffles me with science.
It's like listening to somebody speaking a foreign language. I usually pick up the occasional word – drive shaft ... cambelt ... head gasket – before I finally tune in, roughly at the moment he's taking a sharp intake of breath and saying, "it's going to set you back a few bob I'm afraid".
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Terrified of having to get my head around the complexities of what he's actually asking for me to pay for, I usually just hand over my debit card, while brushing a tear from my eye. No goose for Tiny Tim again this year.
So when one local firm, Wessex Garages, which has outlets on Pennywell Road and Feeder Road, got in touch to tell us about how they are making their service procedure more accessible by using the latest digital video technology, the editor here at The Post passed the invitation straight on to me – perhaps sensing that I am the sort of lily-livered wimp who had never sullied his hands on a socket set.
My car wasn't actually due a service – having gone through the torment of one just six months before – but the idea of understanding the process was too tempting an offer to refuse.
Chris Nobbs, service adviser at Wessex Garage, explained how the new technology works.
"Each of our technicians has one of these cameras," he says, picking up an iPod Touch – a portable media player with a built-in digital camera, essentially an iPhone without the phone.
"It allows us to film the inside of the customer's car while it is still up on the lift, or while we have parts of the car apart in the workshop.
"When the service is completed we always call the customer and talk them through the health-check we have given the car, but now we can upload the video to an external website, so the customer can log on from their home or office and see for themselves, before agreeing for work to go ahead on the car.
"It works best when you can use the video to show a customer how thin the inside tread of their tyres has become, or how little there is left of their brake pads – it really brings it home to people when they see it on the screen in front of them.
"Being a big garage, with a shiny showroom, sometimes you sense that customers don't quite believe what you're telling them needs doing to their car. Perhaps they think they'll get a better deal from Fred in the local shed down the road. But that's often not the case.
"I had a customer in here earlier this week with a beautiful £70,000 car, and I had to tell him that two of his tyres, which cost £600 each, needed replacing and that his brake pads had worn away to virtually nothing – a scary prospect in a car with a top speed of 200mph.
"But I could email him a link to the video that the technician had made, so he didn't have to take my word for it – he could see what needed doing for himself."
Chris gets my video up on the screen. I confess to feeling a little nervous at the sight of my beloved little car, hanging from a car lift, minus its wheels.
A voice appears from behind the camera.
"Hello Mr Clensy, my name is Lee, and I am the technician working on your car today."
For a moment it feels like one of those terrifying ransom videos – without his wheels, the car has all the angst of a close family member bound and tied to a chair. I half expect Lee to tell me I have to "change the cambelt or the Punto gets it".But of course he doesn't. The multimedia mechanic takes me around the car, with all the care and concern of an A&E nurse making a triage assessment on a patient.
He films himself measuring my tyre treads, and points out a broken brake pad warning wire, before reassuring me with his medical bedside manner, that my car "is doing fine".
It certainly puts me at ease – and helps me to understand a process that normally baffles me.
"We have had a very positive response from customers since we introduced it at the end of last year," Chris says.
"It reassures people that we're being absolutely honest and open with them about the things we're advising to be done to their car."