A SOUTHAMPTON garage faces prosecution after an undercover trading standards crackdown on car servicing exposed an alleged scam.

The unnamed business told a city council officer that hundreds of pounds of unnecessary work was needed on his vehicle.

Nine other workshops investigated in the city during the department's first operation of its kind gave excellent or satisfactory service.

Principal trading standards officer Dave Sargeant said: "Further inquiries are underway in relation to alleged misrepresentation of work that one garage indicated was required.

"This investigation is with a view to a prosecution.

"We are also following up a separate complaint from a member of the public about the same firm.

"We cannot identify the company concerned because this could result in court proceedings."

He said the team joined forces with Chandler's Ford consultant motor engineers Reynolds Parkhurst where the vehicles were doctored, including tyre pressures and radiator water levels reduced beyond safety limits, and sidelight bulbs loosened.

The cars were then taken to be serviced "according to the manufacturer's handbook" so the mechanics could check later that the work was carried out as recommended.

"We were also checking whether garages were carrying out work that was not necessary and there was the one notable exception.

"A cross-section of garages from large, multiple retail outlets to small, back-street premises was covered."

Mr Sargeant said the best performing garages were William Street Services, William Street, Northam; Newmans Car Centre, Granville Street, Northam; Lex Autocentres, Queensway, and Hendy Ford, Shirley Road.

Five other firms, which have not been named, carried out satisfactory services but missed at least one minor fault, such as tyre pressures, split wiper blades, bulbs not working and oil leaks.

Mr Sargeant said: "This was a snapshot of what may be happening and it was a worthwhile project that we will consider repeating."

What you need to know

The Office of Fair Trading has issued a car owner's guide to servicing and repairs:

l Don't wait until you need a service or repair

l Spend time comparing garages beforehand

l Get your car serviced regularly

l Ask around about good garages

It says a reliable garage will certainly do some, or all, of the following:

l Display a menu of fixed-cost work

l Tell you how much they will charge to diagnose a fault if it includes dismantling and putting back together.

l Be a member of a trade association (such as the Motor Vehicle Repairers Association).

l Have trained staff and display certificates.

l Have a complaints procedure.

The OFT says drivers should ask exactly what the service includes and costs, that way you can compare one garage with another.

For servicing and repair:

* Find out how long the work will take and agree a collection time.

* Check whether they have fitted manufacturer's parts and insist on seeing the parts they have removed.

* Ask about guarantees on labour and parts.

* Insist on an itemised bill.

* Agree how you will pay before the work is done.

* Always keep all invoices, receipts and guarantees.

If things go wrong:

* Contact the garage as soon as you can and give them the chance to put it right

* Keep a record of all contact, including dates, times and what was agreed

* If you still are not satisfied, put your complaint in writing to the garage manager and copy it to any trade organisation they belong to - they may be able to resolve the dispute.

* The next stage will be to contact your local trading standards department.

* If you feel that your complaint has not been sorted out, consider taking the garage to the small claims court.

* Remember you have a legal right for servicing and repair to be carried out to a proper standard.