Dealerships are able to charge whatever they like for servicing.

BUYING a vehicle is certainly a liberating feeling in that, apart from it getting you from one point to another, it can also represent an extension of your personality.

But how many motorists actually consider maintenance and running costs after the honeymoon phase of taking delivery has waned? Do people take time to consider the availability of parts, the cost thereof, or simply how much their first service will cost them after the maintenance plan has expired?

I recently sat down with Jaco van Staden, marketing manager at RGT Smart, the provider of various online analytical products to the motor industry including vehicle sales data info, and he shared some interesting information with me. This pertained to an automotive labour report conducted by the company that reveals SA's most expensive car service rates that vary from province to brand and from urban to rural environs.

Van Staden says the report has revealed that the most expensive passenger vehicle brand to have serviced anywhere in SA is the Mini range, at an average of R602,27 an hour, followed by Audi with an average of R583,62 an hour.

BMW, meanwhile, averaged at R580,13, with Lexus at R579,09. The least expensive, by virtue of catering mainly for the entry-level market, is Chana - averaging at R342,52, followed by Mahindra at R362,29 and Tata at R385,30.

He says the report provides insight into annual increases of labour costs across brands and provinces. According to the report, an increase of 4,1% has been recorded across the surveyed brands.

There were a few glaring figures in the report though, with Fiat's labour rate having increased by as much as 16,3% since last year, followed closely by sister brand, Alfa Romeo, at 12,2%, while Citroen recorded an 11% increase.

Nevertheless, according to RGT Smart, there were other manufacturers that saw a reduction in this regard, which includes Changan by 10,5%, Subaru by 5,5%, and Daihatsu by 0,6%. According to the report, labour rates are most expensive on a medium-size vehicle across most provinces.

I spoke to a few of the manufacturers mentioned above. BMW SA's group automotive communications manager, Edward Makwana, says: "The press release issued by RGT Smart has created the wrong perception about Mini and BMW vehicles being expensive to service.

"The release neglected to mention the fact that all new Mini and BMW vehicles are offered with a Motorplan. In the case of Mini, the Motorplan is three years or 75000km, and in the case of BMW, the Motorplan is five years or 100000km. During this time, customers do not pay a cent for vehicle servicing or labour.

" Mini and BMW are among some of the most technologically advanced vehicles in the world. This level of technology requires specialised, skilled and trained technicians working in state of the art facilities. Our labour rates are defined accordingly and do not differ for customers who are out of their motor plan. The rates only differ between urban and rural dealerships."

The Bavarian company also gave us the following figures for labour costs : Mini R587 at 16 dealers, while BMW is R565 at 61 dealers. Makwana attributes the Mini's seemingly high figure to the fact that all Mini dealerships are located in urban areas. He says that BMW's labour rates differ from urban to rural at R584,07 and R531,09 respectively.

Fiat's spokesman was not in a position to give us a detailed comment, but says some of the aforementioned figures could also be dependent on the fact that the company has relatively longer service intervals than most of its rivals, and much like BMW, the report has not factored in things like service plans, which are offered across the range.

Audi SA, meanwhile, is looking into the methodology used by RGT and will relay its findings to Motor News in due course.

It seems strange that the price of servicing is not regulated in some way by the manufacturers. Obviously, there will be variance between brands by virtue of the cost of the vehicles and the technology used, but the report has sparked debate and hopefully we will see something come of it. In the meantime, our advice is to simply shop around. Just because a dealership is near to your home or office, it may not actually work out as the most cost effective option.