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Howard's Motors, Tauton - My Romahome R20 Service - a review (LONG)

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    Howard's Motors, Tauton - My Romahome R20 Service - a review (LONG)

    Us Romahome owners miss visiting our old friend Ant, after he retired last year. And there's the new problem - who to take the van to for its annual service? Well, Howard's seem hungry for the business and have been wooing Romahome users here and on the FB group, and, in particular, after a great camping weekend hosted by them in the summer we thought it would be good to drive all the way over to Taunton (from home here near Southampton) and see just whether it was worth all the extra effort or whether a local dealer (e.g. Wilmoths would be just as good).

    Howard's are easy to get to if you are coming in from the East through Glastonbury and Street - being on the NE edge of Taunton and just away from the motorway junction there was little traffic even though we were in the Taunton area just after 8am. In fact, even leaving at nearly 5pm on a busy Friday we had no problems and only got caught up in a few pinch points near Street. Just S of Howard's the traffic was queuing to get onto the motorway junction so if you use the M5 then Friday is probably not your best day.

    Pre-visit: We booked this over the phone and it was apparent we were dealing with a bigger company, not Ant - just questions like whether we wanted original Citröen parts for the service or cheaper other manufacturer parts. Ant just fitted parts! We elected for cheaper. A couple of days before the service I received a reminder email with all the necessary details to ensure we would find them and then the next day a phone call just to talk me through what we were expecting, special requirements etc. This was good!

    First impressions: Your usual new, shiny, glossy, big glass window dealership (sorry guys, this doesn't impress us - for service we want to see greasy overalls!). Very professional and ran though our requirements again to check everything would be done. Another difference from Ant - we didn't want to pay for a full habitation check just a quick once-over safety check of electrics and gas. The front of office guy wasn't 100% sure of what they would do so went and called the mechanic. The're not geared up for such informal checks and so we elected for a gas tightness check but declined the electrics check which seemed to include disconnecting every device, checking wiring, insulation and all devices to a level that, IMHO, isn't necessary other than every few years.

    So, in their free shuttle bus on the way in to town (easier than bothering with a courtesy car) Liz and I were impressed with their professionalism but felt they offered little over what me might find locally, so probably not worth the trek. But, hold that thought....

    Taunton is pleasant enough to wander round, cheap breakfast in one of the two Wetherspoons, some shopping and a tour of the excellent (and free) Somerset museum in the castle and we were getting close to the agreed collection time of 4pm. Mind you, the pleasantest day weather-wise for the last week or so helped! It was whilst we were in Wetherspoons earlier in the day having a coffee that we got the dreaded phone call.

    Service Contact: We were informed that one off the MAD springs had indeed broken as we had suspected and they would replace both if we agreed. They also informed is that the van had failed the MOT because the tyre I had assumed was legal (but on its way out) had got one spot where cord was showing so we'd need a new tyre. No problem and my fault for not checking the tyres more often during this wet weather season (not because the wet affects the tyre but because I can't be bothered getting wet knees grovelling around to check them!). The real unexpected expense was to be informed that both rear brake cylinders had started to leak, not bad enough to get fluid onto the pads but replacements were recommended.

    Service Contact part 2: So far pretty standard service stuff - now the impressive part. Firstly I asked for a ball-park quote for the work and after a few moments calculation was given a figure that was pretty much spot on the final figure. I like that, I like to have a good assessment of cost before committing, despite the fact that the work would have to be done, no matter what. Now the really impressive part. A couple of minutes later my phone beeped with an email from Howard's. Attached was a 2 minute 'health check' video of my van. Well lit and in HD, the mechanic took me on a tour of the underside of the van, showing the each of the front disks and pointing out some flaking that would be OK for now but would need attention in a future service, taking me back along the underside of the vehicle and pointing out the exhaust and water tank were good and allowing me to see the condition generally of the underside of the vehicle. Then showing the collapsed MAD spring and the other intact but corroded one and then pointing out the seepage on both brake cylinders clearly, visible on the video. We were very impressed. Not only was this a clear vindication of the required work but also gave use the satisfaction of knowing that, unlike our previous C15 van, the van was in tidy condition underneath.

    Payment and collection: The shuttle bus was within a minute or two of the pick-up time and we had just a few minutes wait back at the service point whilst another customer was being dealt with. Loos, comfy chairs, coffee machine, papers and magazines, the usual stuff. We were taken through the service costs in detail and every itemised cost was explained. The paperwork comprised 6 detailed check sheets with work and costings, the standard Citröen double-sided service sheet, an MOT certificate (2 actually as first time it failed with the bad tyre) and a photograph. Photograph? Just a couple of days before the service I'd spotted one brake light was out and being 'orrible weather hadn't got round to replacing so had the work added to the service. The photograph showed the real cause was water ingress into the light unit and significant rust. Not having a replacement unit they cleaned up the rust as well as they could and replaced the bulb but advised replacement sometime in the future - the photo showed the affected unit - again impressive. Oh, and they sorted out the part number so I could order and fit myself. The other advisory work was for replacement mountings for the top mountings on the air box but again they didn't have the parts to hand so that can wait and is probably something i can do.

    Looking at service and other costs I'd say the figures were pretty much standard costs. And despite a huge £800-plus bill we'd budgeted for £500-plus knowing full well we'd need new MAD springs so it was only the additional brake cylinder costs that were an unbudgeted surprise. Another surprise was to find the van washed and waxed and the cab valeted.

    Negatives: It's actually quite hard to think of any. OK, let's get picky. During the pre-service chat we casually mentioned the fact that the radio was poor and suspect the active windscreen aerial has become detached or non-functioning. This wasn't looked at - no biggy and probably just not written down or overlooked. And really picky - the van was washed and valeted, but only the vertical surfaces. The problem is they did such a good job that the rear black bumpers are now back to gleaming glossy black all along the sides but the narrow horizontal top bits are that dull dark matt grey that shows years of neglect by me. Rats they've shamed me into having to get round to cleaning and cutting the bumpers back properly!


    We were impressed! Costs were standard but the service seemed very good. The documentation was comprehensive and the video and photograph of the rusty light unit were not only good evidence the work needed doing but also very useful indicators of the van's health and condition. They were extremely courteous and professional and we have almost no negative criticism - which from previous experience with large dealerships is unusual! Our first impression was that it wouldn't we worth the not-insignificant trek in future but we revised our opinion as the day went on and will almost certainly be back to them next year. In fact on the way home Liz and I we were discussing whether we could have an interim MOT or disconnect the main service from the MOT so we could visit in a warmer month and tie it in with a camping trip to the area.

    Our R25 service was also very impressive earlier in the year. Could'nt fault the professionalism. However van since, now sold to Howards. So no service next year.

    Tony Anchorman


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