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Eastern European countries offer cheaper repairs, but many still turn to German shops

Frankfurt. When it comes to workmanship you still can't beat the Germans, it seems. Fears that customers would take their cars to cheap repair shops in central and eastern European countries have not materialized.

Only a few repair workshops are complaining, says Helmut Bluemer of the German automobile industry's umbrella organization, ZDK.

Customers have remained faithful to their garages, despite significantly lower hourly wages in neighboring countries that recently joined the European Union.

Harald Weis of the association of independent automobile repair workshops VKW, said that, when it comes to general customer services and technically complicated repairs, customers still rely on German workmanship.

However, he still sees a future threat with accident damage repairs and paintwork, which could be lost to cheaper businesses in the East.

Weis said that, with insurance companies' current practice of paying out money for repairs on the basis of an expert's opinion, "taking the money and having the car repaired cheaper abroad" is worth it for many customers.

This was backed up by garages close to borders. At Car Check in Frankfurt/Oder near the Polish border, a spokesman said that accident repairs and paintwork cost a third of the price in Poland.

For example a paint job for a VW Golf costing between 3,000 and 4,000 euros in Germany costs 1,300 euros in Poland. "We can not keep up with those prices," Weis said.

German repair workshops still seem to have an advantage in other areas.

"A lot of Polish people come to us to buy specific parts that are hard to get in Poland or to have certain repairs done over here," said a Car Check spokesman.

Mercedes, Opel and VW repair workshops in Frankfurt/Oder also said they had a lot of Polish customers.

Authorized brand repair workshops near the border believe they still have an advantage in terms of customer services.

The competition is catching up, though. Pole Robert Czarnecki from Zbaszyn, 100 kms from the German border, offers cost-effective repairs plus a pick-up and drop-off service for German customers.

According to his website customers can also spend a "comfortable holiday" at lake Bledno, which is close by, and have their car repaired in the meantime.

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