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DTI garage plans leave trade cold

Standards in the car servicing and repair sector have improved little since the Office of Fair Trading's damning study in 2000, according to a Department of Trade and Industry undercover investigation.

The DTI is pressing for a voluntary 'Good Garage' scheme to bolster the £9bn sector's image and raise quality standards, but has met with a lacklustre response from traders. While 80 per cent concede a need for this type of programme, just 34 per cent say they would sign up.

Strongest interest came from national independents and fast-fit chains, but surprisingly, trade association members were also more, not less, interested in joining. Dixon Motors chairman Paul Dixon was one of a handful of retailers invited to a DTI meeting announcing the results of the investigation. He wants to help develop the Good Garage scheme.

“We totally support the recommendations and look forward to working with the Government to deliver the scheme,” he says.

The DTI is now assessing feedback from the meeting with motor industry executives. It intends to hold a second meeting in December and has pencilled in an autumn 2003 launch for the Good Garage scheme.

According to the mystery shopping survey, 53 per cent of independents and half of franchised dealers are rated as 'poor' or 'very poor' for car servicing. It reveals little difference between trade association members and non-members.

Forty per cent of garages missed at least one service item, but the situation was worse for women - 51 per cent had cars returned to them with faults undetected, compared to 33 per cent of men - while 27 per cent of fast-fit centres recommended unnecessary replacement of parts. In total, just five per cent of the 119 franchised outlets and 88 independents were adjudged to have carried out a thorough service against the vehicle manufacturers' schedule.

“Consumers are suffering and the industry needs to take strong action now to improve standards,” says consumer minister Melanie Johnson. “A commitment to a set of minimum service standards is needed urgently.”

The RMI welcomed moves to raise standards, but warns that the industry does not need an “expensive and bureaucratic” self-regulating system. It says that any costs incurred by repairers would be passed on to consumers, raising servicing prices.

Matthew Carrington, RMI chief executive, adds: “In the UK there are more than 25 million vehicle services carried out each year. Prescribed service standards are already in place and the sector constantly strives to uphold them.”

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, too, is concerned that the voluntary Good Garage scheme “will not deliver real benefits for consumers” without further development.

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