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OFT's independent push 'doomed'

A major new initiative urging motorists to use independent garages for servicing cars up to three years old is doomed to failure, according to industry experts.

The Office of Fair Trading wants to see non-franchised outlets winning a far greater share of the new car servicing market, and is preparing a nationwide advertising campaign to ram home its case. At present, independent outlets have less than 10% of the servicing and repair market for cars up to three years old.

“Recent changes to European regulation for the car sector mean that manufacturers and their franchised dealers are obliged to open themselves up to greater potential competition for aftersales services from garages outside their network,” says the OFT. “For this to work effectively customers must have undistorted choice about where they have this work undertaken. Car owners are paying over £500m more than they need by going to franchised dealers. We want motorists to be able to choose where to take their vehicles.”

Few in the motor industry expect to see any sizeable shift in the market. Alan Pulham, director of the RMI's franchised dealer division, says main servicing work under warranty will continue to be carried out at franchised dealerships.

“They have the right technology and the right technological information to service new cars. In theory, approved and non-approved garages should be able to access this information as well – but no-one has explained how this might work.” Other critics of the campaign say independent garages would have to buy expensive diagnostic machines and equipment if they wished to service and repair new cars – and their charges would rise dramatically, although authorised Citroen repairer Citrotech is showing this might not be the case (see page 16).

Brendan O'Malley, vice-president international, Snap-On Diagnostics, says: “What car manufacturers have also done is publish standards – in areas like decor and presentation – that make it expensive for many non-franchised garages to become official repairers. The OFT has little chance of changing anything.

“The vision of the new block exemption regulations is very unlikely to happen. No-one could afford the premises that would be needed to satisfy the standards of several brands at one location.”

Pulham and O'Malley believe dealers who had lost their franchise in recent years are best-positioned to take on official repairer status.

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