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RMI slams What Car? report

The automotive repair sector is edging closer towards “Rip-Off Britain II” after coming under attack from the national press based on a tabloid-style servicing survey which involved less than 0.01% of the market. Magazine-backed mystery shoppers visited just 30 workshops nationwide, out of a total market of more than 30,000, for work on vehicles which had been rigged with minor faults.

However, despite involving such an unrepresentative sample, it has again raised the question of whether the Government should introduce a licensing system for workshops to ensure minimum national standards and to provide a means of redress for consumers should problems arise.

The damaging publicity comes three weeks after the Trade and Industry Select Committee criticised the high costs of franchised servicing, and ordered the Office of Fair Trading to investigate.

In the survey, What Car? magazine doctored cars with seven defects – low brake fluid, low coolant, no screen wash, misaligned front washer jets, a low nearside rear tyre, a loose rear light and a deflated spare tyre – and submitted them for servicing at 10 each of independent, franchised and fast-fit workshops. Half spotted every single fault, and 27 detected five or more problems.

When broken down into type, fast-fit outlets performed poorest, missing 21% of faults on average, while franchised garages missed 17%. Independents missed just 7%, with seven of the 10 sites tested fixing every fault. The magazine has suggested licensing would create greater consumer confidence.

The outlet described as the “worst” for spotting zero faults, AA Service Centre at Straiton, Edinburgh, actually only carried out – and charged for – an oil change, although What Car? says the customer had requested a service. The AA says it will investigate.

The RMI has blasted the magazine. “Statistically it is a meaningless survey. It is amazing that such a well-respected publication should base its results on such a limited survey of the retail motor sector,” says Matthew Carrington, chief executive.

“Obviously we do not condone bad service by any garage, but to make a judgement about the whole industry from these isolated examples is wholly unhelpful.

A truly representative survey would have to take a sample of hundreds of businesses from right across the UK.”

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